Behind the Trees

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The center image of this block provides the viewer with a window into the world of Haiti before the revolution. Framed by lucious trees, this view shows the rolling hills and lush landscape of the island, including an expansive plantation near the bottom of the frame. In the foreground stands a muscular plantation worker, squinting up at the viewer from beneath his straw hat. This image is one of many prints and paintings that were circulated in Europe in the 18th century depicting the colonization of the island of Hispaniola, one of many Caribbean islands whose people were enslaved by French and British colonizers for the mass production of sugarcane and molasses. As we peer into this scene, we are put into the shoes of the Europeans who confronted slavery and racism from thousands of miles away. Some endorsed this violent exploitation and commended the officers deemed brave enough to consort with savages, while others silently disapproved, and even fewer spoke out in opposition. Today, as we confront issues of privilege and race in different and more nuanced ways, we must stop and think: are we content to quietly oppose, or is it our duty to speak out against racism and violence? As artists, activists, and students we must push aside the lush leaves and trees and see racism and oppression for what it really is.