La Mulâtresse Solitude - Who gets to tell a story?
Advice Project Media often asks our students: Who gets to tell a story? During our trip to Guadeloupe, we’ll revisit this question many times as we explore various sites around the island that teach us about the transatlantic slave trade, the indentured servitude of Tamil Indians post-slavery, and the unique music created by islanders who hold the history of this small French territory in their hearts. Traditionally, it’s been people with privilege who decide which stories are told, and how. We talked about this when we visited Les Marches des Esclaves (Steps of the Slaves), and we also read an article last night called The Media Has a Woman Problem (New York Times, Liza Mundy) that focuses on what it means when people with privilege are allowed to control the media, and how important it is to allow people without certain privileges (in this case, women) to tell their own stories. Advice Project Media works hard with our students share the stories of marginalized people. One of our readings yesterday focused on the story of Solitude, a resistance fighter who bravely fought alongside the men against the reestablishment of slavery. Captured after a final stronghold in the mountains in 1802, a sentence of death was delayed until after the birth of her child. No one knows what happened to this child, although it’s assumed Solitude’s previous slave owner took possession.
After her death, Solitude largely disappeared from the annals of history, although some of the man she fought alongside, such as Louis Delgrès, were recognized. When Solitude’s name did occasionally appear, it was often followed by the words, “angry black woman.” This stereotype is deep-rooted and also deeply troubling, and it has been supported by the system of white patriarchy, whose proponents have written: “She burst, on all occasions, her hatred and anger…And this would make her become an unhappy mother! Solitude did not abandon the rebels and remained near them, as their evil genius, to excite them to more great crimes.”
Fortunately, in 1972, Guadeloupean writer André Schwarz-Bart wrote a novel about Solitude addressing the conditions that would push a person towards becoming a resistance fighter, and in 1999, a statute made by Jacky Poulier was erected in Solitude’s memory at the crossroads of a busy intersection in Les Abymes, Guadeloupe. Solitude can’t tell her own story, but at long last, she is having it told in a way that honors her memory. Rather than vilifying Solitude and subjecting her to the stereotype of an “angry black woman,” it is the actions of her white captors that are now examined under the microscope. During our writing group yesterday, we talked about the need for an increased diversity of voices in the media – not only of women, but of teenagers, people of color, and people in the LGTBQ+A community. The teens unanimously decided to start working on a project about about what Guadeloupe means to them within the context of the various things we learn about this small territory. Solitude’s story illustrates the too often forgotten role of black women in the struggle against slavery. It will be interesting to see what our teens come up with during our time together on this beautiful island paradise – a paradise riddled with stories waiting to be told, including some of our own.