The manner in which consumer goods can affect human affairs, however, differs. While demand for certain consumer goods can lead to oppression, the way people demand consumer goods may also destroy oppressive practices. When Britons demanded sugar with no regard to the way sugar and coffee they enjoyed for the breakfast were produced, slavery flourished. But when the Britons began to demand goods that they believed were not causing slavery, the change of tastes undermined slave trade and contributed to the ending of slavery. While tobacco and cotton were not as important at the time as sugar, they played a similar function in abolitionist and independence movements that fought against slavery.
The function of consumer goods is also linked to material culture. This was the case in the eighteenth century, as books by Dubois and Carrigus and Hochschild demonstrate. European colonial practices that led to the enslavement of tens of millions of Africans and indigenous peoples in the Americas coincided with the rise of Capitalism. Capitalism emphasized the importance of not just acquiring wealth but also of maximizing profit. The importance of maximizing profit became a value to be shared by Europeans. It became part of material culture. As this cultural value became entrenched in the minds of Europeans, the moral inhibitions against running businesses that might oppress others severely weakened. It became clear that supplying Europeans with luxurious and pleasant consumer goods was a good source of business. And the idea of maximizing profit as a cultural value encouraged traders to engage in businesses that became ever more oppressive. Thus the culture of Capitalism contributed to the growth of slavery in the Caribbean, Brazil, and the American South.
The importance of consumer goods such as sugar in the revolution and its outcome in Saint-Domingue is also clearly visible. The revolutionaries that destroyed the oppressive yoke of the French colonialism proclaimed a new country called Haiti. In the midst and aftermath of their revolution, Haitians destroyed hundreds of sugar plantations. Thus, the revolution hit hard at French business interests in the Caribbean and forced the French to sell the Louisiana part in North America to...
Ironically, anti-slavery rebellion in Haiti led to the expansion of slave institution in the United States, as the Louisiana became a new location where American practice of slavery continued. The revolution in Haiti also led to the adoption of sugar planting as the main source of livelihood in neighboring Cuba. So, anti-slave revolution inadvertently might have increased the number of slaves in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Nevertheless, the Revolution made a lasting impact. Haitians instilled a sense of entitlement to freedom and equality to other oppressed peoples in Latin America and elsewhere. Haiti and its new material culture -- the idea that the oppressed must fight, if necessary to death, to achieve freedom -- became an inspiration for such charismatic Latin American anti-imperialists such as Simon Bolivar. As Dubois and Carrigus write, "The enslaved revolutionaries of the French Caribbean were the first to win universal freedom for their society, and in so doing they became founders of a larger struggle against slavery and racism" (40). Interestingly, Europeans made a double impact on the Caribbean. Trying to meet the domestic demands for sugar, tobacco, and coffee, they strengthened and expanded slavery across the region. However, European ideals of liberty, equality, and the nation-state inspired, among others, Haitians who paved the way for the struggle against slavery and racism by revolutionaries among colonized peoples in the world. Consumer goods and material culture played out in all directions.
Dubois, Laurent and John D. Carrigus. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: St. Martin's Press, 2006. Print.
Hochschild, Adam. Bury the…
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