Over the summer, my children have been telling—or better yet, warning—me about Andrew Tate, a conservative, mixed-race social media influencer mostly distinguished for broadcasting his disdain for women (in addition to broad racism and homophobia), and who has recently garnered popularity among young men. Hearing about Tate, whose racial identity is often left out of discussions about his persona, made me think about two notable men of comparable backgrounds, both born in the 18th century.
Jean Baptiste Point DuSable is believed to be the first non-Indigenous settler in Chicago. Jean Jacques Rabin—who would become John Audubon—is the preeminent naturalist and ornithologist in U.S. history. These two Jeans are both historical figures, each born into the Francophone Black Atlantic world. Side by side, their stories illuminate the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of racial ideology.
DuSable is often described as having been born in Saint-Domingue, in what is now Haiti, some time before 1750 (though there is scant evidence to establish his birthplace as a fact; he may also have been born in Louisiana or Canada, and some have even speculated about Kentucky). What is well established is that he was a man of African descent, and probably mixed-race. Audubon was born in Saint-Domingue in 1785 on a sugar plantation owned by his father, Jean Audubon. It is very likely that he was also a mixed-race man, and that his mother was an enslaved woman of African descent.