Can we talk about the Titanic for a second?
You’re probably thinking I’m referring to the fact that Rose had enough space to let Jack get on that door, which could’ve saved him – but that’s not it.
What I want to talk about, or who I want to talk about is Joseph Laroche. You’re probably wondering who he is… I’m here to tell you his story.
I watched this short clip from AJ+ français a few weeks ago that completely caught me off guard.
Joseph Laroche, a Haitian engineer, was the only Black passenger on the Titanic. Having come from a well-established family, he had moved to France to study engineering at the age of 15. According to AJ+ français, he became very successful and contributed to the construction of the train line in Paris.
After a few years, he met Juliette Lafargue, a French woman who later became his wife. The couple had two daughters, Louise and Marie Anne André. However, due to a high rate of racism in France, Laroche could no longer provide for his family as it became harder for him to find a job. He and his wife were victims of criticism and discrimination because of their interracial relationship. Laroche decided it would be better for his family to go back to his homeland, Haiti, to find stability. With the help of his family and his uncle Cincinnatus Leconte, well known as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, former President of Haiti, Laroche planned his trip back home. Laroche then got four second-class tickets for the Titanic.
The only reason they took the Titanic was because the first boat they were supposed to get on would not allow children to eat with the adults.
On the night the ocean liner sank, Laroche perished, but his wife and daughters survived as he made sure they got on a lifeboat.
His body was never found.
I was truly stunned about the story, and I spoke to a friend of mine about it. She recalled seeing only one visible minority who stood out to her in the 1997 movie: a Jewish family.
Once I got to learn more about that story, I kept asking myself questions as to why this had never been openly spoken about in the media. The reality is that the contribution and the presence of visible minorities in historical events are too often swept under the rug and hidden from us. Why? Probably because anything that revolves around race and racism in history often makes people uncomfortable.
We often claim that our society is evolving and is open to diversity, but when stories similar to this one resurface, I wonder if we’ve truly progressed or we assume we have.
I believe that it’s always important to remind ourselves that representation matters, and it must not be ignored.
Laroche was a successful, Black man in a European country in times where racism was at an all-time high. He was the only Black man on the Titanic while being amongst some of the wealthiest passengers, which is worth mentioning.
Some may say ‘who cares,’ but this story is one of significance. Every story should be told, and definitely ones like Laroche’s.
I’d be tempted to say that Laroche and his wife Juliette would have made just as of a great love story for the Titanic.