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Writers in Latin America’s Black press frequently publicized and denounced particularly egregious examples of discrimination or racism, including many that involved painful accusations having to do with pernicious stereotypes about Black sexuality. In so doing, they responded to claims by Latin American politicians and intellectuals that racism was mild or non-existent in their countries, and that to speak about racism was itself racist, and would have the effect of dividing the national community. The rhetorical strategies writers in the Black press adopted included barely contained expressions of outrage, skillful deployment of irony, careful efforts at debunking, and, quite frequently, with expressions of agreement with the premise that racism was inconsistent with the local political culture. Authors who wrote about racism consistently presented the United States as a yardstick against which the existence or severity of racism could be measured, or as a source for the importation and imposition of racism that was at odds with local values and tradition. Finally, writers discussed and debated the mechanisms that should be employed to combat racism.
In these articles Black writers addressed the perceived need to create stable families and the consequences of not doing so. Most contributors to the Black press shared their larger societies' conviction that orderly, disciplined families were foundational to orderly, disciplined nations. They deemed efforts to reform sexual behavior and family relations even more essential for the Black population, who because of the vicissitudes of slavery and poverty found it especially difficult to constitute family units that fit the national ideal. The Black press included articles asserting that women and children should be governed by male patriarchs and calls for Black people to work toward racial improvement by investment in hygienic families. While some criticized the ways that conventions about honor and legitimacy harmed women who became pregnant outside of wedlock and illegitimate children, others condemned women who handed their children over to be servants in wealthy White households. Writers similarly debated whether Black parents (and by extension the Black community) had dedicated themselves sufficiently or correctly to the project of educating children. Some argued for limiting education to training in manual trades. Others complained that criticisms of the supposed failings of Black morality and education failed to recognize the great progress made by the community.
This chapter explains the purpose of the volume: to provide English-speaking readers with access to the richest and most concentrated venue for Black voices in Latin American history. It offers a brief overview of the evolution of the Black press in the context of racial formation and national politics in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Cuba. It explores the factors that led to the formation of a Black press in these locations, but not elsewhere in Latin America, situating the Black press as one very particular formation of Black intellectual and textual production in a broader spectrum. The writers and editors who produced the Black press are briefly introduced as is the “anatomy” of these publications – typical content, formats, and design elements. The key themes and organization of the book are introduced, as are some questions of terminology.
These articles represent a wide array of reporting in the Black press on social activities within the Black community. “Society” pages and local gossip columns provide an invaluable window into experiences of community life – including births, deaths, literary functions, and activities organized to support and sustain the papers themselves – that were, otherwise, rarely written into the historical record. For instance, readers sometimes turned to Black newspapers for help in locating missing family members. Contenders for leadership in Black organizations frequently criticized one another in the newspapers. Music and social dancing played a central role in coverage of community organizations. Dance parties could be celebrated as dignified and joyful or denounced as disreputable or unworthy. The interest that White compatriots took in Black dancing and music could be grounds for jubilation – signs that racial prejudice was eroding – for criticism of lax club leadership, for debates about whether to allow White men to attend dances in Black clubs, or for concern over performances of Carnival groups that reproduced harmful stereotypes.
The Black press was produced almost exclusively by male writers and editors. Those writers, joined by a small number of women authors, frequently addressed themselves to women readers or took up women’s issues. While the papers often invoked the ideal of Black women leading fulfilled lives in the home, caring for their husbands and children, they also acknowledged that for most Afrodescendants, that ideal was simply unattainable. Writers supported the efforts of Black (and White) domestic workers to organize and achieve the workplace protections enjoyed by industrial and commercial workers. Motherhood was a fraught and frequent topic in the Black press. The papers worried about high rates of illegitimacy and single motherhood in their communities, and enjoined mothers to prepare their children to lead honorable and productive lives. Women’s contributions to the papers offer evidence of Black women's political participation, before and after the advent of female suffrage, and the limits of that participation. Finally, female beauty was a regular topic in the Black press, which offered advice on how to achieve it, public contests to determine who best embodied it, and debate over fashion from the perspective of both morality and women’s equality.
Afro-Latin American newspapers included extensive coverage of Black populations in other countries. Articles on Black populations and race relations in Latin America, the United States, and Europe and Africa are examples of “practices of diaspora,” international communication and engagement among Black peoples that grew out of, and helped to forge, feelings of connectedness and racial solidarity. The Black press also reported on, or offered commentary on, more formal political movements promoting Black internationalism, such as Garveyism. Black papers in Argentina and Uruguay reported regularly on their northern neighbor, Brazil. Cuban papers included Puerto Rican and Dominican writers and discussions of Haiti. Throughout Latin America, writers and intellectuals of all races watched with mixed horror and fascination the workings of racial segregation and anti-Blackness in the United States. Diasporic ties were further thickened by travel, migration, and personal connections and friendships among African American and Afro-Latin American writers and intellectuals.
Latin America’s Black newspapers and magazines were sites for both dissemination and extensive discussion of literature and the arts. Culture was no less important to Black editors and writers than politics or social commentary. The papers published numerous stories, poems, and serializations of novels. They included profiles of important Black artists, writers, and musicians and debated the quality of their work. Their efforts to alert readers to the existence and the achievements of Black cultural creators simultaneously created space for the development of Black cultural theory and arts criticism. This chapter includes several creative works, an extended review of a long-form poem, reporting on the lives and deaths of individual authors, and an account of a female cook whose aspirations to become a writer were never realized. Other articles provide probing reflections on the relationship of Blackness to artistic expression, and on what it meant to be a Black artist.
Articles on politics and citizenship suggest the breadth of Afro-Latin American writers’ political thought and the depth of their political involvement. After achieving national independence, all four countries overturned colonial racial laws and write the principle of full civic and legal equality into their national constitutions. But as the Black newspapers repeatedly argued, constitutional ideals of egalitarian citizenship were consistently undercut and eroded by everyday racism and prejudice. The papers engaged deeply and critically with electoral politics in each context, offering criticism of the ways that traditional parties abused their relationships to Black political clubs, discussion of campaigns for legal change to extend civil rights, the legislative proposals of Black elected officials, and constitutional delegates. The Black press was also crucial to the creation of race-based political parties in Cuba, Brazil, and Uruguay. Black writers further engaged in debates over communism, fascism, authoritarianism, and democracy from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Views of Africa in the Black press evolved dramatically in the ninety years covered by this volume. The first generation of Afro-Latin American journalists had grown up with African parents and grandparents and were often sympathetic to their social and cultural practices. By the turn of the century doctrines of scientific racism, with their visions of Africans and their descendants as the bearers of genetic and cultural inferiority, led to much more negative views of Latin America's African heritage, even within the Black press. Emerging critiques of scientific racism in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s produced a rehabilitation of that heritage, though some doubts persisted. Ethiopia’s tenacious resistance against Italian invasions in the 1890s and 1930s, the region’s role in World War II, and decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s further raised Africa’s profile and image in the Black papers.