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This chapter explores the discourses used to construct disability as different in nineteenth-century Britain and its empire. First, I argue that in this period a constellation of figures came to be seen as a class of people distinct from the remainder of the British population. The census and philanthropic literature functioned to crystallise disability as something tangible and other. Conceptualising disabled people in this way required considerable discursive, architectural, administrative, philanthropic and pedagogical work and this work occurred both in the empire overseas and at home in imperial Britain. Secondly, I argue that the status of Britain, throughout the nineteenth century, as the heart of a global empire, was crucial to how ideas about disability came to be formed. My third argument is that whilst empire shaped the way in which disability was constructed, the reverse was also true: thinking about disability moulded the way in which the colonial ‘other’ was imagined. People of colour who may otherwise be considered non-disabled were repeatedly described using language that evoked disablement. My overarching argument is, therefore, that discourses of race and disability, whilst not one and the same, were not simply related discourses but were mutually constituted.
Chapter 1 situates the reader within the landscape of Blackness in the twenty-first century. In addition to laying out the task at hand (untangling representations of blackness in Greek antiquity), this chapter underlines the dangerous consequences that occur when scholars conflate modern tropes with ancient material.
Building on Achille Mbembe’s A Critique of Black Reason and Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, emerging respectively from a francophone and anglophone tradition of Black critique, this chapter focuses on the profound importance of Blackness in the history of globalisation. Both writers argue Blackness needs to be understood in ‘worlded’ terms, with transnational dimensions and local inscriptions, and an emphasis on the interrelatedness of the world – its ‘systematic’ character. Moreover, each recognizes that in its engagement with imperialism, racialization, and the radical redefinition of subjectivity effected by capitalist modernity, Black writing pre-emptively grasps the spirit of globalization. As with the ‘one and unequal’ world literary system, Blackness shares a common basis in European colonialism and transatlantic slavery, but is also uneven, context-specific and immensely mutable, prohibiting any ‘total’ comprehension. Distilling a complex history into certain key topic areas, the chapter examines the significant international dimension of Black literary movements; the worlded and anti-colonial articulations of Blackness found in Négritude and the writing of Frantz Fanon; shifting Blackness in a neoliberal global order; and the afterlife and representational challenges of the foundational ‘world-system’ of slavery.
In 2019, the Museum of Black Civilizations was inaugurated by President Macky Sall. The concept for this museum had been launched by President Senghor during the First World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966. More than 50 years later, the museum finally opened its doors. Its timely opening made headlines across the world as it coincided with a global debate on the restitution to the countries of origin of objects illicitly acquired under colonial rule. Funded by the Republic of China, the Museum of Black Civilizations offered itself as a recipient for the restitution of 100 objects collected on Senegal’s territory. This chapter discusses the realization both of Senghor’s concept for a museum of Black Civilizations in the twenty-first century and of a project for the recuperation of African civilization. Through an analysis of its programme and exhibitions, the chapter examines how the museum decolonizes the concept of the museum by focusing on its exhibition of Abrahamic religions, as well as on the sabre of El Hadj Oumar Tall, an object that the Restitution Report advised should be a priority for return. Analysing the museum’s politics of restitution and repair, it frames the museum’s concept of Blackness as a technique to repair the legacies of race science.
Celebrities live their lives in constant dialogue with stories about them. But when these stories are shaped by durable racist myths, they wield undue power to ruin lives and obliterate communities. Black Legend is the haunting story of an Afro-Argentine, Raúl Grigera ('el negro Raúl'), who in the early 1900s audaciously fashioned himself into an alluring Black icon of Buenos Aires' bohemian nightlife, only to have defamatory storytellers unmake him. In this gripping history, Paulina Alberto exposes the destructive power of racial storytelling and narrates a new history of Black Argentina and Argentine Blackness across two centuries. With the extraordinary Raúl Grigera at its center, Black Legend opens new windows into lived experiences of Blackness in a 'white' nation, and illuminates how Raúl's experience of celebrity was not far removed from more ordinary experiences of racial stories in the flesh.
Later stories about Raúl, channeling racialized ideas about class, criminality, minority, mental illness, and malingering, suggested that Raúl, as a lower-class Black man, was all but fated to go astray. “Youth” situates the origins of those racialized ideas at the turn of the century, at the height of Argentina’s (overlooked) scientific racism and a broad panic about the “degeneracy” of the lower classes. It was precisely then that the young Raúl himself began his troubles with the law and was placed by his father in a reformatory for unruly boys for over a year (aged 19–21). By tracing Raúl’s experiences with the police, the army, the courts, and reformatory authorities who linked his “degeneracy” to his Blackness, this chapter illustrates how racial narratives, wielded by state and medical agents, began to circumscribe Raúl’s life. The chapter’s key argument is that Raúl’s experiences in this decade, after leaving his parents’ house but before achieving widespread fame, flesh out a key transition in Argentina’s racial narratives between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: from marking difference primarily along lines of race, to marking difference along lines of class. His trajectory helps illustrate for the first time what it could have meant, in an embodied sense, for Afro-Argentines to “disappear” or amalgamate into a lower class of people racialized by a new, more diffuse form of blackness associated with poverty, marginality, or degeneration rather than strictly with African descent. This early twentieth-century shift in racial narratives in some ways defused the intensity of elites’ gaze upon Afrodescendants and Indigenous people, drawing it toward a wider contingent of lower classes. But the stain of African Blackness and accompanying prejudices did not go away; even as Argentina’s new racial narratives made room for some Afrodescendants to blend into Whiteness (as Raúl’s father, brother, and others did), they came down even more forcefully on people like Raúl who did not conform.
I introduce readers to Raúl Grigera, to master narratives of race (Whiteness and Blackness) in Argentina, and to the hundreds of defamatory stories by which Raúl came to be known and remembered. I use this corpus to sketch the composite story of his life that the book goes on to debunk and rewrite: his supposedly unknowable or inexplicable origins, his early orphandom and wayward youth, his spurious fame as a buffoon of the city’s elite, his oft-anticipated decline and death. Engaging with literature in psychology, critical race studies, literary theory, and other fields to explore narrative’s singularly persuasive power, the introduction develops the concept of “racial stories” and makes the case for the urgency of crafting new, critical counter-stories. It goes on to explore the problem of Black celebrity in a White nation where that idea was almost a contradiction in terms. Finally, it considers my own role as one more narrator of Raúl’s tale – yet another racial storyteller – and provides an overview of the book’s arguments and structure.
Slavery can exist without racism, which certainly appears and endures in societies without slavery. Slavery and racism become entangled in color symbolism and color prejudice across the planet, and no natural rules determine how hierarchies evolve privileging some people over others. Nevertheless, looking at attitudes toward blackness in medieval Europe shows how one region’s societies evolving attitudes about color and the human family preordained how Europeans treated people who appeared different.
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and pagan antiquity bequeathed to medieval Europe systems of slavery as well as ideas on a hierarchy of “races” privileging some groups and colors over others. The premodern science of physiognomy legitimized constructs of race and color symbolism, to which commentators on the Bible contributed. The apparently stark contrasts among black, brown, red, and white people became proxies for good and evil and other traits. In Europe blackness normally defined Satan, bad things like death and melancholy, and eventually a prevalent type of slave. Color (and gender) of slaves in the late medieval Mediterranean markets affected their prices and revealed buyers’ preferences. Fifteenth-century encounters with sub-Sahara Africa illuminate how Europeans imposed their values of color prejudice on peoples who did not share them.
Richard Wright’s second novel, The Outsider (1953) was conceived as an exploration of modernity and the human condition, specifically apart from the concerns of race. Wright described it as “the first literary effort of mine projected out of a heart preoccupied with no ideological burden save that of rendering an account of reality as it strikes my sensibilities and imagination.” He further explained that in his attempt to “render my sense of our contemporary living as I see it and feel it … My hero could have been of any race.” This approach led many contemporaneous critics to reject the book. Even more contemporary critics like John M. Reilly have cited Wright’s “extreme existentialism” as evidence of his frustration “with politics consequent to his observation of the opening events of the Cold War in Europe.” These unsettled responses suggest the importance of reconciling Wright’s commitment to racial justice with his philosophical concerns. Existentialism need not exist independent of race for as The Outsider suggests, blackness highlights unique conditions of Sartrean freedom and Kierkegaardian dread. Despite its mixed reception, The Outsider represents an important effort to unite existentialism with the experience of blackness.
The Anthropophagic movement, of 1928-1929, was the most systematic and concerted effort within Brazilian modernism to address the concept of primitivism. Yet, contrary to much that has been written about it and in contrast with other modernist ventures, it largely skirted issues of blackness and Afro-Brazilian identity. The scholarly literature has tended to reduce the movement to Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago’, and has therefore failed to comprehend its broader scope. The chapter focuses on Antropofagia’s relationship to race and primitivism and discusses the distinction the anthropophagists made between the savage, as a Freudian trope, and the primitive, as an ethnological one. The differing positions of 1920s modernists towards Afro-Brazilian religions and samba are revealing of subtle ideological distinctions. The intersection of class and race became a central concern for communist observers like French poet Benjamin Péret. For writer Mário de Andrade, on the other hand, the quest for autochthonous cultural forms led to a focus on folklore that romanticized ideals of national and racialist identities. The high modernist paradigm, as it eventually took shape after the late 1930s, tended to ignore the needs of subaltern populations or else appropriate them and erase them in favour of a nationalist project.
The abolition of slavery contributed to a population explosion in Rio de Janeiro over the 1890s and early 1900s which, combined with a severe economic crisis, resulted in a drastic shortage of housing. The urban poor, left to fend for themselves, began to build informal settlements on the city’s empty hillsides. The best known among them was called Morro da Favela, a toponym that mushroomed into a typology, by the 1920s, as more and more communities sprang up based on the favela model. The chapter examines the early representation of favelas in paintings, photographs, illustrations and cartoons, piecing together how the visual record of these communities morphed into convention and stereotype. Favelas quickly came to be pitted as the backdrop of archaism and backwardness against which ideas of modernity were counterposed. They were routinely linked to notions of blackness, Africanness and the wild frontier of Brazil’s hinterland (sertão). However, they also developed a distinct identity as objects of artistic interest and sites of cultural resistance. Attempts by municipal government to raze them eventually met with strong opposition not only from dwellers themselves but also from artists and intellectuals. The visit of futurist leader F.T. Marinetti to Morro da Favela, in 1926, is discussed for its symbolic import.
This chapter reveals the ways in which race is not incidental to tragedy’s moral and aesthetic claims, but rather central to the genre’s attention to social forces and philosophical concerns. Shakespeare’s tragedies reveal how the premodern imaginary considers race as both a mimetic, ephemeral enactment and proof of an essential, inherent difference. As opposed to being hampered by this contradiction, depictions of race often move between fluid, malleable, and unstable expressions of identity, providing a lexicon for the epistemological crisis of tragedy’s formation of subjectivity. In the genre’s epistemological exploration of subjectivity as a publicly scripted experience and a fundamentally separate, and at times inaccessible, essence, Shakespeare’s tragedies engage the multilayered, contradictory template of racial impersonation. Thus, attention to regimes and categories of race animates some of the most fundamental issues of inclusion and exclusion that the English looked to tragedy to illuminate.
Linking the royal Tudor archive to the Tudor/Stuart stage, this article discloses the ways the stage constructs race in the service of nation and empire. From Elizabeth I’s proclamations calling for the expulsion of ‘blackamoors’ to George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar, English conceptions of blackness expose the multifaceted nature of racial formation in the early modern period. The construction of race in early modern England is intimately linked to nascent and emergent English imperial ambitions and dependent upon trade, traffic, and enslavement, particularly in Africa. While previous scholarship on The Battle of Alcazar has focused on the Mediterranean milieu and the seemingly elastic racial signification of the identity marker, Moor, this study shifts both the geographical and racial focus to argue that the Atlantic and Africa are significant sites of imperial interest for the English and that blackness is being discursively produced in order to signal race.
The Merchant of Venice establishes a connection between racial and religious identity, between outside (body features) and inside (blood and faith), through examining Jessica’s relationship to her father Shylock; the play interrogates the extent to which father and daughter share the same flesh and blood. Two distinct but interrelated understandings of race in the early modern period emerge in the play: race as marked by bodily features and behaviors, and race as defined through the blood that connects individuals to a line of descent. Through alluding to religious teachings and discourses that pointed to bodily and genealogical differences between Jews (and black Africans) and white Christians, The Merchant of Venice racializes religious identity, asserting that both racial and religious identity are inherited from one’s ancestors, passed from parents to children through sexual reproduction, and express themselves on the body and through the body’s behaviors.
In contrast to quantitative studies that rely on numerical data to highlight racial disparities in police street checks, this article offers a qualitative methodology for examining how histories of anti-Blackness configure civilians’ experiences of present-day policing. Taking the Halifax Street Checks Report as our primary object of analysis, we apply an innovative dermatological approach, demonstrating how skin itself becomes meaningful when police officers and civilians make contact in the process of a street check. We explore how street checks become an occasion for epidermalization, whereby a law enforcement practice projects onto the skins of civilians locally specific histories and emotions. To think with skin, we focus on the narratives shared by African Nova Scotians, a group that has been street checked at higher rates than their white counterparts. By doing so, we argue that current debates about police street checks in Halifax must attend to the emotional stakes of police-initiated encounters in order to fully appreciate the lived experience of street checks for Black civilians.
This essay considers seven texts by Caribbean authors, fiction, poetry and travel narrative, which in setting and ethos move beyond diasporic spaces, thus extending the dimensions of how we understand the Caribbean experience in the world. The essay explores how travel for the Caribbean subject has almost always been considered a kind of escape and rebellion, but in this new dispensation can also be read as self-indulgence and self-care. It argues that even in these beyond spaces in the world, blackness is often traditionally oppressive, but that new Caribbean subjects are interpellated in so many different, other ways that instead race is not central to their experiences.
Chapter 2 employs the unique backstories of respondents interviewed for this book to begin to identify the twenty-first century features of Liberia’s political economy of belonging. It demonstrates that contemporary constructions of Liberian citizenship are part of a continuum—moving from passive, identity-based citizenship emphasising rights and entitlements (and based on birthplace, bloodline, and blackness) to more active, practice-based citizenship privileging duties and responsibilities—thereby transcending the legal definition enshrined in the country’s 1973 Aliens and Nationality Law and 1986 Constitution at least until mid-December 2019.
While homeland Liberians embody citizenship practices that are domestically rooted and territorially confined to Liberia, diasporas and returnees engage in transnational pursuits that attempt to positively alter citizen-citizen and government-citizen relations abroad and within Liberia. The chapter also shows that relations between the Liberian government and diasporas have been strengthened or weakened depending on the levels of engagement of embassies and the immigration status of nationals abroad. Whereas the homeland state provided limited to no privileges/protections to nationals abroad in London, Washington, Freetown, and Accra, thus shirking its role in the political economy of belonging, Liberians abroad implied that they had more meaningfully fulfilled duties/obligations through their varied individual and collective efforts.
Chapter 4 examines representations of tribal or adivasi movements by two of India’s best-known writers, Mahasweta Devi and Arundhati Roy. Roy’s creative non-fiction essay “Walking with the Comrades” ‘2011’ created a stir in India for its sympathetic portrayal of rebellious tribal activists. I maintain that Roy’s key inspiration is the earlier short story by Mahasweta Devi, “Draupadi” ‘1978’. Describing a tribal woman leader Dopdi Mejhen, Devi’s story, translated into English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, is a widely anthologized text in postcolonial literature. However, the text’s global career fails to capture its complex history: this includes the Cold War and the contest between the Soviet and American-led blocs for regional hegemony in South Asia; the impact of antiwar peoples’ theater of the 1960s, including plays on Vietnam and the Black Panthers; and the tradition of progressive Bengali women’s fiction within which Devi is properly located. The chapter surveys the relationship between Devi’s Bengali-language story and Roy’s English-language essay through a host of little-known ‘to the Anglophone world’ intermediaries. In doing so, it demonstrates how various grassroots movements for the rights of adivasi and ethnic minorities continue to inflect creative non-fiction in the contemporary era.