Guest Post: A View from the Past: The Contingencies of Racialization in 15th- and 16th-Century Iberia

Guest Post: A View from the Past: The Contingencies of Racialization in 15th- and 16th-Century Iberia

The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History

Marley-Vincent Lindsey
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

When Paul Gilroy wrote his now-classic critique of cultural nationalism in 1995, he conceived a Black Atlantic that was a geo-political amalgamation of Africa, America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Gilroy was particularly interested in the construction of a modern, post-colonial cultural space in which slavery remained a part of modern black consciousness. His book is particularly noted for the introduction of race as a critical consideration in exploring the Black Atlantic.

It is fitting then, that we kick off our week-long discussion of the Black Atlantic with a post by Marley-Vincent Lindsey, which explores considerations of race in the Iberian Atlantic. Subsequent posts will consider Black responses to freedom (and unfreedom), historical narrative, race, and of course, power.

Juan Garrido was a typical conquistador: arriving in Hispaniola by 1508, Garrido accompanied Juan Ponce de León in his invasion of Puerto Rico, and was later found with Hernan Cortés in Mexico City. Yet his proofs of service, a portion of which was printed by Francisco Icaza in a collection of autobiographies by the conquistadors and settlers of New Spain, made a unique note: de color negro, or “of Black color.”1

What significance was the color of his skin? From our crystal ball of future development, the answer is obvious: Spain had developed a particularly unique concern for racializing individuals, and the Iberian excursions throughout the western and southern coasts of Africa added fuel for “hardening identities” of what was significant about being Black or White. This unique historical contingency, argued James Sweet, was the genesis for American conceptions of race.2

Supporting this construction is the intuitive power of 1492, when Columbus invaded the ocean blue. Iberia’s box score for the year also included the seizure of Granada and the expulsion of Jews who refused conversion. For the century prior, there existed a rich vocabulary through which differences of religion were literally racialized: by 1611, Corrubias’ Spanish dictionary defined raza in reference to humans as being bad lineage, like Jewish or Muslim ancestry. Medievalists like David Nirenberg have traced these discourses through which raza gained biological potency through Castilian and Aragonese experiences with Jews and Moors.3

Read the entire article here.

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