Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery on 2016-05-24 00:32Z by Steven

Skinship: Dialectical Passing Plots in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

American Literary Realism
Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2014
pages 116-136

Martha J. Cutter, Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut

Racial definitions were in crisis within the U.S. during the mid-nineteenth century, with the country moving closer and closer to a Civil War in which the legal basis for enslavement and other forms of discrimination might be abolished. Therefore, historians and legal scholars such as Daniel Sharfstein and Joel Williamson have argued that the time period of 1830-1860, rather than that of the early twentieth-century, should be regarded as the era of the rise of the “one-drop” rule; laws regarding racial purity were passed amid the emergence of the plantation economy in the 1830s to provide a reliable source of labor and prevent what Sharfstein has termed “racial migration.” As Sharfstein has argued, “The one-drop rule’s transformation from ideological current to legal bright line and presumed social reality is in essence a story of freedom. [During] the thirty years preceding the Civil War . . . [t]he prospect of freedom for people of African descent hastened the one-drop rule’s rise as whites attempted to preserve social hierarchies and property relations in the absence of slavery.” Legal and scientific discourse from these decades further attempted to stabilize ideas of racial purity, even in the face of evidence that racial migration was an on-going fact of the U.S’s very existence.

How did racial passing texts from this time period respond to this attempt to stabilize the meaning of blackness and whiteness? Some texts endorse the attempt to stabilize race by portraying passing characters whose migration from blackness to whiteness or vice versa is figured as an invalidation of a “true” or “authentic” racial identity. For example, in Mary Langdon’s abolitionist passing novel Ida May (1854), a white child is stained brown and sold into slavery; but no one ever actually believes that the eponymous [End Page 116] heroine is anything but white, so the passing plot in fact supports racial difference and the idea that there is a “true” white race that somehow can be separated physically from the black race.

Other racial passing texts from this time period are more multivalent, in that they invoke the idea that race is physical (a matter of “one drop” of blood), only to transgress this idea through the manipulation of racialized identities based in performance, legal structures, and circumstances. Frank Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends (1857) at times invokes blood-based ideologies of race; Emily Garie’s hair, for example, is described as being “a little more wavy than is customary in persons of entire white blood” (emphasis added). Yet the novel often undercuts this rhetoric of racial blood through scenes in which race is shown to be more performative than biological. William Wells Brown’s Clotel (1853) similarly at times invokes what Adéléke Adéèkó has called “hemocentric imageries.” Brown implies at one point, for example, that “The infusion of Anglo-Saxon with African blood has created an insurrectionary feeling among the slaves of America hitherto unknown” (emphasis added). The text as a whole, however, shows race to be based in performance, legal discourse, and power relations, rather than in anything biological. For example, Clotel’s “black” daughter Althesa is said to be “as white as most white women in a southern clime.” The “somatic indecipherability” of the “white negro,” as Guilia Fabi phrases it, here emphasize that race is a sociohistorical construct, rather than a matter of blood or physical essence.

The passing plots of Hannah Crafts’ recently rediscovered novel The Bond-woman’s Narrative, written sometime after 1853, enter squarely within these complex questions by at times endorsing the idea that there is something physical to race (a drop of blood, a curl of hair, a tint in the eye) even as the narrative as a whole proffers a more flexible theorization of racial identity based not in racial blood, but in kinship, or rather what I call skinship. In the overt plot of The Bondwoman’s Narrative, as in The Garies and Their Friends and Clotel, blackness is…

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‘We are Iranians’: Rediscovering the history of African slavery in Iran

Posted in Anthropology, Arts, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2016-05-17 01:59Z by Steven

‘We are Iranians’: Rediscovering the history of African slavery in Iran

Middle East Eye
2016-05-09

Jillian D’Amours

ST CATHARINES, CanadaBehnaz Mirzai’s students often say her office is like a museum.

With shards of ancient pottery recovered from the mountains of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province, colourful vases from Isfahan, and tribal masks from Zanzibar adorning the shelves, it is easy to see why.

Mirzai has spent nearly 20 years studying the origins of the African diaspora in Iran, including the history and eventual abolition of slavery in her native country.

It was a topic that few knew about in the late 1990s, when she began her research, and one that remains unfamiliar to many today.

“Living in Iran for all my life, we had never heard about slavery in Iran,” Mirzai told Middle East Eye from Brock University, where she now works as an associate professor of Middle Eastern history…

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Zwarte Piet is a product of the Netherlands’ long involvement in the slave trade

Posted in Articles, Europe, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2016-05-16 01:29Z by Steven

Zwarte Piet is a product of the Netherlands’ long involvement in the slave trade

Media Diversified
2016-05-05

Karen Williams

The first time that I saw a photograph of the Zwarte Piet celebrations in the Netherlands, the door to questions of slavery in my own life swung wide open. There – right there – looking back at me was the representation of my personal history, and the long history of Dutch slavery that incorporates South Africa and the rest of the world.

Yes, there was the sambo figure in blackface with the signature gold hoop earrings signifying an enslaved African person, but Zwarte Piet was more: an invisible thread to my own history given human form and also contradicting the myth that I have descended from people who were born from benign white and black sexual relationships. Picking up the thread has led me here, astonished at the long silenced history of slavery not only in South Africa, but also across Asia.

Zwarte Piet is not a metaphor combining Dutch Christmas myth with American racial idiomatic expression: the figure comes out of a very real, documented history of slavery perpetrated by the Netherlands. At the same time, focusing on Zwarte Piet solely as a troubling racist figure will ultimately erase and silence discussions on the history that birthed him and maintained his place as a cultural necessity in the Netherlands…

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The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

Posted in Biography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, History, Mexico, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-05-14 01:40Z by Steven

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

W. W. Norton & Company
June 2016
368 pages
6.1 × 9.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-23925-6

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History
Columbia University, New York, New York

A prize-winning historian tells a new story of the black experience in America through the life of a mysterious entrepreneur.

A black child born in the twilight of slavery, William Henry Ellis inhabited a world of fraught, ambiguous racial categories on the anarchic border between the United States and Mexico. He adopted the name Guillermo Enrique Eliseo and passed as a Mexican: traveling as Hispanic in first-class train berths, staying in the finest hotels, and eating in leading restaurants. A shrewd businessman, he became fabulously wealthy and found himself involved in scandalous trials, unexpected disappearances, and diplomatic controversies. Constantly switching identities, Eliseo was a genius at identifying and exploiting the porousness of the color line and the border line.

Through Ellis’s picaresque biography, Karl Jacoby presents an intriguing narrative set in a secret and ever-changing world. The Strange Career of William Ellis reinterprets the borderlands, showing how U.S. and Mexican histories intertwined during Reconstruction, and he offers new insight into the arbitrary and evolving definitions of race in America.

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Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

Posted in Africa, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2016-05-09 01:04Z by Steven

Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

University of North Carolina Press
May 2016
352 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4696-2341-2

David Wheat, Assistant Professor of History
Michigan State University

This work resituates the Spanish Caribbean as an extension of the Luso-African Atlantic world from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, when the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns facilitated a surge in the transatlantic slave trade. After the catastrophic decline of Amerindian populations on the islands, two major African provenance zones, first Upper Guinea and then Angola, contributed forced migrant populations with distinct experiences to the Caribbean. They played a dynamic role in the social formation of early Spanish colonial society in the fortified port cities of Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Panama City and their semirural hinterlands.

David Wheat is the first scholar to establish this early phase of the “Africanization” of the Spanish Caribbean two centuries before the rise of large-scale sugar plantations. With African migrants and their descendants comprising demographic majorities in core areas of Spanish settlement, Luso-Africans, Afro-Iberians, Latinized Africans, and free people of color acted more as colonists or settlers than as plantation slaves. These ethnically mixed and economically diversified societies constituted a region of overlapping Iberian and African worlds, while they made possible Spain’s colonization of the Caribbean.

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At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

Posted in Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-05-01 00:45Z by Steven

At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

The New York Times
2016-04-29

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Peter V & C Vann Woodward Professor of History, African American Studies, and American Studies
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

NEW HAVEN — Yale made a grievous mistake this week when it announced that it would keep the name of an avowed white supremacist, John C. Calhoun, on a residential college, despite decades of vigorous alumni and student protests. The decision to name residential colleges for Benjamin Franklin and Anna Pauline Murray, a black civil rights activist, does nothing to redeem this wrong.

It is not a just compromise to split the difference between Calhoun and Murray; there should be no compromise between such stark contrasts in values. The decision to retain the Calhoun name continues the pain inflicted every day on students who live in a dormitory named for a man distinguished by being one of the country’s most egregious racists.

To be sure, there’s something noteworthy about the contrast between these two figures who now sit across campus from each other. Although they lived in different centuries, Calhoun in the 19th, and Murray in the 20th, in many ways, she lived in — and fought against — the world that he built.

Calhoun, a Yale graduate, congressman and the seventh vice president of the United States, owned dozens of slaves in Fort Hill, S.C. Murray grew up in poverty in Durham, N. C., as the granddaughter of an enslaved woman. Calhoun championed slavery as a “positive good”; Murray’s great-grandmother was raped by her slave master. Calhoun profited immensely from the labor of the enslaved people on his plantation; Murray was a radical labor activist in Harlem during the Great Depression

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The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan

Posted in Biography, Books, Europe, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2016-04-30 20:50Z by Steven

The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan

University of Chicago Press
2016
264 pages
8 color plates, 49 halftones
6 x 9

Gísli Pálsson, Professor of Anthropology
University of Iceland

The island nation of Iceland is known for many things—majestic landscapes, volcanic eruptions, distinctive seafood—but racial diversity is not one of them. So the little-known story of Hans Jonathan, a free black man who lived and raised a family in early nineteenth-century Iceland, is improbable and compelling, the stuff of novels.

In The Man Who Stole Himself, Gisli Palsson lays out Jonathan’s story in stunning detail. Born into slavery in St. Croix in 1784, Jonathan was brought as a slave to Denmark, where he eventually enlisted in the navy and fought on behalf of the country in the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen. After the war, he declared himself a free man, believing that not only was he due freedom because of his patriotic service, but because while slavery remained legal in the colonies, it was outlawed in Denmark itself. Jonathan was the subject of one of the most notorious slavery cases in European history, which he lost. Then, he ran away—never to be heard from in Denmark again, his fate unknown for more than two hundred years. It’s now known that Jonathan fled to Iceland, where he became a merchant and peasant farmer, married, and raised two children. Today, he has become something of an Icelandic icon, claimed as a proud and daring ancestor both there and among his descendants in America.

The Man Who Stole Himself brilliantly intertwines Jonathan’s adventurous travels with a portrait of the Danish slave trade, legal arguments over slavery, and the state of nineteenth-century race relations in the Northern Atlantic world. Throughout the book, Palsson traces themes of imperial dreams, colonialism, human rights, and globalization, which all come together in the life of a single, remarkable man. Jonathan literally led a life like no other. His is the story of a man who had the temerity—the courage—to steal himself.

Contents

  • Prologue: A Man of Many Worlds
  • I. The Island of St. Croix
    • “A House Negro”
    • “The Mulatto Hans Jonathan”
    • “Said to Be the Secretary”
    • Among the Sugar Barons
  • II. Copenhagen
    • A Child near the Royal Palace
    • “He Wanted to Go to War”
    • The General’s Widow v. the Mulatto
    • The Verdict
  • III. Iceland
    • A Free Man
    • Mountain Guide
    • Factor, Farmer, Father
    • Farewell
  • IV. Descendants
    • The Jonathan Family
    • The Eirikssons of New England
    • Who Stole Whom?
    • The Lessons of History
  • Epilogue: Biographies
  • Timeline
  • Acknowledgments
  • Photo Catalog
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians

Posted in Books, Canada, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2016-04-24 00:38Z by Steven

Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians

University of North Carolina Press
September 2015
270 pages
8 halftones, 1 map, notes, bibl., index
6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4696-2443-3

Angela Pulley Hudson, Associate Professor of History
Texas A&M University

In the mid-1840s, Warner McCary, an ex-slave from Mississippi, claimed a new identity for himself, traveling around the nation as Choctaw performer “Okah Tubbee.” He soon married Lucy Stanton, a divorced white Mormon woman from New York, who likewise claimed to be an Indian and used the name “Laah Ceil.” Together, they embarked on an astounding, sometimes scandalous journey across the United States and Canada, performing as American Indians for sectarian worshippers, theater audiences, and patent medicine seekers. Along the way, they used widespread notions of “Indianness” to disguise their backgrounds, justify their marriage, and make a living. In doing so, they reflected and shaped popular ideas about what it meant to be an American Indian in the mid-nineteenth century.

Weaving together histories of slavery, Mormonism, popular culture, and American medicine, Angela Pulley Hudson offers a fascinating tale of ingenuity, imposture, and identity. While illuminating the complex relationship between race, religion, and gender in nineteenth-century North America, Hudson reveals how the idea of the “Indian” influenced many of the era’s social movements. Through the remarkable lives of Tubbee and Ceil, Hudson uncovers both the complex and fluid nature of antebellum identities and the place of “Indianness” at the very heart of American culture.

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The Psychosis of Whiteness: The Celluloid Hallucinations of Amazing Grace and Belle

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2016-04-20 23:43Z by Steven

The Psychosis of Whiteness: The Celluloid Hallucinations of Amazing Grace and Belle

Journal of Black Studies
Published online before print 2016-03-21
DOI: 10.1177/0021934716638802

Kehinde Andrews, Associate Professor in Sociology
Birmingham City University, Birmingham, United Kingdom

Critical Whiteness studies has emerged as an academic discipline that has produced a lot of work and garnered attention in the last two decades. Central to this project is the idea that if the processes of Whiteness can be uncovered, then they can be reasoned with and overcome, through rationale dialogue. This article will argue, however, that Whiteness is a process rooted in the social structure, one that induces a form of psychosis framed by its irrationality, which is beyond any rational engagement. Drawing on a critical discourse analysis of the two only British big budget movies about transatlantic slavery, Amazing Grace and Belle, the article argues that such films serve as the celluloid hallucinations that reinforce the psychosis of Whiteness. The features of this discourse that arose from the analysis included the lack of Black agency, distancing Britain from the horrors of slavery, and downplaying the role of racism.

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A Telenovela, Slavery, and the Diaspora

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2016-04-18 01:40Z by Steven

A Telenovela, Slavery, and the Diaspora

African American Intellectual History Society
2016-04-17

Greg Childs

A Escrava Isaura, the 1875 novel by Bernardo Guimarães, was one of a number of late 19th century works of fiction in Brazil that focused on abolitionism. The story revolves around a young enslaved girl named Isaura, her efforts to gain freedom and become married to Alvaro, a wealthy white man who believes fervently in abolition, as well as her trials and tribulations with the plantation overseer who aims to seduce her and make her his concubine. It was quite transparently an anti-slavery propaganda novel. But it was also quite transparently an idealized romance, an effort to portray liberal whiteness as a heroic and saving grace for enslaved peoples. The novel was a huge success in Brazil and catapulted the author to immediate national fame.

Later in 1976 the novel would be reconceptualized as a television show, or telenovela. It was wildly successful and became one of the most watched television programs in the world, broadcasted in over 80 countries. It was undoubtedly a smash success in South America but also in the Soviet Union, China, Poland, and Hungary. In fact, it was in Hungary where the most intriguing- or depending on your perspective, most comical- story about the telenovela comes to us. According to legend, it was in Hungary in the 1980s where the faithful viewers of Escrava Isaura took up collections after the final episode of the series to help purchase Isaura’s freedom…

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