Re-Watching “Invictus”

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After Mandela’s death I rewatched the film “Invictus,” but this time I also read two film reviews: Bugliani and Baum’s. The three years since its release gave me enough distance to bypass the anticipated jovial triumph of reconciliation. Who would not like to see hundred of years of bitter clashes, cultivated racism, and the establishment of the highest form of White supremacy shattered into pieces simply after a rugby victory–even if it is against the most diverse and integrated rugby team in the world (who had even adopted the dances and moves of the once conquered people: the Maoris)? I remember how I felt the first time I saw it, and how I continued feeling for a long while. We could do this. We can forgive and forget. You cannot blame me for that. Who would not want to feel that way?

But we have been reading Evan Carton’s John Brown’s biography in class, and I have grown much since. In rewatching Invictus’ I knew that Hollywood’s goal, of a fleeting sense of victory, should be seen from a different angle.  To analyze the film anew, I needed to find a way to sail against the film’s ideological current, similarly as Atlantic sailors have played with the lateen and square rigs to forestall and even sail against oceanic wind currents.

The simple truth is that despite its good intentions and historical research, this film has serious problems— as you could see in Baum’s analysis. Yet like sailors sailing against strong ideological currents combining the use of lateen and square rigs, it is our task to propose an alternative view of the past that could do more justice to the subject of racial oppression and reconciliation.

Bugliani focuses more on the art and film’s narrative, while Baum places the film in the context of other two recent movies and within the broader historical context of slavery, race and imperialism. For Bugliani what matters is the wordless pull of the nation; the sport is only a symbol, a vehicle. And though he can seem simplistic, his piece underscores the gravity and unpredictability of the outcome. Moreover, he subtly hits on the problem of Whites’ needs supplied as opposed to that of Blacks. Baum’s more historically informed assessment lays bare the weaknesses of a film that focuses on an ephemeral and superficial reconciliation.

Yes, they all play together and even dance together, laughing and sharing the same seats. But what would happen after that moment is gone, when the differences in wealth, access to power and status continue? What will happen to the habits and prejudices cultivated for centuries in the ethos of these nations? In a way, this film seems to be asking Blacks to once more bend to the faults of the Whites. It is true that he proposed and worked hard for forgiveness, but Mandela went beyond what this film shows. Forgiveness is nothing without redress. John Brown’s approach to reconciliation seems to have contrasted with the one presented in this film. His focused on bringing equality after the law and in power too.

When the rugby team travelled to the poor Black neighborhoods to offer free rugby clinics to poor kids we all got a first look at the poverty that have stricken their lives. That view was not shown much again in the film. Poverty kills, but it is worse when it does not kill and lingers as Povertenza crippling the lives of millions of people who live in societies gushing in Affluenza.  Reconciliation means to bring people out of poverty so we can then really be at the same level. Reading this film in reverse can be an enlightening experience.

 

Junot Díaz representing the Diaspora vs. Dominican government and intellectual nationals

 

Junot Diaz Speaks Out After Insults To His Dominican-ness

 

From the outsider’s perspective, those who are not Dominican or Dominican diasporans, this news may look as a scandal, a circus show of high-profile figures throwing rotten tomatoes at each other. But from the intellectually curious’ view, the one familiar with the history of nations and imperialism, this news is much more than what it looks to either the insider or the outsider. Indeed, this news is worth noting beyond the obvious issue of the Dominican judicial racist ruling because it shows us a significant trend in world identities.

 

Beneath the journalist view, this news is a furious clash between the diaspora (Dominicans actually living outside of the DR) and national locals (Dominicans living on the east side of the island and with deep roots in Dominican soil). Those interested in studying current nationalisms, particularly the expressions of patriotism emanating from small and poorer countries struggling to maintain dignity and sovereignty, may want to pay attention to how national locals (Dominicans in the DR) are now perceiving their own diasporas: they are half-breeds, tools of foreign intervention and imperialism. In this case, viewed from the local nationals’ perspective with a long history of struggle against US imperialism, the US does not have to intervene directly on Dominican politics anymore (the Marines can stay calmly home in their military bases, and the likes of cultural diplomats like Sumner Welles can stay in their DC offices observing the drama developed, but from the outside). The Dominican diaspora in the US, already assimilated into (even when partially) modern paradigms of liberalism, can do the work of chastising the recalcitrant and outdated Dominican national visions of race and retrograding nationalisms that keep both nation-states on Hispaniola (Haiti and the DR) in constant disharmony and international source of shame.

 

The Diaspora, then, people like Junot, is not always welcome back home, neither it belongs legitimately at the center of the empire (look here for an example, to what happened recently to Marc Anthony when he tried asserting his US credentials by signing a historically US song publicly and was then openly treated as a foreign “Mexican” and not as a legitimate US citizen, nor even a Puertorrican. This is also similar (look here) to what Joe Feliciano went through in the fateful year of 1968). The diasporan can’t speak English, the imperial language, well enough to be seen a bona fide US individual (she/he does not have the looks anyways), nor can she/he articulate thoughts well in Spanish to be embraced by Dominican locals as a genuine Dominican. Without a legitimate home, the Diaspora floats around as if hanging over in space without a hard surface to land on or call home (Diasporans are the anti-nationals). The airports are its bungalows, the airlines its agents and the impersonal internet its only real network.

 

Yet, as indicated in this story, the Diaspora is ever more powerful, and despite local-national accusations of imperial complicity, the Diaspora is its own emancipated self. Perhaps it is because I am also a diasporan, have always been, I say, “Go Junot, dale pa’ lante, show them lo ignorante y atrasados que se ven.”

 

A pic with Junot Díaz after a reading in 2010.

A pic with Junot Díaz after a reading in 2010.

 

 

“Listen to What the Drums Say” – Jasiri X


What does it say when the young and rebellious who are on the trenches resisting racial and economic oppression, and are too smart to believe the establishment’s eulogies, continue thinking and reinterpreting the inspirational life of Mandela? There may be reasons to hope in the future.

The Daily News posted that James Baker has tried to clean Reagan from his defense of the South African Apartheid.

When even the most reactionary leaders, who once feared and disapproved of Mandela, are chanting his praises, we need critical thinkers in the front lines ready to speak truth to power.

Though unknown to many, grassroots music and other forms of artistic performances were at the vanguard of the fight against the Apartheid. Drums, in particular, were symbols of resistance since the start of slavery in the Americas. Jasiri X’s metaphor on drums, then, runs deeper than what it looks on the surface.


The lyrics to this song are here

About Jasiri X

http://www.jasirix.com

http://www.twitter.com/jasiri_x

Lynching and the Susquehannocks

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Racial lynching, the tortuous spectacle of killing non-Whites without impunity, seems to have a unique tradition in United States. Certainly, people of color in colonial conditions all over the world have occasionally joined those in the U.S., who, without the protection of the law, have been forced to perform pain and death in public for no other crime than living among Whites. But the intensity and length of this practice in the U.S. have no rivals. Even the few late 19th and 20th centuries African states ruled by White minorities that practiced it, did so for a much shorter time.
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Lynching is not the same as other racial brutalities. Differently, from what Las Casas wrote about the Spanish-Indian violence (even when exaggerating), lynching is not collateral violence that simply derives from an unfair system of labor or from social inequalities and acts of conquest. And in contrast to other forms of racial or ethnic exterminations (i.e., Nazi, Rwandan, Cambodian, Japanese), lynching is done, at most, against a handful of victims at a time and in public for the sadistic satisfaction of onlookers. Though extermination is the ultimate goal, the immediate aim is to plant terror within the non-White communities– often emasculating young males. In most cases, an overwhelmingly large-group descend on one or a few unsuspecting bystanders—a sort of super-bullying. And it shows no distinction of color, as long as the victims are not perceived as White (i.e., Indians, Latinos, Romas and Blacks).

Bartolome de las casas

The main reason a public performance so opposed to publicized U.S.’s religious and civic values became hence socially and culturally ingrained is because its long historical roots. The regular whipping of Blacks in plantations is a formative part of the lynching culture, as some historians have already pointed out. Mimi Sheller wrote, “A differential valuing of white and black bodies, as well as of socially acceptable forms of male and female bodies, is one of the most enduring legacies of slavery.” 1 But the violence of U.S. frontiersmen toward Amerindians is very similar to what later evolved into lynching. Indeed, it was the mob-culture mentality, sometimes mixed up with ideals of patriotic vigilantism, that gave shaped to a more pervasive and acceptable culture of lynching. Though the large majority of U.S. nationalist historians apologize for the frontiersmen by explaining they were simply reacting to Amerindian attacks, the reality is that these settlers and rangers were invading indigenous communal lands. Specific acts of “retaliatory” violence carried out against Amerindians are at the foundation of the U.S. lynching tradition. One such case, the Conestoga massacre, illustrates the argument.

PeaceableKingdom

On the winter of 1763-4, pressed between aftershocks of the French and Indian War, and the opening of the Pontiac insurrection, Presbyterian Scots-Irish, were in no mood for Quaker doctrines of nonviolence. Unfortunately, for the Susquehannocks, their type had become the driving force of the Pennsylvanian frontier expansion, the “peaceable kingdom” of the Quaker Penn family. More alarming was that these freshly arrived Ulster-Scots speakers, accustomed to conflict over land in the British Isles, saw no difference among Native Americans, even when they have settled along the Western frontier and should have been familiar with the diversity of Amerindian cultures. They have crossed the Atlantic as immigrants from the Irish Ulster, a zone of imperial expansion with a long history of religious and ethnic violence, where legends of massacres echoed through folk narratives. Some even descended from Border Reivers who for centuries have kept the Anglo-Scottish border in a state of low-conflict war. These were veterans of border cultures, but like the Spanish Conquistadors, who had come to the New World embodying the ethos of the Spanish Reconquista, the Scots-Irish came to conquer and control in order to better their social and economic status.

Conestoga India Tow

At daybreak on Wednesday, December 14, 1763, an armed mob of these Scots-Irish, who had traveled through a snowy night from northern Lancaster, showed up at the reservation-like village of Conestoga Town, what today is Millersville, PA. Witnesses put their numbers between 50 to 100 restless young and “unmarried” men. They did not come to barter or talk peacefully with the Susquehannock, who had been reduced to this location after their lands and power had disappeared, and were alarmingly dwindling in numbers— a sign of things to come for “peaceful” or pacified indigenous groups. The rangers came only to kill. 

conestoga mannorThe Susquehannocks, who were part of the Iroquois-speaking network of Amerindians of the mid eastern band in North America, would not have expected this misfortune. They had lived in Conestoga for over sixty years, and held copies of the treaties signed with the Penn family— they were a living historical patrimony for the “peaceable” colony. Some even professed Christianity and played key roles in negotiations between the colonial government and other Amerindian groups. They had already begun the process of assimilation by inserting themselves into White society— albeit as a permanent underclass bartering, selling their own crafts and begging at local farms. Following its legal and moral obligations, the Penn colonial government had unwittingly extended over them a sort of welfare system that many non-Quaker White colonists resented, a social order similar to the Spanish-American “República de Indios,” which tried keeping Indians in a subservient state while offering them protection from the ravages of White Creole colonists.


The morning of the Boys’ visit, only about six Susquehannocks were in the village. The rest had stayed among White neighbors the night before while weathering the snow storm— the same one that the armed mob had walked through with a sense of urgency. What ensued was pure calamity. The frontiersmen attacked the six unarmed Susquehannocks mercilessly, not only killing them, but torturing, scalping and cutting them into pieces. Death arrived brutally, quickly and without warning or reasonable justification. The victims’ mutilated bodies, of people who simply happened to look like the combative Indians fighting for their lives on the Western frontier, laid on the floor as evidence of the Boys’ “heroic performance.”

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Though a vocal minority protested vigorously, it seems that the majority’s apathy or subtle support increased the group’s resolve. The other fourteen Susquehannocks found refuge in the Lancaster’s local prison, which also served as a workhouse. Among the refugees were children and pregnant women. While they may have felt secured under the sheriff’s eye, in reality, they had only about two weeks of grace. Their location had been given away and their safety rendered useless. On December 27, the Boys, who had time to put their animus on ice, but did not, came down to Lancaster “equipped for murder.”  They seemed to have represented a silent majority of colonists when they stormed, once more, into the Castenogas’ lives to perform an even more grotesque act of terror and extermination. Again, mutilated body parts laid across the prison’s yard, representing the hardening of racial divisions.

Lancaster Jail

That was not the last of the Paxton Boy’s feats. They organized an even larger assembly of frontiersmen to march against the colony’s capital city, Philadelphia, threatening to kill more Amerindians if the colonial government did not give them protection against Amerindian resistances. As if holding letters of marque, they felt completely entitled to venture into and appropriating Indian land while covered by the British Majesty’s safety. Though they did not meet their economic goal, which was to acquire indigenous-owned lands, they changed politics for ever in Pennsylvania. The Penn dream of racial harmony came to a screeching halt, and Quakers lost their long-held political grip on colonial power. But, most importantly, they left a powerful precedent of justified terror and violence against the “other” non-White. The tacit support from the population at large helped explain the high level of atrocity this event reached, and how it gradually became part of folk legends and culture. The assassins never saw a day in court because they were never prosecuted (one has to question the potential implications of public memorialization of such acts).

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Charles Mason, one of the two surveyors of the Mason-Dixon Line, took time away of his surveying to investigate why the people of Lancaster, with the King’s Highlanders in town, did not show much effort in stopping the violence and protecting the last of the Conestogas, as the Susquehannocks living in the Conestoga Town were called. After a mourning and investigative visit to the Lancaster jail in January 1765, to envision the acts and confirm the atrocities he had heard about, Mason wrote in his diary the following words, which represent the view of an outsider who could not make sense of the American mob-culture.

[I] left Brandywine and proceeded to Lancaster (distance about 35 miles) a town in Pennsylvania distant from Philadelphia 75 miles, bearing nearly duly west. What brought me here was my curiosity to see the place where was perpetrated last winter the horrid and inhuman murder of 26 Indians, Men, Women and children, leaving none alive to tell. These poor unhappy creatures had always lived under the protection of the Pennsylvania Government and had lands allotted them a few miles from Lancaster by the late celebrated William Penn, Esquire, Proprietor. They had received notice of the intention of some of the back inhabitants and fled to the Goal (jail) to save themselves. The keeper made the door fast, but it was broken open; and two men went in and executed the bloody scene; while about 50 of their party sat on horse back without; armed with guns, etc. Strange it was that the town as large as most market towns in England, never offered to oppose them, though its more probable they on request might have been assisted by a company of his Majesties Troops who were in the town… no honor to them! What was laid to the Indians charge was that they held a private correspondence with the enemy Indians. But this could never be proved against the men and the women and children (some in their mothers wombs that never saw light) could not be guilty. 2 (emphasis mine)

This is the Mason-Dixon Journal kept at the Library of Congress

This is the Mason-Dixon Journal kept at the Library of Congress


In the perpetrators mind, Amerindians of all kinds should be distrusted. Their religiosity did not matter; neither the many years they have lived peacefully within White society, nor to which community they belonged (to the peaceful or aggressive Indians). They have been forever racialized, reduced to an unbreakable racial category, in which all the Amerindians were one single group, and thus deserving of any type of violence.

Precedents like this one were soon followed by many similar acts and thus became normal practices wherever Amerindians lived amidst fertile lands. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, only makes sense in the context of the Conestogas Massacre. Similarly, the lynching culture, already taking shape under the whip in plantations all over the Americas, add up just after considering violent acts like the one in Conestoga. With the Amerindians gradual decline in the East, the more this sort of violence was deployed against Blacks.

The Haitian American anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote about how power relations shape the production of history, and this may lead to a silencing of the past. In bringing up the historical connections that explain the enduring power of lynching we dig beneath the tranquil surface of national timelines in search for the hidden scripts that often determine unconscious acts of violence against the racialized “other.”
Notes:

1- Mimi Sheller, Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom (Duke University Press, 2012), Kindle Locations 117-118.

2- Charles Mason, and Jeremiah Dixon, The journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1969).

3- Michel-RolphTrouillot, Silencing the past: Power and the production of history (Beacon Press, 2012), 26.

Citizen G!

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Citizen G!

Jonathas Granville on the New Brunswick, NJ, incident.
Jonathas Granville on the New Brunswick, NJ, incident.

This is a remarkably revealing and yet amusing news document. The context is Jonathas Granville’s visit to the United States to offer Blacks social dignity through the extraordinary political right of citizenship. He was sent in a hurry with the mission of luring at least 6000 immigrants to Hayti (Haiti). He was arguably the first Haitian (unofficial) ambassador to the United States. The incident in reference took place just days after arriving to the US.

In early July 1824, as Granville traveled from Philadelphia to New York, he stopped in New Brunswick, NJ, precisely a few miles from Staten Island. Here, a US Southern military officer made a horrid spectacle when noticing that Granville, a person of color, was sitting on the same table. His tirade made it known, in no uncertain terms, how he felt about eating with a non-White.

The startled Haitian visitor wisely replied, not to the argument of racial inequalities that underpinned the southerner’s reaction, but to his demeanor instead. Granville calmly explained that the aggressor’s shameful manners were unknown to him and his people back in Haiti. He had never been mistreated in public like this, but since he was in a foreign country, he would follow the customs of the land. So, rather than to continue an open public confrontation, Granville simply moved his plate to another table.
His group of White companions, in defiance, immediately abandoned the racist offender and deliberately joined Granville’s table. The story promptly hit the Northern newspapers to become fodder for Southern bashing. The abolitionists’ vocal minority also used this scene to showcase what they perceived as evidence of nobility and humanity in Blacks, which contrasted with southerly arrogance and intolerance. For Granville, this painful experience gave him an insight into the struggles of the so-called free Blacks living in the northern states.

The attached news story, dated a few days. The attached news story, dated a few days after the incident, is Granville’s reply to a previous piece published in the same paper to defend his public honor. Much is explained here about Haiti, US abolitionists, and of Granville himself. What I find amusing is how the translator struggled to convey Granville’s French prose into English, a fact admitted on a note on the bottom of the article. What might pass inadvertently is the way the translator referred to Granville, a refined and high-ranking officer of the Haitian Government. The translator called Granville, Citizen G!

It is hard not to wonder if this renaming of Granville was the result of the already common US practice of shortening names, an expression of endearment, or perhaps just an example of the pervasive (“subtle” in this case) contempt towards persons of color. It could also have been an editorial restrain since the story was running out of space. Certainly, a combination of some of these factors could have played a role in thrusting Granville’s name into the future. As Citizen G ,,G, Granville seems more like a present-day stylish figure with a trendy name, a pop star, a media darling. Or, perhaps, today he could have been a special government agent. But in fact, in 1824 he was both: a special agent of the Haitian government and the new darling of the US northern press (particularly of the abolitionists’ papers).

InIn the coming months, Citizen G would, in fact, become the center of attention among some Northerner readers. The sympathizing White press would admire his genteel manners, eloquent speech and the broad knowledge he appeared to command, and some would see in him the Black “messiah” that could spark an enthusiasm for self-improvement among the less refined US Blacks. The subtext was the conviction that slavery and the pernicious White racial prejudice have rendered US Blacks phlegmatic and unambitious. Little did they seem to know of the more numerous Black leaders among them. These unnamed US Blacks have long struggled against a racial oppression to which Granville could only relate partially.

Citizen G may have remembered how in Saint Domingue White colonists considered gens de couleur like him as inferiors, and how Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1802 scheme would have relegated him to a secondary-level citizen. But the Haitian emissary had never been enslaved or even a potential kidnapped prey for mercenary enslavers. His formal education, military training, and experience in high government posts placed him apart from the bulk of population in any Atlantic city of the time. Citizen G was used to command respect from Blacks and Whites alike. And his message to the US was indeed going to attract the attention and elevate hopes among African Americans. But not because US Blacks needed to be prodded for self-improvement. Citizen G’s message stroke cords among US Blacks because it was their own message too.

Reference: Boston Recorder (1817-1824); Jul 10, 1824; 9, 28

This is the link to the full news article:

Granville Forgives

An island or not?

San Juan edicifios

When is an island surely an island? In Puerto Rico is common to hear people living in San Juan and adjacent suburbs referring to the rest of the country as “the island.” The implication is that San Juan’s metro region is not a physical part of the island of Puerto Rico, but it is instead linked to the United States, the American continent, or perhaps, to the world—as if the rest of the island is not. It further implies that the metro region, with its modern buildings, large professional workforce, and vibrant cultural life to which the elite and foreign visitors regularly attend, cannot possibly be an island. There seems to be a long history behind this split. To the urban-obsessed Spanish colonists, strategic port cities like San Juan stood at the crux of a complex network of communication that connected the colonies to Cadiz, Seville and ultimately, Madrid. The closer you were to the ports where ships brought news, products and instructions from the metropole, the closer you were to power. It was a matter of the empire assigning value to geography and this, in turn, determining power relationships. Circumstances have not changed much today. Yet, notwithstanding tensions between urban and rural populations, this reference to the rest of the island, to what is beyond the metro area as the proper island is a genuine state of mind that imagines space and power in relation to distance from the metropole.

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Indeed, an island does not need to be a piece of land completely surrounded by water to be called an island. In other words, an island does not have to display all the physical traits of an island to be such. It simply needs to be its image, something resembling an island. The Random House Dictionary (2013) suggests this as one of its definitions for the term island. And the geo-political history of the Peninsula of Samaná, in the Dominican Republic, seems to confirm this idea. Samaná history also helps explain the epistemological assumption that those in lower ranks of power need to be controlled. It is the erotic pull that draws control over exotic islands emitting their naturally rebellious charm. An island is, thus, the erotized fresh and vivacious female requiring domesticity.

John Thomson, “Haiti, Hispaniola or St. Domingo,”

For most of the modern period, the Samaná Peninsula has been in an ambiguous category: an undefined status between an island and a peninsula. Today we know that it is a peninsula linked on the ground to the rest of the island of Hispaniola, the second largest in the Caribbean Sea. But that is not how it always was.

24x36 Poster; Map Of Hispaniola Haiti Dominican Republic 1767; Antique Reprint

Historical documents are to blame for our current uncertainty of the region’s real physical status in the past. They often refer to Samaná as an island, and historical maps frequently show it as a separated piece of land, but sometimes not. The pattern with most documents seems to point to a change after the mid 19th century. Historians are now trying to determine the exact last time Samaná was referred to as an island. The idea is to find what may have changed its geographical status; why it is no longer an island? It seems that geological or other natural changes may have lifted up, or dried up the “estéros” or swamps that stood between Samaná and the rest of Hispaniola. Was it the 1824 earthquake? Could it have been the new farming and irrigating methods extracting water from the Yuna? One thing is sure, that the present-day mangrove swamps of Maria Trinidad Sanchez, along the Rincón River’s estuary, is what is left of a larger wetland isolating Samaná and covering the neck from Bahia Escocesa to Bahia de Samaná.

24x36 Poster; Map Of Hispaniola Haiti Dominican Republic 1762; Antique Reprint

My scholarly interest goes beyond simply searching for the “event” that changed Samaná from an island to a peninsula. The reports we have from historical records show a persistent ambiguity about the nature of this region. It is very probable, as some historians have pointed out, that Samaná’s enigma resulted from occasional natural changes. At different times, the Yuna and Rincón estuaries at the neck may have flooded the area making passage through it almost impossible (in fact, a few of the colonial stories point exactly to this kind of experience). It may also have been that the region may have finally risen above the sea level after 1842, making land-access to Samaná easier.

Yet, what is most fascinating to me is to see how and when Samaná is presented as an island, and when is not. Its physical ambiguity, being sometimes accessible through land and sometimes not, lends Samaná to imaginative manipulation. Since you could never be completely sure about what it was (an island or a peninsula), you may call it whatever you felt it was right at the moment. So, looking at the contexts of these references to Samaná may offer us an insight about past geo-political perceptions of the regions.

My argument is that the rhetorical process of making Samaná an island or peninsula, in writing or in drawing, reveals at least two things. First, calling it an island or not is a matter of convenience. Claims for ownership would impact this perception, of course. Second, the perceived physical distance of Samaná in the minds of the authors and cartographers. If the region was seen as easily reachable, then, there is no mention of it as being an island: the distance to Samaná from Puerto Plata as opposed to the distance from Santo Domingo or Port-au-Prince.

Constitution Hayti Samana

This document is a portion of the 1805 Haytian constitution, also known as the Dessalines Constitution (Julia Gaffield made an interesting discovery about this documentHere is her blog). As mentioned at the bottom of the piece featured above, Samaná is not only considered part of Hayti, but it is included as an island.

At this time, Hayti claimed the entire archipelago of Hispaniola–not only the major island, but also all the smaller islands, islets and cays near its coastline. But this was also a time for regrouping and consolidating the gains made with independence of 1804. Haytian leaders could not yet enforce their claim over the eastern side– or more accurately, they could not yet liberate the island’s eastern side from slavery and European colonial yoke (French émigrés in Samaná still owned enslaved Haitians). The Spanish Santo Domingo was still under the control of some obstinate French soldiers led by Louis Marie Ferrand, who had arrived with Leclerc in 1802, and survived the resounding defeat at the hands of the united Haytian forces.

Not only did Samaná appear far from Port-au-Prince, but Haytian claim for it was only in name. It had no soliders there yet. And there was no other practical way of reaching this roadless region from the Haytian capital (which was at its exact opposite), but through water, the same way you reached an island.

Late 18th Century French naturalists wrote extensively about the natural wonders of Samaná. This was at a time when French expansionists impulses were checked by the Spanish control of Hispaniola’s larger eastern region. The case was different in Samaná since here the Spanish had but a precarious hold. So, the French writers’ focus of attention on this region shows more than the region’s wonders. It reveals what they thought was within their reach of controlling. The Samaná region, island or not, was begging to be controlled. I see no reason why these perceptions of geography would not have influenced Haytian leaders in 1805.

12 Years a Slave and the Problem of Depicting Human Atrocities | Ana Lucia Araujo

12 Years a Slave and the Problem of Depicting Human Atrocities | Ana Lucia Araujo

Every now and then, thinkers and activists (of a certain kind) manage to convince producers to sponsor a film or TV show about the history of slavery that shocks the establishment. It does, not because the production is necessarily superior (it often is), but because it succeeds in inciting reflection of the intensity and current implications of slavery’s past. For many, the standard has long been Alex Haley’s novel and its inspired TV series, Roots, which transformed much of the intellectual and emotional landscape, not only in the U.S., but in Latin America and even Europe (even despite its controversies).

If college tests’ results, and media’s ignorance are any indication, I would say we need more of this and more often. Fortunately, this year we are witnessed to one of these films. I have not watched the film yet (I live far from any screening or showing), but by reading the criticism, summaries and being familiar with the primary source (autobiography) in which is based, it seems safe to think this film will add to the resources educators can use to bring life to the classroom and will stimulate much-needed intellectual discussion among lay people about a topic often cover by myth, fear and secrecy.

“12 Years” seems to markedly contrast with sweeter films like “Amazing Grace” (2006) in portraying the realities of racial oppression in more stark terms, to the point that Morgan Freeman, an actor in similar films (i.e., Glory 1989′ Invictus 2009) have publicly said he prefers not to watch it. He admitted that this type of film hits the amygdalae hard and there are limits in what a person like him can take of these hits. The crudeness of reality in this film apparently challenges our common practice of escapism in movie-watching.. It also forces watchers to make space for more anger and repulsiveness in their lives.

Time will tell the impact this film will have in the consciousness of people, in and outside of the U.S. As for me, I am eager to watch it, but should recommend reading the original source first, reviews and blogs like that of my colleague Ana Araujo.

The term “illegal immigrant”

Originally posted on Abagond:

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The term “illegal immigrant” (1930s- ) means an undocumented immigrant, one without papers to stay in the country. The older term was “illegal alien”, common in English in the 1970s and 1980s, rare in American news stories since 2003.

An illegal immigrant can mean someone who:

  1. crossed the border illegally,
  2. overstayed a student or tourist visa,
  3. was brought to the country as a child,
  4. is waiting for a green card,

Etc.

It was first applied to Jews in Palestine in the 1930s. In America it first appeared in the Republican platform in 1986, in the Democratic one in 1996.

Since the 1980s there has been a push to get rid of it: actions are illegal, not people. Huffington Post got rid of it in 2008. The Miami Herald and MSNBC no longer use it. Then, on April 2nd 2013, the Associated Press (AP) stylebook got rid of it…

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REVIEWS: Modernity Challenged, or how I learned to love others

English: Coat of arms of Cuba. Español: Escudo...

Coat of arms of Mexico. Español: Escudo Nacion...

Coat of arms of Mexico. Español: Escudo Nacional de México. Français : Armoiries du Mexique. 日本語: メキシコの国章。 Română: Stema Mexicului. Русский: Герб Мексики. Svenska: Mexikos statsvapen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Modernity

Modernity (Photo credit: brian glanz)

Geoffrey Fox <gf@geoffreyfox.com> and Lorrin Thomas
<lthomas2@camden.rutgers.edu> have indulged us with two fine reviews:

1- Fox: “Frustrated Bourbons vs. Urban Reality in Old Mexico
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=31423

2- Thomas: “Against A U.S.-Dominated Modernity
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=31919

The theme of modernity, be it in Mexico, Cuba, or the United States, ties Fox and Thomas’ reviews together. Though one more than the other, both allude to the need of revising our interpretations of European modernity and to value those opposing it.  The power of the supposedly un-modern to frustrate aggressive Bourbon reforms may reveal more than just an incompetent colonial bureaucracy. Similarly, the intricate visions of de-nationalized, but racialized wandering dissident authors may help us appreciate a universal thirst for justice, betterment and order, a prerogative (seemingly) previously claimed by modernity.

 

Picture you as a sophisticated and street-wise Mexica healer walking
purposely on the “wrong side of town” in Bourbon “modern” Mexico City,
while exuding the distinctive aroma of traditional herbs– an
assortment of long cherished greens, which by now have grown to
include others from Africa (thanks to the importation of African
captives) and Asia (made available through the Manila Galleon). You
have made a name by resisting the medical “modern” bleed-treatment of
pious European-trained physicians in overcrowded colonial hospitals,
and perhaps by surviving a few close encounters with the inquisition.

 

Travel now ahead in time, but only for about a century. Picture you
again as a person of color, but this time fortunate enough to write
and travel to Cuba and the Harlem at a time when lynching was common,
states and provinces were passing laws forbidding interracial
marriages, and science seems to confirm ideas of the gradual
extinctions of non-White people. In your travels, as well as in your
writings, you oppose this new version of “modernity”: the USAmerican
“modernity” (thanks to Brian Owensby for the term). This is, in fact,
a neo-euro modernity, not that different from the Bourbon’s that
cannibalizes other states’ sovereignties and attempts to impose a
global “scientist” social order with racial difference at its
hierarchical social core. Your writing, not unlike the shamanic
practice in your previous incarnation as a Mexica healer opposing
modern Bourbon reforms, envisions a radically different world-order
that de-centers race and nations, and makes better claim for human
equality than what the European modern liberalism has done yet. Who
are you? And why should historians write about you?

 

In a seminal article about modernity, Richard Wolin admits the
profound failings of European modernity as a historical paradigm while
also arguing for its “benefit.” (1) The blessing is what he calls,
“cultural reflexivity,” or the ability to use a second order to
critically examine the first one. In other words, the euro-modernity
project, despite all of its deficiencies, has a trait, a device, if
you like, that allows for self-criticism through the appreciation of
the Other (i.e., Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment critique,
Romantic view of the exotic).

 

Latin American historians are perhaps more familiar with this idea
(than most other historians) through the studies of Bartolomé de las
Casas, called often the first “modern” (of many things). But
tragically, we are also well-versed with the problems in this rosy
view of pious compassion, and, even more terrifying, with the plethora
of “modern” followers of Gines de Sepulveda. Take for example Domingo
Faustino Sarmiento’s push for an uncompromising nationalist modernity,
a decidedly neo-euro modernity. Perhaps in desperation, American
patriot-nationalists like Sarmiento sought functional order and
validity from civilized Europe and the USA. Many Latin American
positivists would later follow the unfortunate natural logic of
evolutionism and scientific racialism. In their national projects, the
traditional, non-modern order would not be assimilated, not even
treated kindly, but extricated and expunged, to give way to a more
advanced, robust and brighter future where capitalist forms of
production were favored, and patriarchy and whiteness were once again
(if not more viciously) enthroned. This horrid image gives some
validity to Homi Bhabha’s argument that euro-modernity’s most serious
problem is its inability to assimilate or deal fairly with traditional
(ancient) practices.  Thus, after all, self-criticism might not be a
particularly strong trait of euro-modernity.

 

What are we left with, then? Don’t forget yet to give credit to
Emanuel Kant’s most sanguine interpretation of euro-modernity, which
asserts that euro-modern individuals are modern because they transcend
their parochial cosmos (perhaps an audacious depiction considering his
virulent racism). This enlargement of compassion, in fact, fueled many
Romantic reforms (including abolitionism). However, the existence of
this positive side to euro-modernity is not in question, but rather
its uniqueness (exceptionalism) and perhaps its comparative strength
or importance in the mix. The other side of Kant’s coin, in clear view
to euro-thinkers only after the rude awakening of both WWs, is better
expressed in the foucauldian grim articulation of power as a
historical point of inquiry (a grimmer and more totalizing turn in
thought from “class struggle”). Daniel Brunsetter puts it grislier in
coining the term “othercide:” euro-modernity’s tendency to kill the
Other. (2) Here, Europe’s modernity left us again naked and with
little room for love (bummer).

 

But then, from the ashes of a nihilist postmodernism, which found all
meta-histories, as well as all purposes of history simply distasteful
and useless, have risen a more clearly defined oppositional
scholarship, busy trying to decipher the ugly post-colonial reality
and searching for signs of origins other than euro’s pasts. It is the
Age of Heroines and Heroes all over again, but from humbler origins (a
theme long popular): the rise of the margins? From this utterly honest
political scholarship we hear clamors, like that of Dilip Gaonkar,
which entreat us to stop our obsession with European “modernity,” and
start listening to other modernities. From this paradigm, modernity is
not the monopoly of Europe anymore, but it is perhaps the universally
human impulse to find and negotiate order—it just happens throughout
history somewhat differently in time and space. (3) In fact, Sarmiento
could have easily written _Facundo_ in ancient Mesopotamia (_Epic of
Gilgamesh_). His consideration of Enkidu would have certainly
differed, however, from his treatment of the dispossessed
American-poor, Amerindian and Black people. And the questions we would
have asked would have been, how and why?

 

So, the anti-Bourbons and anti-USAmericans in these reviews may be
suggesting alternative modernities, perhaps a prodding for us to
follow similar tracks and look for modernities (as opposed to a single
modernity) all around and throughout the historical record.

 

1. Richard Wolin, ““Modernity”: The Peregrinations of a Contested
Historiographical Concept,” _The American Historical Review_ 116, no.
3 (2011): 741-751.
2. Daniel R. Brunsetter, _Tensions of Modernity: Las Casas and His
Legacy in the French Enlightenment_, (Routledge, 2012).
3. Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, ed. _Alternative modernities_ Vol. 12,
no. 3. (Duke University Press Books, 2001).

dennisrhidalgo:

This is really awesome: 1, “Libro-traficante,” 2, “Wet-Book,” 3, “”Dime-Book.” Suddenly Latino Studies has become the rage of the underworld. Never saw that coming. Where are the militant scholars willing to hit the streets?

Originally posted on Habari Gani, America!:

Become a Librotraficante & Support the Campaign. Visit http://www.librotraficante.com, for more info. And for stories on this Movement check us out on Facebook and twitter at #librotraficante.

Wet Books: We are smuggling banned books back into Arizona this March 2012. Get involved. Arizona, we’re throwing the book at you.

Filmed and edited by Librotraficante HighTechAztec. Orale Vatos!

 

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Originally posted on Repeating Islands:

iStock_000011759648_Bannerl

They might share an island, but the Dominican Republic and Haiti couldn’t be more different. While the former is a popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, as Deutsche Welle reports.

Palm trees, sandy beaches stretching for miles, a brilliant blue sea – at first glance, the Dominican Republic seems like a real paradise. Several million tourists visit the country each year. But the stunning landscape and the luxurious hotels mask the fact that the Dominican Republic actually belongs to the less wealthy countries in Latin America, and that it shares a border with Haiti, the poorest country in the western world.

Around four million tourists travel to the Dominican Republic each year

Though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, they remain worlds apart. That’s seen, for instance, in the infrastructure. “The Dominican Republic has proper streets so that…

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Postmodern Paths of Learning?

Portuguese eastern trade routes from Lisbon to...

Portuguese eastern trade routes from Lisbon to Nagasaki (green), and Spanish Manila galleon route (gold))(16th–17th centuries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new fish in “Fish with Attitude” game whose chance of breeding ends today has captivated my son’s attention. The fish’s name is Lunar Dragon, in honor of the Chinese Lunar New Year—today. In an effort to use this as a “teaching moment,” we learned about Macau’s glamorous building, “Grand Lisboa”– a name with a clear postcolonial meaning (Lisboa is Portugal‘s capital, and Macau was a Portuguese colonial post for many years).

And since my academic focus is on the African Diaspora, my interest led me to the year 1622, when the Dutch attacked Macau, but were repelled mostly by African enslaved soldiers.

At the margins of the global African Diaspora we found the story of a group of Blacks who gave their lives for European imperial interests—an empire built on the cheap (there was never enough money to pay for the expenses, so the empire became good at co-opting-recruiting subjects to accomplish their interests).

File:Portugal Império total.png

Today, the legacy of the African Diaspora is clear in Macau. Unfortunately, Western racism has found new homes in Asia too. Nevertheless, African students, among many others, are devising new ways to assert their influence and carve out a space of dignity.  

Habana, Cuba – A Cuban girl of African and Chinese heritage takes a break from her work at a Chinese restaurant in Barrio Chino. Chinese immigration to Cuba started in 1847 when Spanish settlers brought in Cantonese contract workers to work in the sugar fields. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan during the following decades to replace and/or work alongside African slaves. Some 5,000 Chinese also immigrated from the United States during the late 1800s to escape the discrimination present at the time. A small wave of Chinese immigrants also arrived during the early 20th century to escape the political chaos in China.
Many settled in Havana’s Chinatown (known as (El) Barrio Chino de La Habana) and made it one of the earliest and largest Chinatowns in Latin America. Many used the money they accumulated as indentured laborers to open small grocery stores or restaurants. Generations of Chinese-Cubans married into the larger Spanish, mulatto, and Afro-Cuban populations. Today almost all Chinese-Cubans have mixed African, Spanish, and Chinese ancestry.

Originally posted on BROTHA WOLF:

In dedication for the 68th birthday of one of the most sensational reggae artists of all time, Bob Marley, I posted three of his most memorial and enjoyable hits. Let’s forever remember the man, his messages and his eternal revolutionary spirit. Happy Birthday, Bob Marley.

 

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Black History: is this Raul Julia?

Black History: is this Raul Julia?

You may be surprised– This was Henry Jay Lewis a U.S. Black musician and conductor. A talented musician, Henry was the first Black to serve as a conductor and musical director of a major American orchestra (the New Jersey Symphony) in 1968, and the first Black to conduct the Metropolitan Opera, in 1972.

This is the real Raul Julia.

This is the real Raul Julia.

Raul Julia was a powerful actor known well for his acting in The Addams Family and Kiss of the Spider Woman among many. At the end of his life he became increasingly radicalized, more visible in his participation on the films The Burning Season and Romero and on the PBS documentary Americas.

They both rose to prominence from humble origins, died two years apart, and left an admirable legacy.

Racism & Resident Evil 5 Part One: What is racism? |

I have been positively impressed by the work of some bloggers in their attempt to deconstruct our society at all levels, even in gaming. Look at this quotation from this blog analyzing the game “Resident Evil 5.”

E.g. the way all “civilized” characters speak english, while spanish is used as some way to exotize zombies”

Good work!

Racism & Resident Evil 5 Part One: What is racism? |.

dennisrhidalgo:

This type of research illustrates the many hidden connections in history that nevertheless shape us.

Originally posted on Repeating Islands:

maps

This report on the pre-Columbian travels of the sweet potato appeared in NPR. See link to the original report below.

When it comes to spreading food around the world, Christopher Columbus and his European compatriots get most of the credit.

Yes, they introduced some quintessential ingredients into European and Asian cuisine. Who could imagine Italian food without the tomato? Or Indian and Chinese dishes without the spicy kick of chili peppers?

But anthropologists think that a few foods made the 5,000-mile trek across the Pacific Ocean long before Columbus landed in the New World. And their proof is in the potato — the sweet potato.

By analyzing the DNA of 1,245 sweet potato varieties from Asia and the Americas, researchers have found a genetic smoking gun that proves the root vegetable made it all the way to Polynesia from the Andes — nearly 400 years before Inca gold was a…

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dennisrhidalgo:

Brave and articulate.

Originally posted on Abagond:

tale-of-two-hoodies

America has a black president and famous black people like Muhammad Ali, Oprah and Beyoncé. It has a large black middle-class. Black America makes more money than any country in Africa – even more than Nigeria with its oil or South Africa with its diamonds and gold.

Yet:

The average black person compared to the average white person in America circa 2010:

  • is twice as likely to be out of work;
  • needs two more years of education to make the same money;
  • has four cents for every dollar a white person has;
  • dies four years sooner;
  • is six times more likely to be in prison.

Many White Americans see nothing wrong with this. Just like many saw nothing wrong with slavery or Jim Crow.

The three stages of White American racism:

slave-owner

1. Race-based slavery (1660s to 1860s): Whites use guns to steal land in North America and force blacks to…

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Latinos as a political classification

The post below is part of the H-LatAm conversation about Latino versus Hispanic identity. The original post is found here:

Migrant Jesis

“Migrant Jesus,” from Lemos “Latino Gothic” works.
http://bit.ly/YmxsCn

Redistas y Neteros (thanks for the reminder, Tom [Holloway]),

What a surprising reception to Nelly‘s question! It is not simply the rapid-firing of messages which tells when a topic has touched a nerve, but the depth of its engaging posts which sets the thread apart. The sharing of articles, written by participants, and of new research (Gary) makes this forum a necessary contribution to the study of Latin American History, and as this discussion has shown, of Latin@ Studies. And it is to this last point that I want to draw your attention to.

 

Though Latino America, as the place of origin, is important to identify the roots of the Latino/a community in the U.S., what makes the Latino (Latin@) experience unique is its diasporic nature. An engineering Professor recruited directly from [Latin America] is not necessarily a Latino Professor. These professors would often have difficulties in relating to the struggles of Latino students coming directly from U.S. High Schools. Their loyalties and identities would often linked them to their countries of origin rather than to the Latin@ more amorphous and (perhaps) transnational sense of community.

 

This (Latino) community would be more comfortable with accepting and even speaking Spanglish, with moving across various cultures and subcultures, and more familiar with “mixed” marriages of, [say] Peruvians and Mexicans, and with “Latino” kids that have never visited Latino America, and yet, [who] do not fit the “American”/”Gringo” mold (a light color would facilitate assimilation, though). The “Latino,” thus, is not a “Latino American.” She is certainly more American than the [typical] U.S. American. But it is the fact that this community is a diaspora, a people without a tangible country, but with a dispersed identity, that makes its [efforts in] naming crucial. It is politically fraught, as Roger briefly mentioned, but it is also inevitable. We can call it an exercise in absurdity all we want, but people on the ground, the activists, the “undocumented,” the religious leader, the community counselor, the teacher, and most importantly, the young members of the second and third generations, would find this the struggle of their lives.

 

So, this is not a mere discussion in semantics, but one that strike at the heart of past and current histories.

 

Cheers

Dennis R. Hidalgo

Latino Gothic

“Latino Gothic,” from Alejandro Garcia Lemos works: http://bit.ly/YmxsCn

Latino or Hispanic?

I wrote a response to a query in H-LatAm that may be of interest to people outside of the list. 

 This is the link to the original query: http://bit.ly/fVeTiG

 This is the link to my reply: http://bit.ly/10KSwEi

 Below is the text:

Image

 Nelly and Neteros

 The most common and inclusive name in Academia seems to be this: “Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies.” You may want to add “Luso” to specifically refer to Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking America. The stand-alone title of “Caribbean Studies” often includes the Creole, Dutch, French and English speaking regions of the Western Hemisphere and its Diaspora. You may cover it all with such an agglomerate and bulky title. More recently some programs have attempted innovative approaches that use variations of “Western Hemispheric Studies.” As long as the constitution clearly specify that the program will focus on the legacy of those mentioned above, I would go for the latter choice.

But I suspect your concern is more about the terminology as used to classify a diverse group of (brown?) people in the United States. This question, like Puerto Rico’s political status, seems unanswerable, and thus, appears regularly, as a frustrated inquiring student, in forums and chats, hoping for elucidation. H-LatAm has engaged on it occasionally, showing, “mas o menos,” the same basic concepts (a short piece I published once: http://bit.ly/WQ2E6g). As a person that is classified as both, Latino/a and Hispanic, I once found it supremely aggravating. Now, I see it more from a distance.

The disadvantages of the term “Latino” are that it may refer to a dead (and imperial) language, and that is sexist. Those who prefer it see the term relating more to the Latino-American Diaspora (and this would refer to those dispersed in Europe, Australia-NZ, Africa and Asia too). They see the Latin Language far enough in time as not being a threat, and some would even be willing to risk altering the English Language by making the term more gender-inclusive: “Latino/a.” They would also point out that the term Hispanic comes from Nixon’s attempt to classify this growing “Other” as a form of control.

The main disadvantage with the term “Hispanic” is that it attempts to group people under a living language that not all use. More specifically, the reference is not so much to the Spanish Language, but to the Hispanic Culture, and thus a direct relation to the Iberian Peninsula as opposed to Latin America. And this is anathema to those with anti-imperial sensitivities and who know well that not all classified as such are Spanish speakers (indigenous languages abound, and most in the second and third generations speak “Spanglish” instead). However, this term is more widely use (thanks to the U.S. government) and it is more gender-neutral than the alternative.

I have not recently looked at the latest published debates on this topic, but a review we once published here has a short, but very scholarly discussion (if not global) of the issue, which I have not seen in other places: “Memories of the Future” http://bit.ly/UIDxEC

I wonder how the debate has changed, if it has (an interesting research could be to find out the changes it has taken through the years in our forum).

For me, personally, I see it as deciding between two bad choices. Naturally, I prefer the least problematic, and for me it is “Latino/a,” but others would see it differently.

 This may not answer the original question, but when these issues arise, I use them as teaching opportunities to show (students and administrators alike) that the term is not what matters, but the meaning we ascribe to it.

Cheers

Dennis R. Hidalgo

History Department

Virginia Tech

Image

Afraid of Being a Minority?

Image

Below is a response to a Facebook chat created in response to the above meme. I thought it was too long to stay on just a chat. Apologies for its length and for its impromptu nature. 

 

 

Marj and Kate, you are onto something with the theme of conquest. Indeed, the conquest of the world in the name of European modernity has shaped our current existence. By 1910, with the exceptions of Japan and Thailand (Siam), there was no single nation, country or region populated by humans that was not directly or indirectly controlled by European/U.S.’s interests (perhaps, the Amazon region). 

 

Japan was not occupied but until the end of the 2WW, but Matthew C. Perry’s ships in 1852-4 “opened” the isolated country to “modernization” and the ensnares of (un)”free” trade.  After the shocked of the U.S. military superiority Japan swung back and forth from blind imitation of Europeans to outright rejection of foreigners. This “modernization” or better yet, hybridization process culminated with Japan as a German partner and the most effective conquering machine yet–the perfect European pupil in Asia (a former disciple gone rogue). We can say, however, that by partnering rather than resisting, Japan, considered by many Whites as the “noble savage” of Asia, exercised power during the 19th & 20th centuries (the time when Europe/US completed its global conquest) more often than its Asian counterparts. And even after the 1945 U.S. occupation, in part due to the allies’ veneration for its military successes, Japan retained most of its sovereignty.

 

Thailand’s story is neither as remarkable nor as tragic as Japan’s, but they both share the claim of escaping European/US control until the 2WW. Few people know that Thailand’s rulers were relatively successful at playing European/US interests against each other to protect its sovereignty. But in the second part of the 20th Century, after a Japanese occupation and being used by the U.S. as a military platform for the Vietnam War (the Cold War had an irresistible effect in polarizing the world) it fell to the crowing US hegemony. It is unfortunate, but today Thailand has not been as successful in retaining economic, cultural and even less, political sovereignty as it did more than a century ago (and even then, it was a restrained sovereignty). 

 

So, yes, the world has been conquered by White’s interests, and wherever you go, Whites are naturally at the top of the social hierarchy. Even the way I am presenting this piece of history is based on a White logic; it empowers and put Whites at the center of the narrative. But things are changing, it seems, unfortunately not necessarily for good. Today, China and Japan, among some others, are successfully defying what it means to be White and powerful. Being White, as students of racism have long known, is a highly unstable and uncertain category (In Spanish America wealthy people could “buy” Whiteness). But to a large extent, these new definitions of racial hierarchy, though not solely concerned with skin pigmentation, follows the European cultural and material model instead of challenging it. 

 

You may find it strange, but I think that such a process is also happening in the U.S. too. 

 

And to refer to Marj’s concern about the motivation behind the European conquest of the world: it is very tempting to simplify such a complex series of events. The traditional explanation, which follows a trade/Christian logic of history, is that the Islam cut Western European Christians off from the Eurasian trade to which they have been dependent since prior to the Roman Empire. So, Westerners naturally wanted to reconnect with the Asian trade and to evangelize the world in the process (the “discovery” of America was a collateral result). The legacy of the Christian “Crusades” against the Islam is certainly palpable throughout the 500 years of global expiation (Hidalgos in the Americas saw themselves as knights fighting to protect Christianity). A variation to that explanation is that European appalling lack of gold in the face of the “Orient’s” self-sufficiency (the then “all-powerful” Chinese preferred to trade in gold or silver) propelled adventurers to gradually “discover”-conquer the Americas and the African Atlantic coast. The supposedly overpopulation of Europe (dis-landed and disempowered people searching for better odds) is a supplement to these ideas (but in fact, China’s population was growing faster and they did not catapulted). 

 

It is not difficult to see, moreover, that the Western Christian tradition was more distant from nature than most others, and this may help explain the Christian indifference to balance in nature. As a contrast, anthropologists have shown how Meso-American cultures were (are) profoundly concerned with natural equilibriums (I am careful to specify “Western Christianity” because there has been other Christian traditions around the world, often older, that do not share the same cultural markers, but have been . 

 

But a more nuanced and critical explanation of the motives behind the modern conquest of the World considers the European intra-wars, new perspectives on the Islam-Christian conflicts, the conquering nature of great monotheistic religions, the human migrating nature, and the impact legal and intellectual movements had on effecting the submission of the “Other.” Just the fact that there is a gap of more than a century between the (Catholic) Iberian conquests and the (Protestant) North European segregationist and isolationist settlements in North America and the smaller Antilles shows that the process was not simple at all.

 

It is true that by 1492, Europe had not yet recovered from the 1350s bubonic plagues, that it lacked the richness they eventually found in the Americas; that much of its wild-life had been extinct; and that in comparison to the Asian and even African wealth it was not the preeminent place that it would later try to claim. But Europe was not an environmental chaos, or a barren land when the conquest began. In fact, as a stark contrast with foreign conquests, many rulers tried to protect its natural resources. Moreover, Europeans did not see themselves as a unified or even a racial group. For a Spanish noble, an Aztec elite warrior would differ from a Cossack officer in that the latter would likely be a Christian Orthodox and the former without religion (and thus difficult to categorize), but they would both be “Others” to him.  The fact that skin color was an obvious difference played little or no part in making them different. The concept of race, as a bodily and naturally determined differentiation, developed in the process of conquest and closely linked to slavery, but not a motivation for conquest either. 

 

So, even though the Europeans exploited people and resources around the world (the current huge extinction can be traced back to the first European conquests of the America), the idea of them leaving Europe after depleting its resources does not nicely fit the historical record. The so-called “industrial revolution” (I prefer “industrialization”), which began in the 18th century, is more to blame for the current human-made chaos in nature. This is also a European initiative linked to World-conquest, of course, but for that we should perhaps need another entry. 

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