Listening to John Brown’s biography & “book-googling it”: How we interact with technologies

Originally posted on The Critical Historian:

I promised a student I would blog about this. So, here it is.

Today, in my Topics 4004 seminar course, a student seemed to have coined a phrase that reflects how the academic world interacts with new technologies.

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These days in class we are listening and reading Evan Carton’s biography of John Brown, at about three chapters per class (two x week). I think that finishing the semester with an exciting reading is a good idea. This is part of adapting to the semester’s rhythms, understanding that after the Thanks Giving Break professors are not unlike lame duck incumbents. Since the students have reached the point of diminishing returns, this couple of weeks require a different approach, like changing gears as we near our destination.

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Carton’s book reads well. In fact, on the first day reading it, I overheard a student commenting that she would rank Carton’s book on…

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Working philosophy of historical research

What does it mean to focus on freedom in history?

Here are Diana, Dennis and Beverly getting prepared for a group picture but not ready yet when Jerome immortalized the moment.

Here are Diana, Dennis and Beverly getting prepared for a group picture but not ready yet when Jerome immortalized the moment.

My focus is human. There is certainly value in speculating about how events from the past have shaped our present. However, I believe that what makes our species unique are the ability to think about ourselves, to find value around us, and to choose our movements, and then to assign meaning to our choices and the repercussions that follow. I seek in history, then, not much a number of precedents so I could recreate a plausible sequence of episodes reaching our times. Instead, I chase the humanity in them. In other words, I try to learn how people identified themselves; how they perceived their (historical, social and material) milieu; and how they deliberately dealt with the aftermath of their elections. So, if people’s freedom began when they first attempted to realize their limits and then moved to identify and prioritize their options, to focus my attention on how folks understood their constraints, as well as their opportunities, is to study cognition. More human, then, the historian’s task cannot be. In my view, this is what searching the past for human agency is all about.

GBN Wishes Everyone a Happy Mother’s Day

Originally posted on GOOD BLACK NEWS:

To all the mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sons – may you have a wonderful day celebrating or being celebrated as the most important women in our lives. Happy Mother’s Day – like Kevin Durant says, you are the real MVP!1526776_10152256493054086_2240527185522353751_n

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“Garifuna in Peril”: Film on How Indigenous Hondurans Unite to Preserve Culture

Originally posted on Repeating Islands:

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Vinette K. Pryce reviews the 2012 documentary film Garifuna in Peril—an attempt to work towards the preservation of a rapidly dwindling Afro-Amerindian culture struggling to survive in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, and Honduras (and the diaspora). Their language is in danger of disappearing as is a wide array of cultural practices and beliefs. [Also see previous post Garifuna featured in film.] Read full review in the link at the bottom.

Film Description: The film centers on Garifuna peoples, their Caribbean origins and their steadfast determination to hold onto their culture. Descended from enslaved West Africans on St. Vincent in the Caribbean and Indians from the Carib and Arawak tribes, the Garifuna were exiled to Central America by British in the 1700s. Living today in Central American nations such as Honduras and Belize, and in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the Garifuna proudly maintain their centuries-old culture, language and music.

Ms. Pryce writes: Were it not for conscientious documentaries, topical, historic and often…

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Class Picnic Experience with Lila from Nepal

Originally posted on eryn94:

By Eryn Humphries, Lindsey Baumann, Tanner Conkwright

 

We really enjoyed the picnic on the last day of classes. Not only was it a beautiful day but we were finally able to meet the Humphrey Fellow from Nepal! At first, we were not sure who our fellow was because we only had contact with her through email. However, another group in our class was also doing a blog on Lila and so we decided to join their group and get to know her. She was very interesting to talk to and get to know. I think we all under-estimated her accent, since it was a bit hard to understand everything she was saying. However, we got a lot of information for our blog and got to know her on a more personal level. Her life is so different than how we live here in the United States. Everything was so…

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My new blog: The World of Jacques Roumain

Originally posted on celucienljoseph, Ph.D.-- Author, Scholar, Intellectual:

Welcome to The World of Jacques Roumain!! The purpose of this blog is to engage the writings and ideas of Jacques Roumain–one of the most influential writers in Haitian history. My name is Celucien L. Joseph, Ph.D. (a.k.a. Dr. Lou), the host and administrator of this blog. I’m a specialist on Caribbean Literature, Culture, and History, African American Literature and Intellectual History, Haitian Literature, Culture,  and History, Black Atlantic Culture and Thought,  Comparative History and Literature of the Black Diaspora, Postcolonialism, Religion, etc. In this blog, I will occasionally reflect on Roumain’s writings and share my understanding of his ideas. The main languages that will be used here are English, French, and (Haitian) Creole.

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For a succinct biographical essay on Jacques Roumain, click on the link below:

http://kreyolicious.com/chapo-ba-jacques-roumain-writer/1326/

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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:

130404103353-immigration-protest-story-top

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.

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