Notes on reading Black agency in Guatemala: dismantling Black slavery while upholding White supremacy?

From my research site: https://caribbeanatlanticbibliographies.wordpress.com/

Caribbean & Atlantic Bibliographies

Blacks and Blacksness.jpgFront Cover

In “Becoming free, becoming Ladino,” Catherine Komisaruk argues that the Guatemalan Blackslavery crumbled before the 1824 dramatic emancipation. Though she acknowledged the arguments of other historians pointing to external causes (from the Haitian Revolution to the emancipation of the Spanish-American colonies), she relies more on internal and gradual developments to explain slavery’s demise.

“By the late eighteenth century slavery in Guatemala was increasingly unsustainable. Slaves were availing themselves of legal institutions and social structures to unravel their enslavement, and as the numbers of people of African descent are in free society, so too did the possibilities of slave liberation. Kingship and social networks, as well as passing unstopped into free society, continued as primary mechanisms of emancipation, while the state and reigning social ideologies persisted in legitimizing manumissions… The emancipation law of 1824 essentially ratified a long-term social transformation that was already almost complete.”

This…

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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.

 

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.

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution – Simon Schama – Google Books

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution – Simon Schama – Google Books.

Front Cover Schama, a well-known art historian, jumped ships to write a highly evocative and detailed history that should be central to the Black Atlantic. He did so after his popular work on A History of Britain, which should have given him the research background he needed to have written this work. It is arguably a history that only a British scholar could have written, and thus, a much needed one against the blinding American patriotic narrative. We should expect that his critics are not a few–we will get to that later, and mostly from the United States’ side.

I regret not having read it before.

In a way, this is a “British Atlantic History” done in reverse to what has been happening from the United States shores, which has emphasized the position of the former British North American colonies (i.e., 13 colonies) within the broader context of the English-speaking Atlantic. Schama, instead, raises the voices of those who has been writing about Blacks outside of the traditional U.S. patriotic paradigm by showing, more evocative than most, how for Blacks the rhetoric of freedom was clearer from the British than from the U.S. Patriots’ side. In doing so, he is able to help revise U.S. Black History.

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