Category Archives: Race book

A modernidade negra

Of Agamben, I was going to read the author as gesture. So I have remembered.

I am looking through my files and finding my things. I once printed and wrote on this article by S. P. Guimarães, and kept the copy for years as I waited to work with it. I am going to take notes on my notes now, so I can recycle the printout. I will not require myself to reread the entire text, or to order these notes; nor shall I write the notes in such a way as to make them comprehensible to anyone knowing less about its topic than I do.

It is a long article, over 50pp. in typescript, written in sections that are called chapters; I should find out where it was actually published (in the early 21st century). Black intellectuals and modernity in Brazil, it is called. It is smart, and starts out with a discussion of modernity as a Western (and colonialist) notion. It places the Others of the West outside itself. It also likes revolution and expansion, and thus comes to include elements of this Otherness in itself and even recognizes Other peoples as creators of civilization. So modernity “tal como ocorreu” is the fruit of Europe’s malaise. Black modernity takes part in this process in a very specific way, says Guimarães, and his text discusses this.

Some of the notes I took on the manuscript were:

+ It was the Movimento Negro Unificado, not academics, who deconstructed the myth of racial democracy
+ Racial discrimination in Brazil exists, it is just more implicit and subtle than was [Jim Crow-style discrimination]; black people in Brazil sought assimilation to the national culture but sought to create their own culture in the U.S.; in both cases, blackness meant opposition to an “Anglo-Saxon” ideal (I say the construction of the “Anglo-Saxon” in Iberian and Ibero-American cultural discourse is a question of great interest, by the way)
+ Convivência social with white people does not necessarily mean a good life or an end to discrimination
+ Many Brazilian intellectuals have studied “o negro” as object of study; black intellectuals themselves have not gotten this kind of attention as a class
+ Both Sílvio Romero and Paulo Prado wanted the extinction of the “negro” and importation of European workers
+ Important, and I am not sure whether this is Guimarães speaking or me speaking, noticing that he supports me: modernidade negra involves (a) the romantic inclusion of non-European origins as possible origins of the nation and (b) abolition, so that negros can join modernity as citizens
+ Harlem renaissance was not a black movement but a negotiation between black writers and white audiences; other modern/primitive negotiations of the period are similar; Guimarães points out that this is a white thing: for them, the negro could be equal if (s)he remained different
+ race consciousness among negros was strongest in S.P. due to the importation of European workers; black intellectuals were interested in inclusion in and assimilation to national culture
+ Black culture, black identities as ethnogenesis
+ The idea of “race” is imported; creation of Frente Negra Brasileira (1931) was possible because of this importation (see p. 16); this is why we have “cultura afro-brasileira” (a national term) and the idea of “cultura negra” did not take hold until the 1960s. (Can this be true? Does Guimarães agree? He seems to accept it on some pages, and disagree on others.)
+ He does say that “negro” in Brazil was a political, not a cultural identity until the 1970s; this is interesting
+ Consider the journal Quilombo, published by Abdias do Nascimento, RJ 1948-1950
+ The word “raça” has often referred to a believed-in idea of race as breed or biological category, and it may be for this reason it is disliked (there is a lot in this article about connections to US ideas and vocabulary, from early on, and interesting quotations from SP black newspapers of the 1920s)
+ An important US idea (cf. DuBois) is wanting to preserve black culture — not wanting to be absorbed into a (white) nation. Os negros brasileiros seem to feel differently, not to feel like a separate culture — race and blackness mean African cultural values, and/but are not considered part of a separate nation as in the US and in the Francophone world. So Afro-Brazilian culture may have overlappings with other black cultures / world black cultures, but it isn’t the same as the black culture of Pan-Africanism.
+ Modernismo in Brazil goes in a different direction from the New Negro Movement or Negritude, because it represented motivos negros as belonging to the culture in general and as being mestiços (syncretism, not the creation of a different or separate ethnic identity, was the sign of Brazilian modernism)
+ Abdias do Nascimento was one of those who believed in mixture, not a separate cultura negra; where the idea of a separate culture appears, it is seen as more negative, more primitive, not more civilized. And part of the reason why the idea of cultura negra did appear in the 1960s was that democracy had ended in Brazil, and had to be sought internationally–in this case, in the Black Atlantic
+ But Quilombo was still a publication with a black identity
+ Important: democracia racial may be a white idea originally, but it was reinterpreted and deployed by black intellectuals to their ends
+ Interesting: the creation of national identities is not always an answer to the same question (simple example of different questions: what is the Brazilian people? and what is Brazil?)

There is a lot more in this piece.

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Sarmiento du jour

Ricardo Piglia once pointed out that the apocryphal quotation at the beginning of Domingo Sarmiento’s Facundo (1845) — the French sentence “on ne tue point les idées,” written by Sarmiento on a wall after being attacked by a federalist gang — can be taken as an emblem of Argentine literature in its foundational moment. Not simply in its banal content, but primarily in its form and in the discursive economy that presides over its historical inscription. By relating how Rosas’s dictatorship, “after sending a committee in charge of deciphering the hieroglyph,” (Sarmiento 5) must have wondered what in the world it could mean, Sarmiento draws the line between civilization and barbarism with a mere epigraph: barbarians are, of course, those unable to read the sentence. More than in the utopian vision it voices, “the sentence’s political content resides in the use of the French language” (Piglia 15). A voracious student of foreign languages, Sarmiento located in the transculturation of European sources a sine qua non condition for the construction of a modern civilized Argentine nation. Transculturation is, however, always already torn apart by aporias, not the least of which plagues the authorship of Sarmiento’s epigraph. Sarmiento attributes it to Fortoul, but Groussac later argued that it was in fact taken from Volney, only to be contradicted by Verdevoye, who noted that it does not appear either in Fortoul or Volney, but in Diderot. The exercise in tracking down sources naturally does not matter in itself, but as an emblem of the predicament of an entire national literature. Designed to found a nation by alienating, domesticating, and eventually transculturating that nation’s originary barbarism, the letrado’s civilizing gesture is from the beginning contaminated by a savage, barbaric relationship with its sources, emblematized in recurrent erroneous and second-hand attributions. (– I. A.)

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On language and race

La opción filológica de Henríquez Ureña se debía en parte a esta alternativa: mientras que los científicos se habían equivocado al argumentar a base de hechos empíricos, tales como la mezcla racial, los filólogos tenían una base empírica mucho más precisa en la lengua. La herencia del Imperio español en las Américas era haber dejado una lengua que unificaba a los grupos diversos que habían formado una gran comunidad gracias a ella.

“From that Ortiz article” said the label on the relevant scrap of paper, and now I must find “that Ortiz article.”

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Agamben or the author as gesture

Now I need Agamben for two different projects so I have no choice but to study. Here, the author is gesture.

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Nation versus state, and postnationalism

I am not convinced we are really postnational yet. And I am behind the times, so I should read this old piece.

The term ‘post–nationalism’ has been proposed to designate the emergence of political bodies in the wake of economic globalisation. However, not only is the ‘post–national landscape’ strongly redolent of nationalism, but nations themselves continue to correlate with the political subject in ways that cannot be dismissed. In Spanish political debates the notion of ‘post–nationalism’ has been deployed along with the concept of ‘patriotism of the constitution’, vulgarising their original philosophical use. In this context both terms do ideological duty against the peripheral nationalities in an effort to relegitimise the centralised control of the state. In this article I ‘deconstruct’ the self–serving duality between ‘constitutionalists’ and ‘nationalists’ by showing that traditional state nationalism overlaps with the ‘constitutionalist’ position. Subsequently, I consider whether some form of Habermasian detachment of nation from state can be contemplated for Spain.

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Fragment from 2013

…The concept of raza is thus not a merely a particular system of classification, but a racial order in which culture and cultural identity have an important role and the meaning of color varies. It is nonetheless administered by the state as racial, and despite its flexibility as a category, it remains inflected with questions of color and descent. Piedra’s discussion of the Hispanic self as a text into which Otherness is woven in a “tactical compromise” shows why mestizaje as state policy has not meant racial tolerance but “literary whiteness,” or subjugation to the colonial letter (307).

The estatutos de limpieza de sangre, created in 1449 to identify descendants of converted Jews, persisted through much of the nineteenth century. In the Americas, they were used to exclude people of African and indigenous descent from access to education and from some government posts. Latin America’s fabled valorization of mixture, furthermore, coexists with racial hierarchies in which European descent is highly valued (Portocarrero 2007). The idealization of mixture reconsititutes originary or essentialist identities, reinforcing the bases for racism (Wade 2004). Nicola Miller notes that “ideologies of racial mixing were based on racialized state structures and official national iconographies” and excluded darker or less Europeanized people (2006: 304). Joshua Lund discusses mestizaje as a statist discourse that hardly moves beyond race, as it purports to do, but rather confirms racialization as a state project (2012).

This is to say that inclusivity does not resolve the problem of racial difference but functions to mask or render unspeakable the mechanisms of exclusion and hierarchization which still persist. The elasticity of the category Hispanic does stand in contrast to the less flexible categories that have operated in the United States or South Africa, enabling José Martí to posit in 1891 the existence of a specifically Latin American cuture where “[n]o hay odio de razas, porque no hay razas” and “El alma emana, igual y eterna, de los cuerpos diversos en forma y en color” (38-39). Yet inclusion in the raza hispana does not confer recognition as blanco, as Martí’s own text suggests by positing a Latin American “we” that is identifiably criollo (Ramos 1989). Bolívar’s earlier call for mestizaje had come in the wake of the challenge to elite classes that the Haitian revolution represented, and he expressed concern toward the end of his life that Venezuela would become a “pardocracia” (Helg 2003). …

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Mais, find this article or book

Scholars of Latin American and Caribbean history have recently given a great deal of thought to both “race-making” and “nation-building.” [End Page 331] Many embrace the premise that race is a historical construct—a product of interactions among state policy, individual actions, and local politics—and elaborate compelling analyses of the racial dynamics on that basis. At the same time, others have used Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities” to describe the processes by which nineteenth- century (or in the case of Cuba, twentieth-century) elites and subalterns struggled over the terms of inclusion in the context of newly independent states. The authors in this volume undertake analyses of these as intertwined processes. The understanding that “race” and “nation” are mutually constituted is one of their common arguments.

In several essays, attention to region and its relationship to nation adds a layer of complexity. Barbara Weinstein, for instance, focuses on how intellectuals, journalists, and politicians in São Paulo asserted their “whiteness” during the rebellion of 1932, during which they resisted the unifying efforts of Getulio Vargas’ populist regime. In defiance of Vargas’ efforts to create a nationalist “myth of racial democracy,” in which all races were equally valuable contributors, a discourse emerged claiming Paulista superiority based on both its modernity and its racial purity in contrast to the rest of Brazil, depicted as backward and “other,” “African” or “mulatto.” Rather than taking a separatist view, however, this discourse, argues Weinstein, “was . . . the very opposite of separatism—it conflated the Brazilian nation as a whole with São Paulo identity” (243). Thus, even as she interrogates the categories, Weinstein demonstrates the salience of race and nation.

Other innovations include attention to sources often neglected in the study of racial dynamics. Sarah Chambers cross-references records of landholding and tribute payments with marriage registries, concluding that inhabitants of Arequipa who might otherwise identify as mestizo found it much more advantageous, in public settings, to claim either Indian or Spanish identity. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the label of “mestizo” was not inherently preferable, contrary to received notions of colonial society, in which Indians were thought to claim mestizo identity whenever possible.

Indeed, challenges to entrenched historiographical notions constitute the most appealing aspect of this volume. Among them are Weinstein’s critique of a hegemonic acceptance of the “myth of racial democracy,” Chambers findings about the weak appeal of public mestizo identity, and James Sanders’ simple but significant observations that indigenous people in Colombia formed alliances not just with Liberals but with Conservatives as well.

As in other postcolonial societies, many Latin American regimes confronted the problem of integrating previously marginalized populations into freshly anointed democratic regimes, which in many cases meant incorporating persons of both African and indigenous descent. Historians of the Americas have traditionally treated these efforts at integration as separate problems. However, following the insistence of Peter Wade, whose thoughtful afterword concludes the volume, the editors [End Page 332] have aimed to bring them together. Further work along these lines will enrich and expand our understandings of how race is made.

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