The Long, Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere by Robert Cottrol (review)
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The Long, Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere. By Robert Cottrol. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013. Pp. 360. $69.95 cloth; $24.95 paper; $24.95 ebook)

The Long, Lingering Shadow nicely blends relevant primary and secondary sources in providing an important comparative survey of the legal dimensions of race, or more specifically blackness, in the Americas. With appreciable concision, Cottrol outlines the essential elements in hemispheric comparisons related to the role of law as both a determinant and outcome of the meaning of race. Brevity, however, forestalls truly hemispheric comparisons; other than the United States, Cottrol omits regions with non-Hispanic legal systems, such as the English-speaking and French-speaking Caribbean. Cottrol offers a balanced treatment of the United States, Brazil, and Spanish (-speaking) America, with three of his nine chapters dedicated to each. His obvious expertise in U.S. legal history is apparent in his deft management of the broad ramifications of the specific cases. By contrast, his engagement with Brazilian legal studies often centers on the initiatives of singular men, such as nineteenth-century mulatto politician Antonio Pereira Rebouças. Cottrol’s management of Spanish-speaking America is more generalized as he strives for coherence in analyzing the legal history of race in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. [End Page 291]

Cottrol directly addresses the well-worn Tannenbaum debate on differences between U.S. and Latin American racial practices. However, he avoids evaluating the superiority of any one legal system and upholds the modern scholarly denouncement of the previously held belief in Latin American racial democracy. In the book’s first section, Cottrol demonstrates some ambivalence in assessing any beneficial regional differences in slave laws. Despite reading some distinctive features present in the Latin America systems and defining them as “representing something of a midpoint between the ideal types represented by ancient Rome and the American Cotton Kingdom,” he re-enforces that the alienation of freedom and the de facto permissibility of slave owner violence remained common throughout the Americas (p. 45). It is perhaps with respect to free people of color in slaveholding Latin America that Cottrol might have expressed greater contrast with the U.S. case. Despite documenting the greater breadth of Latin American owner-granted and self-purchased manumission, the impact of the resultant free population remains outside Cottrol’s strict legal focus.

Another limitation of Cottrol’s brevity is the extent to which he presents law as divorced from political context. This is most apparent in two instances. He writes the history of English slave law as one that developed in isolation from preceding Hispanic jurisprudence, and he later implies the operational equivalence of republican governance throughout the Americas. Also, greater distinction could have been made between the impact of structural inequality on racial voting patterns and actual legislative representation in all regions. In emphasizing law as a tool, Cottrol diminishes the importance of popular efforts to create corrective legislation in Latin America. For example, the background of black popular engagement with Latin American constitutional assemblies is left largely unexplored and current laws recognizing unique black rights (particularly in Brazil and Colombia) might be inappropriately read as unprovoked grants from liberalizing states. Similarly, Cottrol’s elite-centered discussion of the blanqueamiento/branqueamento (whitening) ideals obscures Latin [End Page 292] America’s African-descendant community activism prior to the late twentieth century. Cottrol examines the ideology of blanqueamiento almost exclusively as a political force that fostered European immigration into postemancipation Latin America. He does not extend the weight of that force into his analysis of the United States of the Jim Crow era, and he excludes from his discussion of Latin American blanqueamiento policy its operation at the social and reproductive dimensions of these societies.

Cottrol usefully describes the distinct paths that led to a similar tone in the current antiracist struggles of the hemisphere’s African-descended populations. He contends that a denial of the “long, lingering shadow” of race is a pervasive force that must be constantly combated within all of the legal systems of the region. Although the legacy of slavery and postemancipation...