- The Past Is Not Dead: Facts, Fictions, and Enduring Racial Stereotypes
In the last thirteen years, literary critics, historians, and cultural studies scholars have revisited the idea of the real or imagined presence of black Africans in the white mind and in the collective consciousness of western popular culture. While the presence of these factual or fictionalized personages reveals something about the limitations that racism has placed on non-whites living amongst Europeans, these often stereotypical depictions of Africans tell us more about white Europeans' racial fears, inhibitions, anxieties, and desires than they do about the experiences of Africans or other non-whites in these societies. Most of these distorted and romanticized images have their roots in slavery or colonialism, yet their progeny persist well into the twenty-first century and continue to negatively influence race relations and social policy even in the most progressive nations in Europe. Building on the work of Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Allison Blakely, and influenced by the theoretical writings of Walter Benjamin, Allan Pred's The Past Is Not Dead: Facts, Fictions, and Enduring Racial Stereotypes is one of the newest contributions to this body of literature.
Africans have long been a part of Sweden's national history and imagination, yet most white Swedes could only see even the most culturally assimilated non-white person as an "uncivilized savage" who could not overcome his or her own cultural, genetic, and racial inferiority. Part biography, part psychoanalysis, and part study of racial geography, The Past Is Not Dead explores a variety of autobiographical and biographical writings by and about an Afro-Caribbean named Adolph Ludvig Gustav Albrecht Couschi, also called Badin, and his life in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Sweden. In 1760, Swedish King Adolph Fredrik received Badin as a gift from a member of the Danish Board of Commerce. From this point until his death in 1822, Badin lived as part court jester, part royal spy/eavesdropper, and part-time palace pet. Although he associates and lives amongst people of great wealth and power, he is always the cultural outsider whose undulating presence and invisibility makes him privy to information about all sorts of scandals and shady dealings within the Swedish monarchy.
The birth of Gustav IV Adolph to Queen Sofia Magdalena in 1778 gave rise to one of the monarchy's biggest personal scandals during Badin's lifetime. Most Swedes believed that the young prince-to-be had been fathered by King Gustav's friend, Major Adolph Fredrick Munck (38). Badin's presence among the Swedish royals at this time also later fueled rumors that Badin had fathered a child born to Gustav III's sister, Princess Sofia Albertina (40). Pred [End Page 694] views these and other stories as a part of the web of racialized tales and histories that have fed white Swedes' anxieties about Badin, and by extension, all non-white Swedish and immigrant males' supposed insatiable sexual appetite for white Swedish women. Pred is at his best where he places excerpts from Badin's memoirs side-by-side with quotations and comments from late-twentieth-century and early-twenty-first century non-white Swedes, who voice virtually the same frustrations concerning Swedish racism that Badin, and other non-whites, faced over the centuries. The irony of this persistent white supremacy underscores the premise of The Past is Not Dead.
The content of Badin's autobiography is unique, yet some of the questions about accuracy, reliability, memory, and structure that readers may have concerning his writings are typical of those often posed about the slave narrative. For instance, the exact place and date of Badin's birth is shrouded in mystery. According to Pred, some sources suggest 1747 as the date of Badin's birth, while others suggest that 1750 is most accurate. A painting of Badin in the Swedish National Portrait Gallery resembles the engraved slave narrative title-page portrait common to the slave autobiography. The brutal treatment that Badin received at the...