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mately more useful than the answers that Genovese offers. It would also be a shame if the book were pillaged for apologetics on behalf of the more troubling aspects of antebellum society. Rather, it should be viewed as a challenge to us all to try to understand the Old South in all its contradictory complexity, and especially to try to comprehend those soudierners who earnesdy argued that slavery was a God-given trust. Exchanging Our Country Marks The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum Soudi By Michael A. Gomez University ofNorth Carolina Press, 1998 370 pp. Cloth $45.00, Paper $18.95 Reviewed by Sylvia R. Frey, professor ofhistory at Tulane University and former Pitt Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge, whose major works include The British Soldier inAmerica: A SocialHistory ofMilitary Life in the Revolutionary Period, Waterfrom the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age, and (with Betty Wood) Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestant Christianity in theAmerican South and the British Caribbean to i8jo. Every so often an essentially synthetic work appears that is more than a synthesis . Exchanging Our CountryMarks by Michael A. Gomez is such a book. Although it relies heavily on secondary sources reinforced by extensive research in runaway slave advertisements in southern newspapers and wpa interviews from the 1930s, Exchanging Our Country Marks is a conceptual tourdeforce. No briefreview can do justice to the nuances and complexities of Gomez's argument. His essential concern is with the "self-view," or self-perception of the African in Africa and in North America in the period before 1830. Ethnicity, he maintains, was the source of cohesion and division in die African American community that developed in North America—an ethnicity derived from and informed by African antecedents . Gomez covers the complex and problematic process through which Africans and their descendants moved from ethnicity to race and within race to class. The first halfofthe book explores African antecedents by focusing on die diverse geographic regions and distinct edinic groups from which the bulk of the North American enslaved population was drawn: Senegambia and the Bight of Reviews 87 Benin, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast, the Bight of Biafra and West Central Africa. Gomez's purpose is to discover the cultural and social constructs peculiar to each ethnic group, which laid the foundation for African American culture in North America. In his creative hands die traditional paradigm takes on new and important contours. His incorporation of French- and Spanish-speaking North America represents a new trend among historians of the early period and forms an interesting and important contrast to developments in the English-speaking colonies and states. His pioneeringwork on Islam in North America also demonstrates its foundational impact on the emergent African American community and a composite African American identity. The second halfofthe book is devoted to a discussion oftwo complex and simultaneous processes: the development of race and the development of a concept of class. The transition from "a socially stratified, ethnically based identity direcdy tied to a specific land to an identity predicated on the concept of race" was a lengthy process that began, Gomez maintains, on African soil, in the barracoons where captured peoples were held to await embarkation. The "reidentification " process continued through the Middle Passage. A "transition like no other," that frightful and painful journey formed the basis for the disintegration ofan ethnically based identity and marked the beginning ofa reconceptualization of community based on a sense of common culture and shared pain. The arduous process of seasoning marked another stage in the process. Gomez's compelling analysis ofthe critical importance oflanguage in understanding the transformation of the African into the African American is a major strength. The decisive step in the embracing of race over ethnicity was taken through the development of a folkloric tradition, the dimensions of which are revealed in two tales, die Red Clodi and King Buzzard, both of which were creations of field workers. Thus, race itself developed at the level of the field worker. If internal factors helped to shape notions of race, external factors shaped class within the black community. A relatively late development, which Gomez...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 87-89
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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