This volume addresses a gap in discussions of transatlantic racial formations and cultural expressions. A rich body of work has emerged in the two decades since the publication of sociologist Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, in which he advances the idea that “cultural historians could take the Atlantic as one single, complex unit of analysis in their discussions of the modern world and use it to produce an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective.”1 Defining the black Atlantic as a cultural formation, he points to “intellectuals and activists, writers, speakers, poets, and artists” who articulate the desire to transcend both “the structures of the nation state and the constraints of ethnicity and national particularity” (19). Looking to shift the discussion of black culture beyond a binary opposition between the national and the diasporic, he attempts to put them in dialogue (29). Some scholars have called for the broad application of Gilroy’s theoretical framework to analyses of regions beyond the scope of his original study. Others have explored what they see as the limitations of his postnational viewpoint. Critics have also suggested that his book privileges male intellectuals from Europe and the United States. Varied as they are, most of these responses, like Gilroy’s book, focus on the Anglophone world.
The articles included in this special issue reveal how consideration of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world can and must inflect our understandings of the literatures, cultures, and societies of the black Atlantic. They attend to the ways that colonialism, and especially structures of racial domination, impact the Afro-diasporic cultures of the Luso-African and Afro–Latin American Atlantic world. They thus extend what has been a highly productive dialogue beyond Anglophone cultures and address a surprising gap in comparative research on the cultures of the African diaspora, since more than ten times as many Africans were forcibly [End Page 163] taken to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas than to the United States.2
Modernity and double consciousness are global experiences that began early for the women, men, and children enslaved and colonized by Spain and Portugal.3 In this sense, studies of the black Atlantic in the Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking world touch on the complex dynamics of colonialism, empire formation, transnationalism, diasporic subjecthood, and the geopolitics of knowledge.4 Latin American, Caribbean, and African ex-colonies share in their black Atlantic creole formations similar sociohistorical configurations, including myths of racial democracy, the imaginaries of tropicalism and Lusotropicalism, an insular-peripheral condition, and the agency of black populations that struggle against institutionalized racism for recognition. Double consciousness in these racial formations, as well as in their transnational global enclaves, remains connected to what Frantz Fanon defined as “being in the world,” a triple condition wherein subjectivity, space, and skin create similar but distinct challenges for different local Afro-diasporic populations.5
We open the volume with Rubén Sánchez-Godoy’s essay on Cabello Balboa’s Verdadera descripción de la provincia de Esmeraldas (1583), which exemplifies the complex layering of early colonial configurations of race, bodies, and maroon cultures in Latin America. With his reading of Cabello Balboa’s text as a painful inscription of conflictive events, Sánchez-Godoy examines the role of writing in the formation of early Spanish America. Exploring the ways a text produced from a Spanish/Christian point of view overruns its colonizing intentions, he exposes how the Afro-Amerindian maroon community of Esmeraldas claims its existence in relation to Spanish colonial authority and its mechanisms of objectification and domination.
Guillermina de Ferrari adds another perspective on the constitution of community in the wake of slavery by placing Gilroy’s metaphor of the slave ship in dialogue with Edouard Glissant’s theories of relation as expressed through the metaphor of the plantation. The two metaphors suggest concepts of forced togetherness that lead her to interrogate notions of community, consensus, and lived experience in a comparative reading of the writings of three Caribbean authors: Puerto Rican Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, Haitian Lyonel Trouillot, and Trinidadian Earl Lovelace. These works express what de Ferrari defines...