- Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations ed. by Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks
Few inventions have been more intertwined, influential, or destructive than race and nation. European nation-states first emerged during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in the same moment that Europeans devised the transatlantic slave trade. The concept of race followed soon thereafter. While some European and American theorists insisted that every national group contributed its own special gift to the world, others proclaimed that nation-states existed on a hierarchical scale dictated by racial inequalities. The latter group of theorists achieved widespread acceptance of their inseparable beliefs in racial and national domination. By the late nineteenth century, the scientific racism and militaristic nationalism birthed in the age of slavery became the foundation of an era of imperialism and Jim Crow. Millions of Westerners accepted that race was a biological fact, that nation-states should be racially homogeneous, and that national hierarchies were not only natural but also explainable by the unequal, inherent capacities of their male citizens.
A different history was possible. Across the nineteenth-century Atlantic world, countless free and enslaved black people championed an inclusive and egalitarian idea of humanity and envisioned a postemancipation world made of multiracial, or even black, republics. Those women and men often associated freedom with full citizenship and asserted their belonging to the nation-states that their labor had built. They articulated hopes and expectations foregrounded in Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks's Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations.
An edited collection of essays first presented at a symposium held at Rice University, Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations offers a compelling, comparative assessment of black people's understandings of race and nation during an age of emancipations stretching from the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions to the passage of Brazil's "Golden Law." Its ten essays from leading scholars are organized according to four themes: mobility and migration, law and legal status, labor and freedom, and race and the public sphere. Although spanning more than a century and addressing the black experience in mainland North America, the Caribbean, South America, and West Africa, the essays that compose Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations offer a coherent narrative and illuminate through implicit comparison. As the editors write, the essays make the collective argument "that the Age of Emancipations represented a crucial moment in which people of African descent transformed the meaning of citizenship and national belonging" across the Atlantic world (p. 2).
This fundamental point is made especially clear in Celso Thomas Castilho's essay, "The Racial Terms of Citizenship: Abolition and Its Political Aftermath in Northeastern Brazil." Focusing on public debates about and celebrations of abolition in the northern Brazilian city of Recife, Castilho demonstrates "how the mass interracial mobilizations that characterized Brazilian abolitionism also created new ideas about race and political belonging" (p. 184). He captures how [End Page 439] Afro-Brazilians staked claims to citizenship through their involvement in civic associations and their commemorations of abolition. In one evocative scene from June 13, 1888, the one-month anniversary of Brazil's abolition law, formerly enslaved people in Garanhuns asked for a commemorative mass at the local chapel and rejoiced in '"the restoration of their rights, though this was happening three centuries too late'" (p. 193). They, as Castilho writes, joined countless other freedpeople who "presented themselves as rightful members of the community" (p. 193).
While Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations foregrounds black people's similar, subversive assertions of belonging in nation-states that identified themselves with whiteness or antiblack multiracialism, it also shows how they forged new nation-states and redefined citizenship during the age of emancipations. Synthesizing recent scholarship on early Haitian history, Philip Kaisary's '"To Break Our Chains and Form a Free People...