Dear CAAR colleagues,
My name is Claire Oberon Garcia, and I’m happy to start my service as the blog editor for our updated website. The blog will be an arena for various perspectives on events and ideas of interest to the scholars, artists, and activists who make up our membership. Please check it out regularly and join the conversation by writing to me at Claire.Garcia@coloradocollege.edu.
The US has reached a crisis point in black-white relations that has not been seen since the Nadir at the turn into the 20th century. The unstaunched torrent of anti-black violence by police officers across the nation, the resurgence of shameless racist rhetoric seen in Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, and recent statistics showing that African Americans have lost ground since 1979 in a range of areas, from wages to desegregation efforts in housing and education, are cause for profound despair, frustration, and fear among black Americans. Europe is also experiencing a racial and cultural crisis , as even as I write these words, I hear the news of 148 bodies – many of them children and young people – pulled, once again, from the waters of the Mediterranean. Europe’s fear of darker “others” and blindness to the suffering of fellow human beings has given rise to xenophobic nationalist rhetoric and heartless policies.
This global crisis in race relations contributes to a sense of urgency among those of us in African American and Black Studies, as our work affirms the value of black lives, culture, and resistance. As scholars and teachers of the African Diaspora from all over the world, of different nationalities and ethnicities, we stand with all people who are demanding full human, civil, and citizenship rights from a white supremacist nations that benefitted from systems of colonialism and enslavement that exploited and dehumanized non-white people.
Yet even as black blood flows in the streets across the United States and in the choppy waters that separate Europe from Africa, even as the majority of black American children are educated in sub-standard apartheid schools both North and South, even as even affluent black professionals are unable to buy houses in neighborhoods alongside their white counterparts with the same income level, we do have reason to celebrate. 100 years after the first call for a national museum devoted to the experience of African and African-descended people in the United States, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors on 24 September 2016. The placement of this stunning, African inspired building on the National Mall is a call to account and accountability at a time when black Americans are once more being told that their lives don’t matter.
The presence of the National Museum, the resistance of ordinary citizens of all colors in communities across the nation, and the work that each of us continues to do with our students and colleagues constitute a grand rebuke to white supremacy and the affirmation of black humanity and its attendant claims to life, liberty, and happiness. As black Europeans and European scholars question the influence of white and nationalist supremacy on the generation of knowledge both within the academy and outside it, we can look forward to more conversations and social justice organizing entering the public sphere and transforming university curricula.
CAAR’s 2017 Conference will be in Malaga, Spain, the closest European geographical area to Northern Africa and the historical site for encounters between diverse peoples from what we now call Europe and Africa. Juan Latino, the first Black man to earn a permanent position at the University of Granada in 1565, offers a useful perspective on the negotiation of racial subjectivities in the emerging global empires of Europe. Latino addressed King Philip II with the following remark: “If our black face, your majesty, is disagreeable to your ministers, Ethiopians dislike white faces in men.” Latino’s mention of Ethiopia, one of the world’s oldest sites of Christendom, is an epistemological critique of concepts developing in Europe and later in the Americas about the intersection of race, religion and social status. Further, it should not be lost to us that Latino’s insertion of Africa into the origin of Christendom is in the context of a repudiation of Islam, a religion that had been present in Spain for the past 800 years and whose racially diverse leadership class included sub-Saharan Africans. The historical figure of Juan Latino and his complex message open up a wide terrain for an analysis of the role of Spain and other European countries in their engagement with the international slave trade; Spain played a leading role in the establishment of the slave trade along with other European countries, such as Portugal, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, among others. Opposing the barbarism of this international enslavement, Juan Latino and others like him contributed their knowledge to the Enlightenment of European societies. Mastering Latin, the language of the quest for science and modernity in Spain at that time, he introduced subtle, yet powerful ways of interpreting Black identity and the very concept of race in both the Old and the New Worlds. Please check the Call for Papers on this website for more information.
As a kick-off to the lively and provocative conversations that will be taking place in the CAAR Blog Community, please send me your experiences and perspectives of the racial drama unfolding in the United States. In upcoming weeks, the blog will feature perspectives by CAAR Board members and guest columnists. Write to me at Claire.Garcia@ColoradoCollege.edu. Hope to hear from YOU soon!