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Black Experience in the White Gaze: Framing Afro-Latin American Identities in XIX-XX Centuries (The 52nd Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA))

Philadelphia, PA
Organization: NeMLA, University of Pennsylvania
Event: The 52nd Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
Categories: Comparative, Science
Event Date: 2021-03-11 to 2021-03-14 Abstract Due: 2020-09-30

We invite the participants to explore some of the ways in which Afro-Latin American experience was narrated by writers, scientists, and politicians in Latin America (chiefly the Caribbean and Brazil) from the late XIX century to the first half of the XX century. We encourage to address Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Lusophone contexts of the said regions and the ties between these.

This time period is deemed the epitome of modernity, when the white hegemony allegedly faced a threat in the agency of the global periphery and its “new” subaltern subject. However, in the Hispanic and Lusophone discourse of the turn of the century and the first half of the XX century, this very subaltern, an inherently racialized subject, was often explored through the optics of color-blind mestizaje, with blackness absent from the equation, and chiefly by white (or passing as such) authors and politicians, as well as very few and often misrepresented writers and activists of color. The tendency has its reasons: economic repercussions of slavery, legislative bias, systemic discrimination, and racially biased immigration restrictions in the US and the Caribbean prevented Afro-Latin Americans from mobilization and active self-representation in politics, science, and culture of the period in question.

When exploring black vernacular empiricism in the white gaze, while black voices remain in the grey zone, it is necessary to continuously revisit etiology and optics of these very distinct white gazes, trace narratives back to their intended audiences, articulate the reasons for black literary absence, and observe how the “inside” and “outside” ways of exploring blackness negotiate the meaning of race as a category of difference and belonging.

Participants are encouraged to explore various vectors of narrating vernacular representation, corporeality, information seeking, migratory routes, and knowledge acquisition of black population by non-black authors, politicians, and scientists across countries and disciplines. These strategies may include (but aren’t limited to) the anthropological gaze; scientific racism; romantization/exotization of the non-white subhuman as a political agenda; adopting vernacular narrative practices in non-black writing; political empowerment of marginalized groups from the position of privilege; etc. The aim of this panel is to address the mutability of the archive in a broader historical context, where the notions of emancipation and freedom, hegemony and colony, power and resistance become floating signifiers in need of continuous revision.

We encourage submissions in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. 



Karina Sembe, PhD