Black Experience in the White Gaze: Framing Afro-Latin American Identity in XIX-XX Centuries


Spanish/Portuguese / Comparative Literature

Karina Sembe (Boston University)

We invite participants to explore some of the ways in which Afro-Latin American experience was narrated by writers, scientists, and politicians in Latin America from the late 19th century to mid-20th century and beyond. We encourage participants 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 20th 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, as well as their counterparts of color. These strategies may include (but aren’t limited to) the anthropological gaze; scientific racism; romantization of the non-white subhuman as a political agenda; adopting vernacular narrative practices; political empowerment of marginal groups; and discovering family history and kinship. The aim of this panel is to address the mutability of the archive in a broader historical context, where the notions of power and resistance become floating signifiers.

We encourage submissions in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

This session invites participants to explore how Afro-Latin American experience was represented in the late 19th to the mid-20th century and beyond. Participants are encouraged to explore various vectors of narrating vernacular corporeality, information seeking, migratory routes, and knowledge acquisition of the African diaspora by both black and non-black voices across disciplines.