Anti-blackness manifests as black invisibility in Argentina, a society that was determined to marginalize and discriminate against Black women.
“Black women are not victims or passive agents in this story of anti-blackness.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Erika Denise Edwards. Edwards is Associate Professor of Colonial Latin American History and Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Erika Edwards: My book, Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic, provides an international perspective of race and gender relations. By delving into a black experience beyond the United States, readers are able to engage different methods and understandings of not just black history but the roots of anti-blackness, which manifests as black invisibility in Argentina. Black invisibility is the erasure or editing out of Black people from the country’s national identity.
In focusing particularly on Black women, my book continues to invoke and evoke a known fact: Black women have always been central to our understanding of the construction of racial identity. By focusing on enslavement, intimacy, and emotion and the household my book traces how enslaved and freed Black women led the way in re-defining their identities. In doing so they are not victims or passive agents in this story of anti-blackness.
Ultimately it is a story of how Black women maneuvered within the legal frameworks and manipulated social networks to achieve freedom and privilege in a society that was determined to marginalize and discriminate against them.
This is a story of how Black women, regardless where they are from, continue to manifest and define spaces of our own. Because of this, when we seek the answers to our current social and political movements we must constantly center Black women as key to our understanding and seek their leadership in our efforts to dismantle various forms of racial inequality and, more importantly, rebuild our society free of systematic discrimination.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
That resistance comes in various forms. In general, rebellions and revolutions have encapsulated black resistance. But this book engages “everyday forms of resistance.” Whether propelled by their willingness to ameliorate their social condition or adhering to institutional definitions of ideal behavior, Black women adapted to the choices they were given, signifying that they did not passively rely on others to secure their social advancement and that of their families.
This, however, is not new as Black women’s tactics for racial and social advancement were and have been based not on an individual's success but rather the success of a collective whole. This is telling in today’s current social movement, which is led by Black Lives Matter, an organization founded by Black Women: Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. The Black Lives Matter movement is formed by collective liberators that affirms black humanity and a rallying call for black liberation. It is the collective rather than the individual, and similarly my book pushes this notion.
By reading Hiding in Plain Sight, activists and community organizers will learn about familial and collective tactics that can lead to freedom and social advancement.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
YES! In Argentina there is a phrase that is constantly thrown out, No hay negros en Argentina which is translated to “There are no blacks in Argentina.” Often that is followed by popular myths that attempt to explain why, such as when the Argentine government used black soldiers as cannon fodder during the wars of independence (1810–1819), ensuing civil wars (1820–1861), and Paraguayan War (1864–1870); blacks contracted yellow fever and died; or blacks migrated to Uruguay. Because of these consorted efforts of the Argentine government the myth further contends that it created a sex-ratio difference that left few Black men, which forced Black women to seek sexual partners with European men which further led to black disappearance.
These myths and lies continue to perpetuate a narrative of black invisibility and victimhood. I hope people unlearn these harmful “final solutions” like troupes and understand Argentina’s black history is a history of national identity that continues to evolve.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
Like many academics I have been influenced by James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and Audre Lorde. But because I focus on Afro-Latin American history I would be remiss if I did not mention Nelson Estupiñán Bass, an Afro-Ecuadorian author. He wrote the book Cuando los Guayacanes Florecian (1954). I must also give credit to black artists who also inspired my work. This is most likely because my best writing took place while listening to their lyrics and music. I do not think they get enough credit for how much they continue to inspire us and in my case allowed me to think beyond the academic intellectual milieu and attempt to elicit emotion or at least try to move in that direction when I write. But without a doubt, black artists such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Celia Cruz, Bill Withers who not only inspired me, but often elicited the feelings that I hope transpired in my writing.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
My book is a reminder that inspiration and motivation are constantly around us and that is how we will not only imagine but create new worlds. It may not be the big revolution or movements that will bring about change, but rather the quotidian choices that are made to continue that advocate and resist discrimination and racism. The Black women in my book adapted not only to the rules of the household but also to the larger political and social conditions to in effect make change, and as a result they forged their own experiences.
That is key to seeing our recreation… we must see ourselves as a part of that new world and often the answer remains hidden in plain sight.
Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, and an Affiliate Scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, where he directs the Race, Bioethics, and Public Health Project. He is co-author, with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong, of the book, American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
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