Academic journal article The Historian

Punishing the Black Body: Marking Social and Racial Structures in Barbados and Jamaica

Academic journal article The Historian

Punishing the Black Body: Marking Social and Racial Structures in Barbados and Jamaica

Article excerpt

Punishing the Black Body: Marking Social and Racial Structures in Barbados and Jamaica. By Dawn P. Harris. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017. Pp. xi, 257. $59.95.)

Dawn Harris's Punishing the Black Body argues that the black body remained an important site of punishment long after the abolition of slavery in Barbados and Jamaica. Despite the grand declarations of freedom from the metropole, self-possession continued to elude former slaves in the British West Indies. The entire edifice of the two colonies in the post-emancipation era depended upon the violent subjugation of black bodies, every bit as much as it did in the days of slavery. Joining a growing number of scholars of race, gender, and crime in the British Caribbean, Harris introduces to the literature a comparative and interdisciplinary approach "using the lenses of discipline and punishment" (14).

Harris organizes her study around several overlapping themes. After an initial chapter on corporal punishments enacted during slavery, two chapters examine the apprenticeship system in the second half of the 1830s. Although both the Barbados Abolition Act and the Jamaica Abolition Act prohibited employers from punishing workers, "the apprenticeship system held on to the motif of the governed and disciplined black body" (30-31). Indeed, the two acts delegated this power to stipendiary magistrates charged with overseeing apprentices. Chapter two looks at how the "practical application of punishments helped to reinforce the subaltern position of the working classes," and chapter three shows how legislation--what Harris inexplicably refers to as "performance utterances"--similarly served to demarcate social and racial boundaries (67).

The two compatative chapters, four and five, contrast tiny, overpopulated Barbados with land-rich, labor-scarce Jamaica. …

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