Between the Lines: Literary Transnationalism and African American Poetics

By Monique-Adelle Callahan | Go to book overview

Epilogue
Afrodescendente History
As/And Transnational Poetics

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Africans had been enslaved in the Americas for over 400 years. In the cases of Brazil, Cuba, and the United States, the second half of the nineteenth century was characterized by evolving theories about race and gender and vigorous attempts to reconcile them with an emergent national iden tity. It was also during this period that abolitionism emerged as a discursive and polit ical critique that opposed slavery in favor of a socially and economically progressive nation.

The “africanization” of Brazil, prominent abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco (1849– 1910) and many other abolitionists claimed, was at the very root of Brazil’s problems. He writes in O Abolicionismo:

Quando mesmo essa esperança nos parecesse irrealizável não seria perversidade
fazer penetrar no cárcere do escravo, onde reina noite perpétua, um raio de luz …
Mas a esperança não nos parece irrealizável, graças a Deus, e nós não a afagamos só
pelo escravo, afagamo-la por nós mesmos também, porque o mesmo dia que dér a
liberdade àquele—e esse somente—há de dar-nos uma dignidade, que hoje não o
é—a de Cidadão Brasileiro. (1988, 41)

[Even if this hope seemed unattainable, it would not be perverse to penetrate
with a ray of light the prison cell of slavery where perpetual darkness reigns … But
hope does not seem unattainable, thank God, and we will not comfort the slave only,
but we also comfort ourselves, because the moment we impart freedom to the
slave—and only this—we will also give ourselves an honor which we do not have
today—that of being a Brazilian citizen.]

Ironically, while Nabuco championed the idea of abolition as a means of achieving nationhood, he also advocated for a strict divide between “the slave” and the “Brazilian citizen.”

Abolition and a failed Reconstruction in the South tilted North America’s imperialist gaze toward Brazil and Cuba. In the second half of the nineteenth century in particular, news of the wars of independence in Cuba spoke of the large numbers of

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