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The trans-Atlantic construction of the notions of 'race', black culture, blackness and antiracism: towards a new dialogue between researchers in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean

The topic
Black cultures and identities have historically been created and redefined through a triangular exchange of symbols and ideas between Africa, the New World and the black Diaspora to Europe. Also the racialization of social relations and of particular groups has been based on categories created throughout the international exchange across the Atlantic. The engine of this exchange has been a chain of events sparked off by the enslavement of huge numbers of Africans and followed by the Atlantic traffic, the establishment of new and large-scale plantation societies, the process of Nation-building in the New World, the colonization of Africa, the anti-colonial movement and the struggle for civil rights among the descendants of Africans in the New World and in Europe.
On the one hand, notions such as tribe and ethnic group, which were created within the colonial experience in the Americas, traveled to Africa, informing the making of the Other, and later bounced back on the Americas. On the other hand, anti-racist and Black Nationalist discourses developed within such international exchange, drawing upon heliocentric (Egypt-centred) and diffusionist notions of world history - often supported by the so-called Hamitic principle - as much they are, nowadays, drawing from the theorizing about the politics of identities in the social sciences. For example, ideas of negritude, blackness and pan-Africanism created in the New World have always been inspired either by African intellectuals and struggle for independence or by images of what African societies were prior to European colonization. Several Afro-American religious systems have maintained - and recently reinforced - symbolic and social contacts with a number of religious centers in Africa.
This process of making of black cultures has been creating the contours of a transnational, multilingual and multireligious culture area, the Black Atlantic. It is in this context that new black cultures have been commodified, through dynamics that are activated from within as well as from without the black population, by selecting certain traits and objects to represent black culture as a whole - to objectify it by making it solid and material. Even though the kind of 'black objects' that are chosen vary from one local context to the other, often these objects have had to do with the body, fashion and demeanor, either as markers of stigma or as signs of mobility and success. This process of transatlantic commodification has been going on for centuries. It is one more evidence that the globalization of racial ideas as well as anti-racist thinking can be processes with a long history, and that they have also concerned peoples that, from a Eurocentric perspective, were often considered as being 'without history'.
In this transatlantic triangulation there have been important changes over this long period of time, which configure a shifting geo-politics of knowledge, hierarchization and racialization, in which, over the past centuries, giving and receiving ends have evolved and moved from one shore to the other, between hemispheres and have traveled between different colonial styles. Latin America - and Brazil - have become less important in the transatlantic making of 'black' and 'white'. The agents and centers of production of racial thought have undergone a process of, so to speak, de-Iberization. For example, the category 'travelers', which was created post facto around the end of the XIXth century, when another category of observers of social and racial dynamics had emerged, the essay-writers, almost never includes people from the Iberian Peninsula. In the last century historians and anthropologists, mostly Europeans but also Americans, have played a key role. More recently the number of Africans and 'black' people from Latin America involved in this circuit has increased - some of them researchers, others writers and/or civil rights activists.
Thus, so far venues for the trans-Atlantic discussion on these topics have been, by and large, restricted to a number of cosmopolitan researchers - mostly historians and anthropologists - who, often, became themselves part and parcel of the flux and refluxes between Africa, the new World and Europe. We are thinking, first of all, about the work of Herskovits, Verger and Bastide, which was very important in inspiring further research on identity formation and cultural production among the descendants of Africans in the New World. We now think that is it pivotal to reconstruct through a variety of more recent perspectives this research tradition, by contextualizing it sociologically and in terms of the scientific paradigms of its time, and by evaluating critically its consequences for the further development on the flux and refluxes across what is now called the Black Atlantic. That research tradition had both subversive and conservative effects. It created a new curiosity for things African in the New World, but it operated through categories - such as the notion of 'Africanism'- that were imbued in the racial and colonial rationale of their time. The use of categories, or sub-variations thereof, such as Guiné, Mina, Sudanese, Mandinga, Nagô, Jeje, Congo, Bantu and Yorubá, but also Egypt and Ethiopia, on both shores of the Atlantic, and their changing and positioned significance, is a good example of how ambiguous and politically complex has become the academic and research enterprise liaising across the Black Atlantic. If there was a colonial library, as Valentin Mudimbe calls the common ground of reading and writing to which anthropologists contributed to a great extent, it always had a trans-Atlantic connotation.
In analyzing the making of black cultures across the Atlantic, and the consequences of this process for the use of ethnic and racial categories in Africa itself, the workshop here proposed shall focus on creativity rather than on the traces of possible 'Africanisms' - with the way 'Africa' is re-invented for political reasons rather than the capacity to retain African culture throughout centuries of hardship. For this reason, it is important to work towards a biography of black objects, icons and ideas - detecting how and why they achieve or lose value. Direction, actors, circuits and hierarchy of these flows reflect the specific and changing position of Latin America and Africa in the world system. It is pivotal to shed light also on the ways that Africa itself has been affected by its use and abuse in the New World, as in instrument to classify and racialize, but also as a tool for empowerment. The history of popular music, youth cultural life, conspicuous consumption and the making of (new) ethnic identities in African cities have shown that Africa is not the immobile, deep continent of most of its representation in the New World. It is also important to pay attention to the role that a number of anthropologists have played over the last century in the creation of such categories as black culture and identity, and Afro-American religious systems.

The workshop
The aim of our workshop is twofold. First, it will critically assess the study of fluxes and refluxes, ruptures and reciprocal influences in the relations between the two shores of the Atlantic. Certainly, the relative lack of direct contacts between Africa and the new World over the last century helps explaining why in Africa as well as Latin America the debate over the notions of race and ethnic identity has received more attention than the historical phenomena of civilization, métissage and the relationship of domination between the North and the South. The workshop will also scrutinize the agenda of the leading researchers of this field of study ('classic' scholars, e.g. Herskovits, C. Anta Diopp, Bastide and Verger, as well as more contemporary scholars, e.g. Richard Price, John Thornton, Paul Gilroy and Lorand Matory).
Second, it aims at developing a new research agenda liaising across the South and establishing a set of key points for the construction of transatlantic South-South joint research projects. In this sense, the workshop will evaluate the existing networks and will try to establish a new network - or, rather, a network of networks.
How to reestablish direct South-South contacts across the Atlantic is, in fact, the main aim of this workshop that will bring together researchers from the two continents to discuss their own experiences and create durable connections centred on deepening the knowledge of social and cultural dynamics in Africa and among people of African descent in the Americas who interact with people of native American, Asian and European descent.
In this pioneering South-South workshop the themes of the debate will be relatively open in order to allow all the contributors to exchange their experiences and perspectives on the longue durée between the XV and the XXI century. The aim of this exchange is to create a common field from which can emerge a number of topics for joint research projects concerning groups of researchers from both shores of the Atlantic who can deal with the double dimension Africa/Diaspora. These future exchange projects should also involve graduate students from the two regions who can benefit from a double supervision from an African as well as a Latin American university.
The workshop will bring together researchers from countries with different colonial traditions and languages. They are researchers based in Africa who work on Africa and, to an extent, the African Diaspora, and researchers based in Latin America - especially Brazil and Cuba - who work on people of African descent in the Americas and to an extent on Africa. The workshop is interdisciplinary and concerns senior and junior historians, anthropologists, museologists and others. Their number will range from 15 to 25, depending on the funding sources - the Brazilian Federal Government, Ford Foundation, the Dekker Foundation, the Social Sciences Research Council and now the Wenner-Gren Foundation are being approached to provide additional donations. The SEPHIS Foundation that is based in Amsterdam has provided us with a general donation.
A limited number of key scholars based in the North who have developed important networks across the Atlantic will also be at the workshop: Paul Gilroy (Yale), John Thornton, Paul Lovejoy (York U.), Jean Rahier (FIU), Stephen Small (UCBerkeley), Ramon Grosfoguel (UCBerkeley), Denis-Constant Martin (CERI, Paris). These distinguished scholars will pay for their expenses with other funds, since the funds the organizers have is especially meant to enable anthropologists and historians from Latin America and Africa to attend.
The workshop is scheduled for November 11-17, 2002 in Gorée, Senegal. The first two days will be the critical assessment of the research thus far; the second two days will be dedicated to establishing a trans-Atlantic research agenda, with a special focus on direct South to South exchanges, since most transatlantic research projects have had their hub in an academic institution in the US, Canada or Europe. Ways to increase the opportunities for Latin Americans to carry out research in Africa, and Africans to carry out research in Latin America ought to be explored. The last two days will be dedicated to excursions, to S.Louis etc.
All the scholars invited will present an original paper that will be circulated in advance. Each paper presentation will be followed by a discussant's commentary. The papers and the commentaries will be edited in a volume to be published within one year from the workshop. We plan to publish this volume with different publishers in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Papers have to be submitted according to the following guidelines:
-    the title along with up to 5 keywords
-    an abstract of 200 words
-    a paper of no longer than 5000 words
-    a separate sheet with the following details: author's name, postal address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail address, institutional affiliation, academic status.
The deadline for the submission of abstracts is August 1, 2002 and the deadline for the papers is October 1, 2002.

The academic sessions of the workshop will take place in the Gorée Institute. This young pan-African institute (founded in 1992) has considerable experience in organizing international seminars and courses. Consequently, it is an ideal place for discussing issues dealing with the workshop. The Institute is located at the former " Maison du Soudan" in the historically well-known Gorée island - a short boat trip from Dakar.
Gorée provides a good international and national setting for the workshop. It has a historical trademark and a past altogether tragic and sumptuous. The importance of Gorée derives from slave trading, slave ships, indignity, suffering, tears and death. Controlled successively by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the French, that small island of fishermen has become since the 17th century, the center of a triangular traffic between, Europe, Africa and America. It was one of the principal slave trade points towards Guyana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Even though a visit to Gorée is a "journey to the heart of pain and suffering through empty yet poignant places poses", the island is today far from a sinister place. First, Gorée has taken an important symbolic position in the reconstruction of cultural and intellectual ties between Africa and the Americas. Second, the island is a wonderful peaceful place covered with colonial style houses and decent beaches. You will be moved and charmed by the style that arises from these houses in ochre, with wooden balcony, as well as by the small sandy streets that all lead to the sea.

The workshop is convened by anthropologist Livio Sansone (Centre of Afro-Asian Studies, Universidade  Federal da Bahia), historian Boubacar Barry (Université Cheikh Anta Diopp, Dakar) and historian Elisée Soumonni (Université Nationale du Benin, Cotonou).
They will be assisted by Dr. Ndeye Sokhna Gueye (SEPHIS-CODESRIA Program Coordinator, Dakar).

Contact person in Latin America:
Livio Sansone, CEAO/UFBA
Centro de Estudos Afro-Orientais
Universidade Federal da Bahia
Praça XV de Novembro 17, Terreiro de Jesus
40.000 Salvador - Bahia - Brasil
tel.55-71-3215315 fax/phone 3228070 home 3460516