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Scripts of Blackness

Scripts of Blackness: Race, Cultural Nationalism, and U.S. Colonialism in Puerto Rico

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Scripts of Blackness
    Book Description:

    The geopolitical influence of the United States informs the processes of racialization in Puerto Rico, including the construction of black places. In Scripts of Blackness , Isar P. Godreau explores how Puerto Rican national discourses about race--created to overcome U.S. colonial power--simultaneously privilege whiteness, typecast blackness, and silence charges of racism. Based on an ethnographic study of the barrio of San Anton in the city of Ponce, Scripts of Blackness examines institutional and local representations of blackness as developing from a power-laden process that is inherently selective and political, not neutral or natural. Godreau traces the presumed benevolence or triviality of slavery in Puerto Rico, the favoring of a Spanish colonial whiteness (under a hispanophile discourse), and the insistence on a harmonious race mixture as discourses that thrive on a presumed contrast with the United States that also characterize Puerto Rico as morally superior. In so doing, she outlines the debates, social hierarchies, and colonial discourses that inform the racialization of San Anton and its residents as black. Mining ethnographic materials and anthropological and historical research, Scripts of Blackness provides powerful insights into the critical political, economic, and historical context behind the strategic deployment of blackness , whiteness , and racial mixture .

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09686-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    The first time I saw the barrio of San Antón was in 1992 as I looked through car windows from a passenger seat. Antonio (Toño) Díaz Royo, a university professor and good friend of my mother, knew of my interest in racial dynamics and drove me there after suggesting I consider this community of the city of Ponce as a possible field site for research. Ponce is centrally located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, between the Caribbean Sea and the Cordillera Central mountain range. It is the third-largestmunicipio(county) on the Island, with a population of approximately...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Place, Race, and the Housing Debate
    (pp. 31-62)

    In the fifth-grade classroom of the public elementary school where I volunteered in Ponce, students were asked to build a representation of an Aztec city. The teacher explained that people of different classes occupied the city: traders, soldiers, priest, politicians, and slaves. “Who lived in the houses made of straw?” she asked.¹ “Poor people,” a student answered. “And in the cement ones?” “Rich people,” said a couple of students in unison. After a brief discussion, the teacher divided the students and instructed two groups to build a barrio. One student said, “I’m going to build San Antón!” The teacher described...


    • CHAPTER 2 Slavery and the Politics of Erasure
      (pp. 65-92)

      On March 14, 1996, one day before construction was scheduled to begin in San Antón, the municipal government invited residents to the project’s announcement ceremony. The meeting took place on San Antón’s basketball court. Before the mayor spoke from the assembled wooden platform, a recently formed theater group from San Antón, Taller La Brisa (“Breeze Workshop”), performed a play for residents and government officials down below. The play challenged—albeit indirectly—the government’s intervention in the community.

      On one side of the stage (i.e., the basketball court), the theater group placed a representation of a new house, and on the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Unfolkloric Slavery: Alternative Histories of San Antón
      (pp. 93-118)

      In 1995, a year before construction work began in San Antón, a national newspaper published the following account of the origins of the barrio:

      La comunidad de San Antón se organiza por grupos de esclavos que llegaron a Ponce de la mano de colonos extranjeros. Estos, atraídos por los incentivos de la Cédula de Gracia, promulgada en el 1815 por la Corona Española, llegaron a Ponce aportando en gran medida al desarrollo económico del poblado. Y con ellos también llegaron grandes comunidades de esclavos. . . .

      Con la abolición de la esclavitud promulgada en el 1872 [sic], se dio...


    • CHAPTER 4 Hispanophile Zones of Whiteness
      (pp. 121-146)

      Long before the municipal government intervened in San Antón to build the housing project in 1996, similar rehabilitation projects had been carried out in other working-class neighborhoods of Ponce. However, the site given the utmost priority in terms of government intervention was the urban center or Zona Histórica (Historic Zone), also known as the Historic Center. Here, visitors can find the traditional mayor’s office and visit the Spanish-style plaza with a Catholic church. Tourists can take a ride in horse-drawn carriages along marble-bordered sidewalks adorned with historic “gas lamps.” Ponce’s association with this urban center of European influence in the...

    • CHAPTER 5 His-Panic / My Panic: Hispanophobia and the Reviled Whiteness of Spain
      (pp. 147-174)

      As we have seen, exaltations of Spain in Puerto Rican national discourses in the 1930s were and continued to be class-and race-loaded responses to the colonial presence of the United States on the Island. Yet not all sectors of the Puerto Rican population shared the anti-Americanism that motivated such exaltations. In this chapter, I pay particular attention to the raced and classed positions informing political projects that considered the United States as a political ally. In this exploration, I also address the continuities of such discourses with the ethnographic present, and particularly from the perspective of those who favored statehood...


    • CHAPTER 6 Flowing through My Veins: Populism and the Hierarchies of Race Mixture
      (pp. 177-202)

      Dominant discourses articulated during the housing controversy couched the barrio’s Afro–Puerto Rican legacy as representing a race that had blended with two others. As Ponce’s mayor declared during the inauguration of the housing project:

      Ponce tiene unos símbolos que significan mucho para Ponce, pero no solo para Ponce, para Puerto Rico, inclusive para el mundo. Porque en esta tierra donde yo estoy parado hoy, aquí los africanos aportaron lo que tenían a nuestra raza. Y nuestra raza no es otra cosa que la mezcla del africano, el español y el indio Taíno y de ahí sale la raza puertorriqueña...

    • CHAPTER 7 Irresolute Blackness: Struggles and Maneuvers over the Representation of Community
      (pp. 203-226)

      San Antón residents did not live their lives according to the cultural precepts ofnegroideaesthetics. They did not dress in “traditional garb,” nor did they spend their free afternoons singing or composingplenasunder the trees. However, many residents I met shared a strong sense of themselves as members of a community that deserved recognition for its important contributions to the city of Ponce and Puerto Rico. At least ten community members I met actively participated in coordinating activities that honored, showcased, or meant to strengthen this sense of community. Many had created formal organizations to this end: the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 227-242)

    In July 2010, three years after I conducted fieldwork in San Antón, a law was passed declaring the community an area of historic and cultural interest.¹ The law made no mention of constructing additional “historic housing” there. Rather, it called on the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the municipal government to join in the identification of the barrio as the “cradle of theplena,” authorizing the establishment of a fund for its “historic development.”² The four-page exposition constituting a rationale for the law described plena as a nationally recognized patrimony of Ponce, quoting various “experts” on the matter. One...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 243-258)
  11. References
    (pp. 259-290)
  12. Index
    (pp. 291-304)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-306)