Cultural Struggle and Diversity among African-American Slaves: Two Moments of Contestation
In The Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy offers a positive vision in which a "hybrid" Atlantic culture is constituted in the course of the international slave trade and is deepened and refreshed through political and cultural struggle. In this paper, I contrast Gilroy's idea with more unilateral notions of plantation dominance and look at the theoretical underpinnings of each view. Two "moments" of cultural contestation and struggle are examined: (1) the tightening of discipline as the plantation economy is first developed in the Tidewater region; (2) the deepening of family disruptions in the 1840s and 1850s cotton boom, as slaves are sold or moved to the New South. The paper focuses especially on the effects of rapid economic change on family relations of the enslaved. As the plantation system developed, intrusions deepened in their intimacy. Familial controls were infused with a violent emotional structure, compounded by the master's interference in the slaves' lives. With the 1840's-1850's cotton boom, these pressures accelerated, challenging notions of slave concordance through the play of the master's cultural hegemony. The paper concludes with reflections on the meaning of cultural diversity and "hybridity" under conditions of extreme power inequality, such as enslavement.
Keywords: Cultural Struggle, Diversity, Slaves, Hybridity, Family, Labor Discipline, Racism
Prof. Mark J. Goodman
Coordinator, Certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice (CARRP) School of Social Sciences Joseph E. Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies , York University