Tag Archives: Exploitation

Book Review: Human Zoos

A new review by postgraduate research student Emily Trafford of the University of Liverpool’s School of Histories, Languages and Cultures has been added to the research section of the Black Atlantic Resource, which looks at the 2008 publication Human Zoos.

P. Blanchard, N. Bancel, G. Boёtsch, É. Deroo, S. Lemaire, C. Forsdick (eds), Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires, 2008 (Liverpool University Press: Liverpool)

This recent collection of essays on the display of human otherness moves beyond the wave of freak show literature of the 1980s and ‘90s, and seeks to provide a more comprehensive overview of this peculiar exhibitionary practice. The display of the exotic Other for entertainment, education, and supposedly the advancement of scientific knowledge, occurred in numerous guises throughout imperial nations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The strength of the volume lies in its scope – in terms of time and place, the historical characters and stories that emerge, and the disciplinary approaches that its contributors utilise – all of which make Human Zoos a valuable resource …read more

If you are interested in contributing a book review to the Black Atlantic Resource please contact us.

African Americans and the US Penal System

Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting in late February 2012 has sparked off a whole host of debates around the problematic relationship of African-Americans to the US penal system in the popular media. Yet this has long been a contentious issue leading many to draw parallels between the contemporary treatment and incarceration rates, particularly of African-American men in the US, and former explicit regimes of discrimination in that country such as Jim Crow and Slavery. Such comparisons led one online blogger to claim that more black men are in prison today than enslaved in 1850, while there have also been a host of good academic studies in this area such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – summarized via Worldcat.org as:

“…the book Lani Guinier calls “brave and bold,” and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Levering Lewis calls “stunning,” … In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet, as legal star Michelle Alexander reveals, today it is perfectly legal to discriminate.”

In relation to this Angelina Matson and the design team at Criminolgy.com created the graphic below illustrating case-by-case examinations of police brutality, for more information about this graphic click here:

Police Brutality: Know Your Rights
Created by: Criminology.com

Debates of this nature have been engaged with widely through the arts. Artist Coco Fusco for example, whose work appeared in the 2010 Afro Modern exhibition at Tate Liverpool, has engaged with issues of incarceration and exploitation in her writing (see At Your Service: Latin Women in the Global Information Network). Widening the debate internationally and also exploring the role of women in the US military as perpetrators of torture in the War on Terror Fusco published the work A Field Guide for Female Interrogators:

“Framed as a letter to Virginia Woolf – who argued that women could prevent war – Fusco asks elemental questions about how the US military has capitalized on the growing presence of women in its ranks and how it is adapting originally feminist ideas about sexual assertiveness in its interrogation strategies”

Also see our earlier post via curatorial fellows at MoCADA: Changing “The Master Plan” Hybridity and Black Art and Design.

New Publication: The Anatomy of Blackness

The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (The John Hopkins University Press) by Andrew S. Curran

This volume examines the Enlightenment-era textualization of the Black African in European thought. Andrew S. Curran rewrites the history of blackness by replicating the practices of eighteenth-century readers. Surveying French and European travelogues, natural histories, works of anatomy, pro- and anti-slavery tracts, philosophical treatises, and literary texts, Curran shows how naturalists and philosophes drew from travel literature to discuss the perceived problem of human blackness within the nascent human sciences, describes how a number of now-forgotten anatomists revolutionized the era’s understanding of black Africans, and charts the shift of the slavery debate from the moral, mercantile, and theological realms toward that of the “black body” itself. In tracing this evolution, he shows how blackness changed from a mere descriptor in earlier periods into a thing to be measured, dissected, handled, and often brutalized.

Andrew S. Curran is a professor of French at Wesleyan University and a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in the history of medicine. He is the author of Sublime Disorder: Physical Monstrosity in Diderot’s Universe.

‘These New Plantations By the Sea’

Labadee, Haiti.

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in Labadee, Haiti. Photo: Rob Inh00d (flickr)

In Derek Walcott’s latest collection White Egrets (2010), we find an elegy to a beach he fears will soon be ruined by a new phase of hotel development which he compares to earlier, more brutal, forms of expropriation.

… these new plantations
by the sea; a slavery without chains, with no blood spilt –
just chain-link fences and signs, the new degradations.

Walcott is not the first to make this analogy. In Paradise and Plantation (2002), Ian Strachan argued that Caribbean hotels are modern plantations – locally-run but foreign-owned businesses that create a product for customers who live overseas, but instead of sugar or tobacco what they offer is a holiday experience in ‘paradise.’

Walcott’s poetry is sprinkled with negative images of Caribbean tourism and he has himself campaigned against hotel development in St Lucia. But the hotel also features in his work in a very different way.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in hotels – in Europe, North America and the Caribbean – Walcott, not surprisingly, also experiences them as a place of work. And writes about them as such in his poems.

In other words, Walcott often represents himself occupying hotels – a poem’s observations or argument emerging from an opening scene in which the poet stares into the mirror in his room, or gazes out across a city from a private balcony or enjoys chance encounters beside the pool or in the dining room or lobby.

These two aspects of the hotel in Walcott (the site of exploitation and the scene of writing) exist almost in complete ignorance of each other. The hotel as a site of exploitation is viewed from a distance as if by someone who would never set foot in them; the hotel as a scene of writing is described from within, by a guest, who has no sense of the exploitative relationships around him, barely acknowledging the presence of the staff or the effect of the hotel on the local economy and natural environment.

In this paper I make some tentative remarks on this, dare I say, ‘double-consciousness’, through a reading of some representations of the hotel and tourism in writings about Haiti.

The depiction of sex tourism in the stories of Dany Laferrière (subsequently adapted for the cinema) offers different perspectives on the hotel as a site of exploitation. By contrast, the travel narratives of those visitors who find comfort on the veranda after their intrepid adventures in the city beyond, tend to figure the hotel as a scene of writing. Seeing with one eye and then the other, the observer never quite imagines they might be the same hotel.

The ‘ethics of tourism’ so often revolves around questions of the environmental and economic impact of those who actually go there; but perhaps there is also an ethics that imposes demands on those who write and read about it from a distance?

To read more of this paper click here.

(View photo on Flickr: Rob Inh00d)