Fixed as That of an Inferior? Antebellum Gens De Couleur Libres, Education, and the US Discourse of Black Deficiency
Painting such discourse as modern casts all non-western societies as “anachronistic subordinates,” pre-modern and temporally bound to remain indefinitely behind in the forward progress of history. However, transnational accounts of blacks in educational contexts, whether in America or in Africa, belie the assumed lack of capacity and agency for people of color. These cases unsettle the western discourse of essentialized racial degradation by which racialized peoples have been characterized. They show us that at the same time as western nations utilized similar strategies on a seemingly homogenous group of black actors, these actors utilized their own strategies to appropriate educational opportunity for their own ends. This historical nuance renders the “fixed” inferior position of blacks less certain; that they had “little voice in their affairs pertaining thereto” may be as much a discursive construction as it has been a material reality.
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