Monday, April 26, 2021

Edwards, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic"

No pun intended, I'm not sure how we overlooked the publication of Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic (University of Alabama Press, 2020), by Erika Denise Edwards (University of North Carolina, Charlotte). It has now won at least two significant awards: the Association of Black Women Historians 2020 Letitia Woods-Brown Award for the best book in African American Women’s History and Western Association of Women Historians Barbara “Penny” Kanner Award, which honors scholarship that "illustrates the use of a specific set of primary sources (diaries, letters, interviews etc.)" (h/t @ABWHTruth). A description from the Press: 

Argentina promotes itself as a country of European immigrants. This makes it an exception to other Latin American countries, which embrace a more mixed—African, Indian, European—heritage. Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic traces the origins of what some white Argentines mischaracterize as a “black disappearance” by delving into the intimate lives of black women and explaining how they contributed to the making of a “white” Argentina. Erika Denise Edwards has produced the first comprehensive study in English of the history of African descendants outside of Buenos Aires in the late colonial and early republican periods, with a focus on how these women sought whiteness to better their lives and that of their children.

Edwards argues that attempts by black women to escape the stigma of blackness by recategorizing themselves and their descendants as white began as early as the late eighteenth century, challenging scholars who assert that the black population drastically declined at the end of the nineteenth century because of the whitening or modernization process. She further contends that in Córdoba, Argentina, women of African descent (such as wives, mothers, daughters, and concubines) were instrumental in shaping their own racial reclassifications and destinies.

This volume makes use of a wealth of sources to relate these women’s choices. The sources consulted include city censuses and notarial and probate records that deal with free and enslaved African descendants; criminal, ecclesiastical, and civil court cases; marriages and baptisms records and newsletters. These varied sources provide information about the day-to-day activities of cordobés society and how women of African descent lived, formed relationships, thrived, and partook in the transformation of racial identities in Argentina.

Praise from reviewers:

“Powerfully, this book reinterprets the interrelated constructs of whiteness and nation in Argentina from the perspective of African-descended women. In so doing, Hiding in Plain Sight illuminates the gendered languages and initiatives that made possible black women’s (and their children’s) assertions for legal and social belonging—even as these choices entailed a discursive downplaying of blackness in favor of performing Spanish and indigenous identities. A noteworthy contribution to African diaspora as well as women’s and gender studies, Edwards’s book makes the study of both households and the interior city of Córdoba indispensable to thinking about modern Argentina.” —Celso Thomas Castilho,
“Edwards boldly argues that African-descended women in Córdoba employed their clothing choices, motherly responsibilities, and positions as concubines to transform black identities into white privilege. By exploring intimate struggles, Edwards effectively revises Argentina’s national story of black invisibility to a narrative of black agency of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” —Rachel Sarah O’Toole

More information is available here.

-- Karen Tani