Producing Racial Difference: Liberal Democracy and the Question of "Black Freedom" after Slavery

Ricarda Hammer, UC Berkeley

While we tend to analyze the abolition of slavery through the arc of progress, this paper interrogates the distinction between emancipation and liberation. To do so, it examines how, in the aftermath of abolition, colonial elites reimposed social orders of racial oppression through reconstructing both, race and freedom. To understand the making of the racialized subject post-slavery, this paper examines key debates over what “Black freedom” meant through a case study of post-Abolition Jamaica. Seeking to re-invent a new definition of “race,” the colonial state drew on liberal economic language and patriarchal Victorian discourses of metropolitan Britain to distinguish the “free” Black person as less than human. While these liberal logics enabled voting rights for white male working classes in metropolitan Britain and the Empire’s white dominions, liberal logics also defined what it meant to be a non-white colonial subject: It meant to be unable to adapt the necessary characteristics for self-government. Although social processes of racial oppression and increasing democratization tend to be told as separate processes, the paper argues that they are two sides of the same coin. Drawing on W.E.B. Du Bois' Black Reconstruction, the paper merges political sociology and the sociology of race to lay out how liberal democratization brought with it the re-invention of the racialized colonial subject.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 171. Empire, Citizenship and Racial Subjectivity