Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Juliet Hooker's "Theorizing Race in the Americas"

Juliet Hooker is a Professor of Political Science at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos, and reported the following:
Theorizing Race in the Americas analyzes the racial ideas of four prominent nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. African-American and Latin American thinkers: the former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, the Argentinean statesman and pensador Domingo F. Sarmiento, the towering black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois; and the Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos. Scores of books have written about each of these thinkers, but they have rarely been read alongside each other. In contrast, Theorizing Race reads them as hemispheric thinkers, showing how they looked to political models in the “other” America to advance racial projects in their own countries. Page 99, in Chapter two—“Mi Patria de Pensamiento”: Sarmiento, the United States, and the Pitfalls of Comparison—is an apt example of the book’s core argument. It traces the lessons Sarmiento learned from observing U.S. debates about black education and black suffrage following the Civil War.

Sarmiento lived in the U.S. for three years (1865-1868) during the height of Reconstruction, while serving as Argentinean ambassador, and it had an important impact on his political ideas. The texts he wrote during that time, which have so far received very little attention, reveal a different Sarmiento, one not solely focused on Argentinean political conflicts as he was in his most famous book, Facundo, and increasingly concerned with the question of hemispheric power relations between the United States and Latin America. Page 99 describes Sarmiento’s understanding of Northern efforts to educate newly freed blacks and poor white southerners, which he viewed as a model for Latin America. It also describes his disagreement with Mary Mann, an important intellectual interlocutor, about black suffrage. Sarmiento’s skepticism about black suffrage in the United States derived from his understanding of how uneducated voters contributed to political instability in Latin America, by becoming credulous followers of caudillos (charismatic military and political leaders who often became dictators). This pattern, of reading U.S. historical events through the lens of Latin American political problems, would be repeated by later Latin American thinkers.

Sarmiento is an example of the way Latin American ideas about race were shaped in key ways by comparisons to the United States. As Theorizing Race shows, U.S. thinkers also developed romantic perceptions of race relations in Latin America. In both cases, to fully understand the development of racial thought in the Americas, we need to read these thinkers’ ideas in light of their shared hemispheric context.
Learn more about Theorizing Race in the Americas at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue