Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Camilla Hawthorne's "Contesting Race and Citizenship"

Camilla Hawthorne is Associate Professor of Sociology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is coeditor of The Black Mediterranean.

Hawthorne applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Contesting Race and Citizenship: Youth Politics in the Black Mediterranean, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Contesting Race & Citizenship lays out my claim that contemporary debates about access to Italian citizenship for the children of African immigrants who were born in Italy is closely tied to a much longer history of contestation over the boundaries of Italianness in relation to Africa and the Mediterranean. While discussions about race and nation in Italy are often temporally bounded to either the Fascist period or to Italy’s transformation into a country of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s, I argue instead that the entanglements of race, nation, and citizenship go back even further, to the unification of the Italian nation-state itself at the end of the nineteenth century. I write:
A closer look at the archives suggests that the entanglement of race and citizenship was in fact constitutive of Italian nation-state formation, in ways that remain deeply consequential to this day. As a matter of fact, debates about race in Liberal Italy were characterized less by anti-Semitism and more by an overwhelming preoccupation with Italy’s trans-Mediterranean relationship to the African continent. So, to understand the relationship between Italianness and Blackness (and how this relationship figures in contestations over the boundaries of Italian citizenship), it is necessary to begin with postunification Italy and efforts to consolidate the new nation’s racial identity.
Page 99 does give the author a sense of some of the broader themes and arguments that run through the book—histories and genealogies of Mediterranean racial formation; the centrality of the Mediterranean Sea (as a symbolic and material space) as a point of reference in debates over race, citizenship, and national belonging in Italy; the reproduction of racisms through ideas about geography and practices of spatial differentiation. At the same time, this page does not provide an accurate representation of the full methodological scope of Contesting Race and Citizenship. Page 99 is located within Chapter 3 (“Mediterraneanism, Africa, and the Racial Borders of Italianness”), which is the most historical and archivally-based chapter in the book. In that sense, it does not give the reader a sense that this book is, actually, primarily based on ethnographic research conducted with Black Italian antiracism activists during the last decade. Chapter 3 was written as a history of the present, but this “present” is perhaps less visible on page 99.

That being said, I still think that page 99 is important. Although I am a geographer trained in ethnographic methods, I was compelled to turn to historical research because I needed tools to help me challenge the “common sense” that racism is somehow exogenous to Italy. On this page, I write about finding a portrait of Sarah Baartman (the so-called “Hottentot Venus”) in the archives of Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, even though she was never brought to Italy:
Rearticulating these lineages of pre-Fascist racial thought requires reading archives against the grain—in the University of Turin’s Archivio Storico del Museo di Antropologia Criminale Cesare Lombroso (Historical Archive of the Cesare Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology), for instance, there is no dedicated file for Lombroso’s work on racial science. This points both to the evasion of race in the standard historiography of Liberal Italy and also to the way that racism suffused most aspects of Lombroso’s scientific research such that it could never truly be separated out from the rest of his scientific oeuvre. The archivists and I instead had to follow an elusive trail of bread crumbs through Lombroso’s notes, editorials, letters, and maps, as well as secondary commentary on his re- search. At one point, for instance, an archivist pulled out a large illustration of Sarah Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus) from a filing cabinet and turned to me hopefully: “Maybe this will be helpful for you?” Although Baartman herself was never taken to Italy, her spectral presence in the archive suggests the centrality of Blackness in efforts to ascertain the racial parameters of Italianness at the turn of the twentieth century.
Baartman’s spectral presence in the archive provided one powerful example of the way that Italianness has been suffused with ideas of racial difference since the formation of the Italian nation-state—a process that was in turn bound up the transnational and trans-Mediterranean circulation of racist knowledge-production undergirding European colonialism and imperialism.
Visit Camilla Hawthorne's website and follow her on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue