Friday, February 27, 2009

El primero presidente negro-indígeno de América del Norte?

Interesting piece forwarded by J-friend SY, here, about Mexico's first black president (you know, the one before their second black president, Juan Alvarez). After some digging (so you don't have to!), the main advocate of recognizing Vincente Guerrero the first black Mexican president (and Juan Alvarez the second) is Ted Vincent, apparently a former historian at UC Berkeley. He is apparently of sufficient scholarship and repute that his books have been published by both HarperCollins (a popular publisher) and University Press of Florida (the joint university press of the Florida university system, seemingly no slouch). I researched his "repute" because recognizing these two as black presidents seems to be something primarily championed by himself, and various independent outlets (like the Berkeley Daily Planet) that have reprinted his work. There's no indication that his analyses are incorrect, and indeed, his analysis has an explanation for why we've not heard this before in this manner:
[The Mexican] congress had made it near impossible to organize against racial injustice through their passage of Law No. 310 that, though ostensibly in the spirit of equality, prohibited mention of anyone’s race in any public document or in the records of the parish church. One consequence of this law has been that knowledge of the racial attitude of the elite toward Guerrero’s African roots are relegated to private letters and anonymous pamphlets against “the black,” and many a modern history identifies him merely as of “peasant”or “laboring-class” background.

I find all this interesting, because Vincent's piece is one of those that, like works from Chomsky and Zinn (for me, at least), seem to make history make much more sense, they put what I've already learned in a context that seems so much more internally consistent rather than a disjointed collection of facts, and are sufficiently challenging to the ideas of US centrality and supremacy that it makes sense that they're expunged from our history lessons as a matter of course, with no doubt reasonable-sounding protestations of their ancillary importance. While Mexico is certainly no racial haven, the greater degree of intermarriage/intermixing in their population over the years makes them having had a black president seem like a logical probability (according to Vincent, they've actually had 3 presidents with strong African heritage), and Guerrero's actions and abolition of slavery (and the popular support keeping this abolition in place even after Guerrero's execution and rescinding of many of his reforms) make the secession of Texas from Mexico make all the more sense. (Remember, Texas threatened war on the US if the US didn't make them part of the US. That's gumption. And by gumption, I mean... Texas, ho boy, Texas.)

So anyway, in the waning days of Black History Month, which I believe I usually do SOMETHING for on the J Continuum, read Vincent's article, and if the spirit moves you, also read about Paul Robeson, why don't you, cuz from what good J-friend KC and I can tell, he appears to have been one of the best people ever, and we don't hear SHIT about him. (You know, spoke 25 languages, third African American ever accepted at Rutgers, first accepted to Columbia Law School, I think, lettered in like 7 college sports*, black actor who broke the color line and was adored by many white fans before his radical politics came about, helped striking Detroit autoworkers get better pay AND helped black autoworkers get closer to pay parity, told the House Committee on Un-American Activities to go take a flying fuck at itself, not in so many words, etc. etc. I mean, 16,000 people or so tried to attend an event for his 46th birthday -- his 46th! Not even a milestone birthday. So go, seek, Google. And while you're at it, read about James Baldwin in last year's J-entry for Black History Month.


*He actually lettered in 15 varsity sports, apparently. In case you were wondering, J really would like to name his future son Robeson, should he ever have a son. Though there's some wiggle room, this is a potential deal breaker should the future J-significant other disagree on this point.

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