Habib 2008

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Habib, Imtiaz. Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008.

"So, are black people in early modern England an invisible, secret population? Not slaves officially since a reformist English Protestantism disavows slavery publicly even as it advocates its expedient usage, nor properly a part of the medieval serfdom of villeinage, since that is a practice badly decayed by the 16c, and not quite belonging to the new practice of indentured servantship either because its precise articles of contract are for a color-coded English cultural practice almost certainly not usable for illicitly acquired blacks, early modern English black people miss the minimum humanizing visibility of legal definition." (5)

"More than being even foreign or poor, black people are unnamable entities. The one time the law does openly identify them, it does so in a gesture of exclusion, as in Elizabeth's unsuccessful orders of 1596 and 1601 deporting 'negars and blackamoors' from the realm, and which in their abruptness and singularity are acts that merely reinforce their effacement rather than the palpability of their English existence. Unseen in civic record, and hidden as references to them most frequently are in secretive parish archives, hwere they are further obfuscated by (a) the eccentricities of improvisatory parish documentation that is incomplete, insoncistent, and discontinuous, (b) non-standard orthography, and the opacity of early modern ENglish cultural naming practices, and (c) the pressures of the conversion process, whereby ethnic identities disappear under Christian names, Tudo-Stuart black lives are imperceptible in the cultual acknowledgments of the age." (7)

"Indeed, the triumph of theory in a poststructuralist age might seem to be the prohibition of th real. The threatening specter of essentialism translates factuality into the unknowable, renders ambivalent if not disallows the value of the archive. Yet, theory needs 'a local habitation and a name' on whih to mark itself, an ontology for the semiology of its performative life, without which its epistemological dividend misses its material effect. This lacuna develops into a compound loss in the otherwise rich aggressiveness of current deconstructions of racial formations in the early modern age in England cited earlier, in which the topoi of the racial other cannot transcend its constructionist abstraction and remains an ideology only, rather than an ideology that includes also, and is mandated by, the impress of the literal. The resultant scenario can be described thus: what is little looked for, and what is therefore non-existent, is also what is/should be unknown because it cannot be known. This in turn reinforces the conventional contemporary mistruth: there were no actual people of color in early modern ENgland; references to them in popular media of the time are metaphoric; and the period is race-innocent. Thus theory might seem to conspire with the natural fragmentariness and obscurity of the documentary life of the early modern English episteme to block the real of the racial in the corrective reconstructions of the age." (9)

"In presenting these archives this book will, thus, marry productively, in the manner called for by Duncan Salkeld, the hard pragmatism of traditional history with the constructionist convictions of postructuralist theory in general, and postcolonial theory in particular, in which the strengths of the one are appropriated by the other, so that the facticity of the archives becomes the mandate of theory and the construction of theory writes the reconstructed facts of the English early modern age." (10-11)

English black people and community: "For many early modern English black people, however, their location even in aristocratic households did not provide such socializing identifications, since they existed there as nameless chattels. Their commonly dispersed, unnamed existence is what makes them, in this study's purview, a historical community. But that early modern English black people can constitute a community even in the traditional sense of the term cited above (a group of people who share a common interest and communicate with each other or who even know each other) is evident in the one rare reference cited earlier, about their neighborhood activities near the Portuguese ambassador's house in London in 1645." (12)

"Racial naming proceeds not from the fixity of essence but from its very ambiguity, which is to say that it fixes difference on that which resists difference, on that which is human/white but not quite. Thus, racial naming may appear to be a neutral descriptor of difference, unless it is realized that racial taxonomies produce difference in the very act of cataloging it." (12)

"Such records as this study deals with do not have for their recorders the already-established contextual value that the supplementary connected illumination of a cultural habit of documenting such subjects can provide and that is recognizable as such by the requisites of modern historical research. As a stand-alone instinct of preservatino that is for the most part neither exclusively public nor private in what it preserves -- the compost of human miscellany, the marginalia of mundane litigation, and the gloss of incidental private obseration -- these black records represent an unprecedented subject of early modern English memory that lacks the pre-established form that can historically identify it." (15)

"The particular argument that this study exemplifies is that the black archives demonstrate the vanishing circle of the bare life of the black between the beginning and end points of its early modern English narrative across both sides of the visibility sight line, from the bare life of the black encountered as unprocessed/never-seen phenomena by an insular English consciousness to the bare life of the black as the politicized racial subject processed and seen by a burgeoning English colonialism as the exception of a primitivism meant for reprogramming in its own image in menial usage." (18)