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)