The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Education Part Seven: Slum Schools and Marginalizing the Marginalized

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students. I hope to continue it for a while, and, of course, any critical dialogue upon what is presented is more than welcome. I will try to space these out weekly.


The political, economic, and social context in which American education revolves extensively around the Cold War rancor between the United States and the Soviet Union; an atmosphere of fear, generated by the red scare and accusations of anti-Americanism, gripped the nation as the press, politicians, and corporate heads embellished the threat of Communism to the average American. It was within this historical context, where two world super powers and their respective ruling elites were colliding to achieve militaristic and economic dominance, that the conservative educational philosophy of James B. Conant would be lengthily developed and happily regurgitated by status quo-promoting school officials. Conant, an extreme advocate of meritocracy, would push for a national school reform where standardized testing, selective schooling, limited access to education, and vocational training for the majority would ensure “a stable American democracy” where “a government run by experts with only limited participation by the masses” would help to marginalize the more subversive, “diverse populations of students” that “had strengthened the position of radical elements on campus” (Tozer, 2009, p. 221).

Schools and universities, according to Conant, should function not as democratic institutions where students and faculty are actively engaged in the democratic process to foster a sustainable democratic culture but instead a meritocratic, intellectual ivory tower where a skilled elite would be cultivated with the purpose of running society. Despite the democratic rhetoric, Conant’s ideas would promote a vision of an extremely exclusive quasi-democratic state more akin to ancient Athens than to a real, participatory democracy where the majority had control over their lives and labor. Thus, Conant’s primary desire was not only to maintain and perpetuate the current class structure but to strengthen it; he hoped to accomplish this by training a highly skilled elite in advanced academic institutions while utilizing public schools to force feed a mind-numbing, ultra-nationalist, conformist, training-based educational regimen down the throats of the rest of the population.

A recurrent theme throughout Conant’s educational ideal is what, in his mind, he identified with freedom: bourgeois democracy and the capitalist state. Thus, any sort of dissident or radical who questioned the foundation upon which the capitalist order rested was pigeonholed into the caricature of a subversive, anti-American Communist. Despite the fact that many, though by no means all, progressives and radicals within the New Left dismissed the state-capitalist model of the Soviet Union as nothing more than a pretty façade of worker’s power covering an ugly, brutal regime, Conant and the rest of the public officials during this time period would consistently raise the specter of a Communist takeover and associate any sort of dissent with such a threat. As Conant explains:

Communism feeds upon discontented, frustrated, unemployed people… The young people are my chief concern, especially when they are pocketed together in large numbers within the confined of big city slums. What can words like ‘freedom,’ ‘liberty,’ and ‘equality of opportunity’ mean to these young people? With what kind of zeal and dedication can we expect them to withstand the relentless pressures of communism? How well prepared are they to face the struggle that shows no sign of abating? (Tozer, p. 219)

The kind of “zeal and dedication” Conant envisioned would be one of nationalistic furor and unquestioning obedience to the authority of the skilled minority which, ironically, was quite a similar theoretical approach to Soviet-style state capitalism. It would take a public school system that conditioned students and teachers to act, respond, and think in a specific way to commands from the educated elite to solidify this meritocratic ideal. The result of this sort of educational program does not require much pondering; the established elite and intellectual ruling clique would maintain their dominance over the majority and do with them, their labor, their resources, and their lives, what they pleased.

Conant knew that in every corner of American society there remained a wide gap between those who have it all and those who have nothing. Tozer explains that “At one extreme, the urban schools in low-income and poverty neighborhoods stressed vocational education and…the wealthy suburban schools educated almost all their students for college” (Tozer, p. 219). The policies Conant vehemently postulated would further inequality by promoting “segregation of Black students from White students in the college preparatory and advanced placement classes [he] so vigorously endorsed” (Tozer, p. 221). This, of course, was no concern to him; socioeconomic factors were not important enough to consider when analyzing the academic and intellectual ability of a student. Or, rather, Conant hoped to downplay their importance purposefully and designed a theoretical approach which would not only ignore reality but actively seek to displace it from consideration.

For educators, then, the absolute and unequivocal renunciation of Conant and his meritocratic vision is necessary. For democracy to flourish, the control of society cannot be restricted to an educated elite who acts on behalf of the people. The people must be intricately engaged and involved in their own lives and how society is organized through democratic participation. The example of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro in Cuba can be utilized here for educators, especially those involved in the field of history. A small band of revolutionaries, aimed to dismantle the oppressive, U.S. backed dictatorship of General Batista in Cuba, fought a guerrilla war on behalf of the Cuban people in an attempt to liberate them from their oppressors. Unfortunately, despite popular support, the actual involvement of the people in the revolution was limited. As Paul D’Amato explains, “The revolution was wildly popular for its land, educational and economic reforms, but the Cuban masses neither carried out the revolution nor created the state that emerged from it” (D’Amato, 2008). Consequently, a relatively small, bureaucratic elite now maintains power in Cuba under the guise of a socialist democracy. Although Conant’s desires and ideal differ prodigiously from the hopes and dreams of the Cuban peasants, toiling workers, and guerrilla revolutionaries, the concept is transferable. Democracy must include full participation of the masses; without an education which allows for such a democratic culture to develop, however, this goal is largely unattainable.

In the classroom, this means that democratic participation by the students is absolutely essential in the learning process. A dictatorial, teacher-student dichotomy where the relationship is defined in strict terms of depositor and receiver, one simply giving information and one simply accepting it, is unacceptable for a democratic atmosphere to flourish. Rather, a relationship where the teacher engages the students by proposing problems and facilitating the development of solutions, meanwhile learning from and immersing him or herself in the lives of the students, provides the most fulfilling, democratic, and humanizing form of education imaginable. This, in contrast with the meritocratic, structured hierarchy of Conant, provides a glimpse into the possibilities for the future of education if students, teachers, and parents take up the struggle for autonomy and active engagement in the learning process. It will be more than simply requesting it from the established structural norms or hoping a few benevolent politicians implement it; indeed, it will only come through a dedicated struggle waged by those who truly desire the development of democracy. Thus, the radical elements developing with progressive ideas of how to significantly alter democracy must not be shunned or marginalized but creatively explored and tested. Educators cannot afford to simply understand the pedagogical aspects of working with students; they must also be prepared to accept and utilize the organizational principles required to fight back against oppressive working conditions and the bureaucratic school systems, lacking union organizations, and corporate impingement into the public arena. The fight is ours to win; we, as educators, just have to be willing to engage in it.

Works Cited

D’Amato, P. (2008) Tyrannies Ruling in the Name of Socialism. Socialist Worker, 679, August. Accessed March 20, 2009. Available:

Tozer, S., Violas, P., & Senese, G. (2009) School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. 6th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rampage: "I'm done fighting" and What It Says About the UFC

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson told the world on Tuesday that he's "done fighting."

Hate him or love him,  the news of Rampage's declaration that he will no longer fight hits many of us fans quite hard.  Rampage is, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting, skilled fighters to grace the Light Heavyweight division of the UFC. From his often humorous interviews and coaching on the Ultimate Fighter reality show to his emotional and legal journeys that we sympathetically followed him on, Rampage has grown a significant fan base in the sport. On one hand, his decision is a percussive blow to those of us who love watching him in all his glory; his percussive punching power and his unique, vibrant fighting style always prove a thrilling watch. On the other, he stipulates a laundry list of rather convincing reasons for his choice. He mentions his repeated injuries and his desire to pursue an acting career an ancillary motives in his decision. However, what he clearly articulates, if not in these words, is that he is fed up with the authoritarian, corporate structure of the world's dominant fighting organization, the UFC, and it's figurehead Dana White.

Rampage cites a variety of problems he has encountered with the management of the UFC. His first line says it all: "The UFC has done a lot for me but I think I have done more for them." From there, he airs out all the crap he's been put through to fight in the UFC, from being pushed into fights he claims he was not ready for and having to compete with serious jaw injuries, to fighting matches which he says "wasn't even worth it to me financially," and being snubbed for a rematch after he lost the 205 pound belt due to a controversial decision against Forrest Griffon.

On top of this, Dana White's shady deals are intricately woven all throughout the drama. After promising Rampage that he could fight for the belt after hosting The Ultimate Fighter reality show season 10:

"After I signed the contract Dana then changes his mind & says I have to fight Rashad [Evans]& even told me what to say in the press & so my fans think I was scared to fight Machida [205-belt holder]. After all that I still never complained & I did it all."

Perhaps the most humanizing section of his entire entry is when he explains why he simply requested that the UFC administration push his fight with Rashad Evans back a month or two:

"Then this movie role came about that I have been trying to get for over a year & as soon as I found out I was close to getting it, I called Dana right away & asked to push the Memphis fight back just a month or so. I told him what this movie role meant to me. I told him that I used to bond with my father watching the tv show as a kid when my parents where still married & it represents the memories I had with my father when we lived together. My dad became an alcohalic & addicted to drugs & we grew apart. But after my dad got his life back together, I was so proud of my dad & I told him I would always take care of him in the future & make him proud of me. My dad & I are still very big fans of the show & I am basically doing this for the childhood memories I had spending time in front of the tv with my dad. Dana went on the internet & mocked me because of that & I still did nothing. Dana & I finally talked & we made up & then after that he went back on the internet & said some bullshit & he was talking bad about the movie when information is not even supposed to be released & talking about payments which is not even true could really hurt my future acting career, which could very well last longer than my fighting career. I'm not like Randy Couture. My body has been getting so many different injuries that I wont be able to fight until my forties & neither do I want to fight that long. So I feel like my second career could be in jeopardy.. so I'm done fighting."

It was that piece, perhaps, that was most heart-wrenching of all. Quinton Jackson is, like each and every one of us, a human-being with emotions, feelings, hopes, and desires. He is not simply a caged animal for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, the corporate, profit-driven framework in which Dana White and the UFC management function promotes the dehumanization of the fighters within the organization.

Dana White, and the Fertita brothers who own the majority of the UFC, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Often we forget that it is not the promoters, not the owners of the fighting organizations who have to actually go out and get punched, kicked, submitted, slammed, and what have you for them to make their enormous profits. Regardless of all the hyped-up discourse around White "really bringing MMA to the mainstream," he has done little more than monopolize the sport and push away good fighters or seriously strain the lives of the ones who put up with him.

Dana White has thoroughly discredited himself as a decent human-being multiple times. Replying to a female MMA journalist who wrote about managers and agents losing backstage passes in an "to separate fighters from their business representatives," White responded with a "disgraceful diatribe" in which he "calls Hunt a “f—ing bitch” and refers to a source of Hunt’s as a lying, “f—ing faggot.” Afterwords, he gave a half-hearted apology to the gay community yet refused to apologize to the author, Loretta Hunt. This disgusting debacle is just a drop in the bucket.

White has consistently proven he is the epitome of the vicious leech which lives off the labor of others while pretending that he is helping them. Freelance writer Jake Eman lays out a pretty good list of reasons why Dana White is a threat to the fighters and fans of mixed martial arts. While I think it is important to point out that White is, more or less, a figurehead for a profit-hungry organization and his replacement would mean very little in terms of restructuring how the UFC operates, Eman's criticisms are well taken. He cites the fact that the UFC repeatedly attempts to discourage competition, disrespects the sport and plays favorites in order to stimulate particular markets, and hypocritically criticizes boxing while committing many of the same sins boxing promoters are notorious for. Perhaps his most powerful arguement concerns pay:

"Dana White underpays the fighters in the UFC by an insane margin. The fighters don't even come close to sniffing the money that they are solely responsible for generating. For example, for UFC 100, billed as the "biggest night in the history UFC", the UFC paid a total of approximately $2.2 million to all of the fighters on the card that night, which includes $400,000 of special bonuses.

Lesnar is reported to make about $3 million including his share of the pay-per-view sales, which is an extra $2.6 million from his salary. Georges St. Pierre is also set to receive a share of the PPV, so let's just assume that totals out to another $2.6 million for him as well, because it certainly wouldn't be more. The result is $7.4 million paid to UFC fighters for the UFC 100 event, about $6 million of which went to 2 fighters, leaving the other 18 fighters to divvy up the remains.

The live attendance gate for the fight was $5.1 million. Dana White said he'd be thrilled with 1.5 million pay-per-view buys, so let's just underestimate that at a cool 1 million buys, which the UFC has done before, at $45 a pop. That's a total of $50 million generated not including foreign rights, closed circuit distribution and other earnings. That means, even tweaking the figures in his favor, Dana White and the UFC paid 15% of the money they earned that night to all of the fighters combined. Outrageous."

Outrageous is right, but we cannot assume that simply replacing Dana White would actually change much. Let's face it, the UFC is the largest, wealthiest fighting organization out there. They're goal is not, as some may suggest, to simply provide entertainment or to promote the welfare of their fighters; they're ultimate motivation is to make money. They function, as with all any other private institution in our society, to pursue profits. We can learn something here from Andrew Carnegie who maintained that he was "not in the business of making steel but in making a profit."

Sportswriter Dave Zirin spoke out wonderfully in a recent piece on boxing. Replace the word boxing with MMA and the passage transfers over seamlessly:

"We need to confront everything that's rotten in boxing. Right now there is no commissioner and no governing authority. There are no unions, and there is no collective bargaining on behalf of fighters. There is no health care, no mental health treatment and no one watching out for those who suffer from the debilitating effects of brain damage and its conjoined twin, depression."

For those of us who hate to see Rampage go, we should at least know where to direct the blame. It is not his fault, and we should stand behind him in his decision.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Education Part Six: Articulating the World and the Implications of Literacy on Overcoming Limit-situations

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students. I hope to continue it for a while, and, of course, any critical dialogue upon what is presented is more than welcome. I will try to space these out weekly.


Malcolm X, recounting the mental enlightenment during his stint in prison in the chapter entitled “Saved,” lucidly articulated a vital concept for educators who desire to promote social justice and the democratization of society. As he explains:
I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote…In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there – I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional… every book I picked up had few sentences which didn’t contain anywhere from one to nearly all of the words that might as well have been in Chinese. When I just skipped those words, of course, I really ended up with little idea of what the book said (Haley, 1964, p. 197-8).
This passage vibrantly outlines how fundamental literacy is in combating one’s own oppression. Malcolm’s utter frustration and his conclusion that “going through only book-reading motions” (Haley, p. 200) was useless is not only a real and pressing issue for educators, it is a primary building block upon which the entire goal of individual development for participation in democratic life is based. Thus, for educators who hope to foster a culture of democratic participation and social justice in the classroom, the aspect of developing critical literacy is essential.

Without such critical literacy, the oppressed are permitted only an acrimonious severance from any genuine locus of control over their lives; this confinement to a specious, often naively individualistic comprehension of society reinforces the dominant ideology. The inability to articulate reality, or “read the world” as Paulo Freire outlines in chapter nine, implies a institutionalized, intentional paucity of intellectual development designed to undermine critical analysis of societal foundations and oppression stemming from them (Tozer, 2009, p. 288). Malcolm’s enlightenment, and with it the development of critical literacy and analytical skills, provides a glimpse of how percussive the acquisition and application of such skills are in altering not only the individual whom travails to hone them, but of helping to determine the destiny of humanity in a collective manner. This ability to articulate the world, then, is a prerequisite for the removal of the chains of real, or present, consciousness ; these chains bind the oppressed to simple, perfunctory responses dominated by the limit-situations  which define what can or cannot be done within the current structures. Critical literacy, as Malcolm demonstrated, facilitates the progression from real consciousness to potential consciousness and the subsequent blossoming, and pursuit, of untested feasibilities.

A prodigious amount of social interaction involves limit-situations, rational outcomes necessary to maintain order within the current political economy, which marginalize, oppress, alienate, and exploit the masses while serving the interests of the opulent. Often, these limit-situations are accompanied by a sense of fatalism festering within the oppressed who find struggle and liberation as unrealistic, or even undesired, outcomes. As Freire outlines, however, “it is not the limit-situations in and of themselves which create a climate of hopelessness, but rather how they are perceived by women and men at a given historical moment; whether they appear as fetters or as insurmountable barriers” (Freire, 2006, p. 99). Thus, critical literacy as exemplified by Malcolm’s development his voracious appetite to garner knowledge and understanding of the world becomes a vehicle through which limit-situations are no longer unfixable, eternal structures but institutions able to be altered, dismantled, or appropriated and creatively restructured or rebuilt by the oppressed. He goes on to explain, when the true nature of society is “concealed by the limit-situations and thus are not clearly perceived, the corresponding tasks – people’s responses in the form of historical actions – can be neither authentically nor critically fulfilled (Freire, p. 102).

Therefore, prior to Malcolm’s enlightenment, he simply responded to his limit-situations, as an animal responds to environmental stimuli in order to survive, rather than actively reflect upon methods through which to alter society. His actions only became historical when he engaged in critical analysis and sought to overcome and eliminate limit-situations through democratic struggle; literacy provided the prerequisite for the sufficient combination of action and reflection required to humanize the oppressed and allow them to play a role in shaping their own destiny.

Thus, one must necessarily view the political economy and the dominant ideology which reinforces it as definite limit-situations which heavily influence the majority of the people. These situations, then, must be articulated and understood in order to be dismantled and overcome. Literacy is an invaluable tool in the struggle to raise the oppressed from a level of real consciousness where limit-situations define them to a level of potential consciousness where untested feasibilities become collective possibilities which the oppressed actively work towards achieving. One should not, however, make the mistake of assuming illiteracy or ignorance on the part of the oppressed because they refuse to participate in the dominant culture or do not adhere to the linguistic norms of the oppressor.

Throughout history, the oppressed have always fought for freedom and liberation from the oppressor, often on their own terms, with their own words, their own dialects, and their own form of literacy. Freire further explains this concept:
In order to communicate effectively, [the] educator…must understand the structural conditions in which the thought and language of the people are dialectically framed… The object of investigation is not persons (as if they were anatomical fragments), but rather the thought-language with which men and women refer to reality, the levels at which they perceive that reality, and their view of the world… (Freire, p. 90-2).
To highlight just one historic example, Fred Hampton, deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party of Illinois, was someone who struck fear into the hearts of the establishment through his articulate oratory skills. He did not, however, simply adopt the oppressor’s linguistic style and attempt to use it for his own purpose but made prodigious use of eloquent black vernacular and what he called “plain proletarian English.” His brilliant oratory skills were not used to place himself above the oppressed but rather immerse himself within the oppressed community, of which he was a member. His words, many of the same words used by the community which he fought for, were a powerful example of honing one’s own linguistic techniques in order to educate and dialogue with the oppressed; through this Hampton avoided the isolation and projection of ignorance which plagues many activists, organizers, and educators. He was, however, not simply concerned with talking; as he explains, “so, what we’re saying there simply is, if [people] learn basically by observation and participation, we need to do more acting than we need to do writing. And I think the Black Panther Party is doing that. We didn’t talk about a breakfast for children program, we got one” (Hampton). The symbiotic combination of both reflection and action was essential; however, reflection could only be accomplished on the part of the oppressed when they were able to dialogue with educators and organizers, and the use of a culturally important vernacular facilitated this process. In fact, Fred Hampton presented such a threat that he was murdered by the FBI for his political leadership and percussive oratory abilities.

Lastly, educators should also be careful to avoid dismissing the language of the oppressor as inapplicable or unimportant; on the contrary, the language of the oppressor and what they intend to do must be thoroughly critiqued by those who wish to develop social justice in the classroom. This language can be analyzed through the dialect or linguistic intricacies of the oppressed but should be understood in terms of what the oppressor intends; to do this, one must understand the intricacies of the oppressor’s language. Hampton could both comprehend the oppressor’s language and communicate through the language of the people.

Therefore, the educator must be able to analyze the language of the oppressor in order to effectively combat it, even if they choose to combat it in the unique cultural and linguistic manner of the oppressed. For instance, educators (and students) facing privatization measures and budget cuts to common areas of study by a highly unpopular, unelected school president or board of trustees should not fail to understand and discuss the significance behind language such as “efficiency, extreme student centeredness, opportunities, business oriented, etc.” Words such as these must be highly scrutinized and a dialogue must occur, not necessarily with the oppressors who make use of such language, but with the students in how the best way to combat oppression is in the face of such benevolent-sounding language. Thus, what Malcolm shows is that an understanding of the oppressor’s language is absolutely vital, and what Hampton exemplifies is that understanding can and should be communicated to the oppressed in a way that is conducive to their specific situation and learning style. Professional educators could learn quite a lot by studying these political organizers, their methods, and their tactics. Black vernacular, bilingual education, and other forms of cultural resistance to the dominant ideology should be embraced by educators in the classroom who hope that one day social justice is not just an obscure pedagogical phrase but a dynamic, living reality in schools.

Works Cited
Freire, P. (2006) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
Haley, A. (1964) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York, NY: The Random House Publishing Group.
Tozer, S., Violas, P., & Senese, G. (2009) School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. 6th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Vantowers "Fred Hampton" Youtube 1 May 1997. 16 March 2009 .

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Percussive Impacts of Colonialism: Womens' Struggles in Spanish America

Colonial Spanish America was a harsh, competitive, abject environment where wealth, class, and race played prominent roles in the structures of power. In a place where marriage was often political and economic, love and honest social relationships, especially among the elite, were hard to come by. Indigenous and Mestiza women, however, faced tumultuous social and economic struggles, internal mental and emotional conflicts, and a lack of control over their own destiny. Though often portrayed through a “victim/whore” paradigm, the barrage of hardships and contradictions which plagued these women was far more complex and diverse in nature (Powers 69). The psychological trauma of indigenous noblewomen, the separation of children from “wayward” native mothers, the lack of economic and social support from Spanish fathers, the purposeful failure of “legitimizing” mestizo children, and the inability of women to rise up through the social ladder were all fundamental challenges which native and mestizo women faced. Karen Powers, in Women in the Crucible of Conquest, succinctly outlines the multifaceted social and economic roles women of different race and class played, as well as the countless inequalities they faced in a world where love and affection was replaced with subservience and daily struggle.

In the highly stratified native societies, such as within the Inca Empire, women were often forced to marry friendly tribal leaders in order to secure political loyalty. This tradition was also attempted by many indigenous nobles to pacify the Spanish and establish political links with them through fixed marriages (Powers 72). The early conquistadors, however, often simply viewed this as “an opportunity to receive sexual services without a marital commitment” or to “accumulate…enough material resources to move up the social ladder” since these were generally native heiresses who would receive a significant portion of their noble relatives estate. Using these women, with or without regard to their feelings, granted early Spanish settlers enough capital (both material resources and sometimes labor, as well) to establish themselves in some “lucrative trade,” such as mining or textile production (Powers 73). These forced marriages within native societies must have been hard enough on noblewomen whose relationships with men were predetermined, regardless of whether or not they felt affection for them; yet, as Powers notes, the psychological costs for these women, “who found themselves in intimate relationships, at times against their will, with…men who had brutally killed their fathers, husbands, brothers, and uncles,” must have been extreme (Powers 75). “World straddling,” as Powers calls it, must have caused prodigious internal dilemmas and onerous identity crises for indigenous women (Powers 76).

As sexual encounters increased between the Spanish men and native females, they gave birth to mixed children known as Mestizos. One of the vilest and despicable acts committed against native women must have been the forced separation from their Mestizo children. This common, often permanent, separation was often a result of the Spanish father’s desire to properly indoctrinate their children into social conformity with Iberian culture; the children were often raised by “proper” Spanish women, with whom the father would marry after leaving the native mother. The separation, Powers argues, most likely stemmed from the “Iberian practice of dispossessing ‘wayward’ women of their children.” These odious severances undoubtedly had pernicious mental and emotional impacts of both the women and the children. Indigenous women were stripped, in a sort of “double jeopardy,” of their right to raise the very children they gave birth to by the dominant Spanish view of inferiority directed against both their race and gender (Powers 78).

Due to the general paucity of Spanish-born women in the colonies, males often resorted to marrying mestiza women and raising them to accept and embrace Spanish culture. Until the increased migration of Spanish women in the 1550’s until the late sixteenth century into Colonial Spanish America, Mestiza women acted as substitutes for cultured Spanish women so that Iberian society could “reproduce…both biologically and culturally (Powers 82). In order to raise mestizas in the proper way, however, they had to be raised “to believe that their own mothers and their mothers’ culture were not worthy models for their formation” (Powers 80). Sometimes these children were stripped away from their mothers and sent to Iberia, but more often than not they were simply kept away from their mothers and raised in the New World (Powers 81).

These “accepted” children, however, were generally the experiences of only the first Mestizas. After the increase of Spanish and Creole women in the colonies, mestizos of both genders were quickly degraded in status. Fathers often had sexual relationships with mestiza women but refused to legitimate the offspring, male or female. This process was common in urban areas, where males had informal relationships with mestizas, but it ossified into an almost universal rule in rural areas (Powers 84). Spanish men, viewing mestiza and native women as inferior, felt no need to provide care, socially or financially, for their illegitimate children. The upside, however, was that women were no longer separated from their children and could raise them with some semblance of their true culture and identity; however, without any sort of financial aid or support, women often found themselves in seemingly inauspicious positions. The brutal reality of the cut-throat, gender prejudiced colonial society was all too real for mothers who were undoubtedly placed against nearly impossible odds.

During the onset of the seventeenth century the crown began to pass “a barrage of legislation intended to limit the privileges of the racially mixed population” (Powers 89). The crown passed segregation laws which proscribed different races from mingling and attempted to force a rigid racial structure along class lines. Doctrines of racial purity became prominent and, despite not having a prodigious impact on the amount of sexual encounters between Spanish men and women of color, it, along with forbidding the inheritance of encomiendas to mestizo children, drastically increased the amount of “illegitimate” children (Powers 89). Legal segregation helped create a racist, sexist, and class-based atmosphere where “Spaniards married other Spaniards more than 90 percent of the time”; neither mestiza nor indigenous women were considered “desirable” as marriage partners, despite high rates of informal relationships (Powers 90). Thus, mestiza women were often left to languish in a state of vacillation between extramarital relations with Spanish men, which offered only an extremely slight chance at upward social mobility, and the potential for serious relationships to develop with mestiza men. They faced a heart-wrenching quandary of hopelessly trying to move up the social ladder or augmenting a loving, caring relationship with men of their own race and class. Either path they chose, they were often condemned to a life of hardship and struggle.

Thus, white men, born with the privilege of both a higher class and racial position in the social ladder, were able to skillfully manipulate their power; “servants, slaves, encomienda Indians, or employees of their Spanish consorts” were often targets of powerful Spanish men who wished to engage in extramarital relationships. Often, “these women were raped,…consented out of fear or desire…[or] sought out relationships with Spaniards to improve their own and their children’s status” (Powers 91). It is true that in some cases love and passion may have impinged on the social institutions and produced an equitable, reciprocal relationship; however, these were anomalies in an otherwise highly stratified, racist society. As Powers delineates, “Indian and casta women became prey to Spanish male desires without reciprocal obligations of marriage” (Powers 92). Early indigenous women were forced to “straddle worlds” and sleep with men who were responsible for the destruction of their culture and world, first generation mestizas were separated from their native mothers and assimilated into the Spanish world for demographic reasons, and later mestizas declined drastically in social status and were forced to raise their children on their own, without the help of the Spanish fathers. Both native and mestiza women faced immense challenges throughout the colonial world, and it would be credulous to believe that Spanish colonialism was anything other than baneful for the overwhelming majority of Indian women.

Karen Viera Powers, Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600, Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On the Ideals of the Third Estate and the Inevitability of Its Victory

The question of inevitably depends upon ones understanding of history and how it unfolds. To assume the victory of the Third Estate was inevitable vastly ignores the importance of human agency in the historical process. Human praxis, the action and reflection taken by real people involved in the material reality of a particular instance, plays a prodigious role in the flow of events. Active, engaged leadership in conjunction with large-scale participation by popular segments of society create the potential for fundamental changes to occur in society. France, given its historical, economic, social, and political reality in 1789, provided a matrix in which this potential could be cultivated. Therefore, the Third Estate, while not necessarily inevitably victorious, was at a level of consciousness and organization in 1789 that allowed for the development of radical changes in French society.

This period of French history illuminates a lucid example of the conception that ideas are created and fostered within a particular context or historical circumstance and not simply logically abstracted without material influence. The events leading up to 1789 had proven the failure of the monarchy to provide for the masses. Market deregulation leading to increased grain prices coupled with terrible harvest years fueled animosity towards wealthy noble land-owners and politicians. The Catholic Church maintained a state monopoly on the religious domain of French society and, fueling its cultural hegemony, was entitled to tithes from the population (usually one-tenth of a person’s wage) and exempt from many of the most burdensome taxes. The vast majority of society was composed of peasant laborers, around 80 percent, who barely survived on subsistence agriculture as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and possibly small landowners (Doyle 16). Urban workers toiled for long hours and spent anywhere from a third to half of their regular income on bread (20-22). Taxes on nearly everything, most onerously a salt tax imposed upon commoners, prevented trade and movement of goods, further augmenting the misery of living under a wealthy monarchy. Nobles, often holding much of the arable land, were entitled to a host of benefits such as tax exemptions, hunting rights, and control over local politics and peasants’ lives. A new class, the bourgeoisie, composed of wealthy merchants and landowners, was also rising in stature and number and giving challenge to the old nobles who relied upon birthright and not merit or money.

Huge disparities alone, however, do not provide the impetus for revolutionary change needed to transform society. Rich and poor, a minority dominated the majority, had existed since the development of agricultural, sedentary societies. These factors alone do not explain the victory of the Third Estate. While popular food riots had erupted in past decades throughout urban centers, and continued to do so throughout the revolution (98), these were largely purely economic and material demands, without far-reaching political significance. It was within this context that new ideas began to emerge, ideas that questioned religious dominance, rigid monarchial control, and hereditary status. Enlightenment ideals began to emerge in French society as various pamphlet writers, newspaper editors, and street agitators argued, questioned, and articulated these ideas to the masses. Coffee shops and pubs became centers of debate and discussion. Popular leaders emerged, and French society became open to a wide range of debate by 1789. One observer described how “Every hour produces something new. Thirteen [pamphlets] came out today, sixteen yesterday, ninety-two last week… Nineteen-twentieths of these productions are in favour of liberty, and commonly violent against the clergy and nobility” (104). Without such persistent agitation and organization on behalf of popular sentiment, the victory of the Third Estate could not have been achieved.

Still, many of the aristocrats hoped to maintain the debate within the parameters of established institutions, and only called upon popular, grassroots pressure when it was vital to them achieving some goal. Republican rhetoric aside, the concerns of the bourgiousie were limited to the well-to-do sectors of society who simply requested political representation and market opportunities. Democratic participation by the masses was to be hemmed in and used as a medium to accomplish these goals, but not to allow radical redistributions of wealth or life-affirming social policies. The king’s court subjugated parliament (the only articulation of certain sectors of the population, not all that democratic in and of itself), which was often bypassed and allowed for complete subjugation of the political realm by the monarchy. By time the king had been forced to call in the Estates-General in 1788 (with the same structure that favored the nobility and clergy), popular sentiment was already shifting and for the first time people felt as if they had made a major victory against despotic rule; in December, when the Third Estate forced Louis XVI to double its size, people rejoiced further. The victory of the Third Estate occurred within a massive uprising of popular revolt and sprang consciousness forward considerably from the previous year: spring and summer saw food rioting across Paris, other cities, and the countryside, rebellious crowds roamed the streets and burst into Versailles, on June 30 4,000 protestors freed ten rebellious guards (108), various political associations sprung up and debate clubs became increasingly popular, a massive crowd stormed the Bastille, the symbol of the monarch’s oppressive control, and forced the guards to surrender the governor (110) and marks the transition from the “bourgeois revolution” to the “popular revolution,” grain shortages galvanized the peasantry to take up arms against public enemies, attacked manor houses and castles, and refused to pay tithes and feudal dues (114-5). Such popular expression was the manifestation of the masses’ ideological developments during this period.

Obviously, the majority of nobles and clergy did not support such strong sentiments, since they ultimately challenged both the First and Second estates and the monarchy itself; thus, the Third Estate became the “Assembly of the known and verified representatives of the French Nation,” excluding the previous ruling elites (104). This string of events culminated in August 1789 with the passage in the Estates-General of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen which defined law as “the expression of the general will made by the direct or indirect participation of all citizens,” guaranteed equality before the law, implemented progressive taxation, and reiterated the importance of freedom of thought and expression (118-9). Such important democratic gains were weakened, however, with the advent of the controversial “active citizen” concept which effectively downsized the electoral pool to the wealthier segments of society (124). Secular, rational thought was posited as a replacement for religious dogma (as exemplified, even if of nominal importance, with the new naming of the months of the year) and republican ideals (split along conservative and radical lines) were articulated in place of monarchial control. August saw the abolition of feudal rights and privileges, reflecting the will of the people whom had been subjugated under the yoke of feudalism for centuries. In October, 7,000 women of Paris marched on Versailles to demand bread, a common theme throughout the revolution, and force the King to return to Paris (122). Finally, in the last months of 1789, church lands are confiscated to make up for the national debt (132). Thus, by the end of 1789, the implementation of the ideals of the revolution were well on their way to becoming a historical reality.

Despite the shortcomings, the Third Estate victory was undoubtedly a manifestation of the popular will and consciousness of both urban and rural sectors; their consciousness, more often than not, remained steps ahead of their political leaders and assembly representatives who were, by the very nature of their class loyalty, reflective of a more economically conservative stance. More importantly, however, was that the Third Estate victory was not only an expression of popular consciousness, it was the result of dedicated organization, engaged agitation, and militant activism on part of the French people. Popular leaders emerged to articulate demands and expressions of the peoples’ will; political organizations acted as a piston-box in guiding the steam of the masses’ energy as to not allow its dissipation. Therefore, no such thing as inevitably exists in the historical process. Human praxis, given the right material conditions, remains the most powerful agent in determining the course of events. The revolution and its ideals would be ultimately defeated, given the prodigious threat of civil war and the onslaught of imperial regimes inextricably linked with the gradual abandonment of the revolution and its radical principles by the bourgeoisie. Regardless, the French Revolution has had an enormous impact on the world and should be remembered as a time in history when the people took matters into their own hands. History is not deterministic, and the events of France in 1789 today still give people a glimpse into what is possible; as Zhou Enlai, foreign minister under Mao, stated in 1949 when asked for his what he thought the impact of the French Revolution was, “It is too early to tell.”
Works Cited

Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford University Press, 2002).

BBC News. “Zhou Enlai,” Inside China’s Ruling Party. Available from; Internet.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Education Part Five: Humanization through Liberal or Vocational Education?

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students. I hope to continue it for a while, and, of course, any critical dialogue upon what is presented is more than welcome. I will try to space these out weekly.


In educational and pedagogical discourse there is a dichotomy that consists of two contradictory methods of education. On one hand, an extreme emphasis is placed on vocational education, education designed for a specific job or occupation. Purported as the best for society by its proponents, some claim it would lead “to the development of marketable skills” that “prepares students for employment after high school” (Tozer, 340, 346-7). While in certain regards this may be true (although even the accuracy of these statements are contested due to the nature of employment in an advanced capitalist society such as the United States), education purely for vocation enervates students with a lack of the intellectually stimulating education required for the development of democratic culture, provides them with a narrow range of skills designed primarily to augment productivity, fails to promote an analysis of the material world in which they live, and hampers any sort of genuine democratic participation in society. On the other hand, some argue that vocations should be a vehicle through which a broader, liberal education can be pursued. Dewey articulated this concept as learning “through vocations” rather than “for vocations” (Tozer,  347). More generally interpreted, one can pose the debate between an approach that would prepare students to fill an occupational position in a hierarchical, oppressive society or an approach which would galvanize students to embark on the humanizing process of understanding, analyzing, and challenging society to help build the democratic ideal.
If education is to achieve “academic, intellectual, and personal growth,” (Tozer, 347) it must necessarily involve the process of humanization. This conception of humanization is illuminated by critical literary theorist Paulo Freire:
[T]he problem of humanization has always…been humankind’s central problem… Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality... Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person… [b]ut while both… are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation [emphasis added]. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recovered their lost humanity (Freire, 43-4).
Humanization, then, is the struggle to control one’s own destiny free of violently coercive and undemocratic alienation. This can only be achieved for the masses in a relatively free, highly democratic society where private interests do not dominate social relations. Alienation, exploitation, and oppression are rational results of a society based upon the irrationality of a profit-driven system. It is consistent, therefore, to assume that these forms of subjugation and marginalization will persist until the system which creates them is dismantled by the collective effort of those in its yoke.
Richard Shaull, emphasizing Freire’s approach, explains that this humanization process functions on “one basic assumption: that man’s ontological vocation…it to be the Subject who acts upon and transforms his world, and in so doing moves toward ever new possibilities of fuller and richer life individually and collectively” (Freire, 32). The distinction between subjects and objects becomes relevant here since humanization produces people who are “no longer willing to be mere objects, responding to changes occurring around them; they are more likely to decide to take upon themselves the struggle to change the structures of society, which until now have served to oppress them” (Freire, 33). Some would proclaim that proponents of purely vocational education simply do not recognize the inconsistency between training one to fill an occupation and preparation for participation in, or further developing of, a democratic society.
However, it is much more likely that these theorists do indeed understand the implications of their approach. Proponents of such an education wish to successfully reproduce society; therefore, excess skills such as critical analysis, the ability to understand the world systematically in its totality, and other forms of thought which people may act to scrutinize society and propose alternatives, are rejected as unimportant and invaluable. Indeed, the concept of selling one’s labor in the marketplace takes on an entirely different interpretation when one begins to question the wage system and the free market ideology that supports it. Therefore, for those who control society it is infinitely more useful to train students to perform a specific task or group of tasks that will aid in the process of production without the ability to question how that process is structured. A worker who completes his task in a perfunctory manner and never questions the institutions of society is the desired result.
Further, this style of education solely for vocations shapes the very conception of democracy. It confines democracy to an extremely limited, hierarchical definition in which a small minority control the fate of humanity while the majority are marginalized into a position where they only perform their duties of production and consumption, once in awhile reaffirming or changing political leaders whom they vote for every so often. It is, in its result, much like the restricted and exclusive democracy Aristotle promoted in ancient Athens; it was a democracy for the few. Rather than taking a hand in how their own lives are managed through collective ownership of the workplace, workers are alienated from their labor. Teachers rarely control what they teach, how much they are paid, the number of students in the class, etc. Thus, the workplace is not democratically controlled by the teachers who work there, but instead by a small group of bureaucratic officials and private interests. Likewise, students are expected to conform to an extremely rigid, undemocratic environment where they have little to no control over how they learn, what they learn, and the environment they are placed in to learn. It is a vicious cycle indeed, one meant to perpetuate the dominant political economic system.
To highlight a specific example, once a fellow classmate explicated upon her experience in another class dealing with teacher preparation; she explained that the directions given to her by the textbook employed by the professor instructed that when a budget problem or lack of resources were the cause of an inadequate educational experience for the students (such as lack of funds to go on a promised field trip), the teacher should formulate some sort of personal excuse or reason for not fulfilling the activity (whatever that activity may be); the burden of blame lay was supposed to fall upon the individual teacher, not the school, the system, or society.  The logic behind this instruction was that it is better to lie to the students so they do not perceive the system to be working against them, regardless of whether it is or not, than tell them the truth and have them fall further into despair. The truth, it seems, is best hid behind a veil of benevolence, no matter how it affects the students. Rather than engaging in dialogue with the students, the teacher is supposed to shut up and review the material with no questioning of the structures in place. 

A liberal education which aims to fully humanize each individual and human society collectively, should not subjugate students into “mere objects” which respond to changes around them but should instead challenge students to become subjects who reflect and act to change the conditions which oppress them. The very act of discussing budget cuts and their relation to larger society upon a scenario like this would remove this veil of benevolence and engage students so that they become active participants in their own lives; in fact, this sort of dialogue should fit perfectly with any liberal concept of education where democratic discussion is valued. This can not be accomplished in an educational setting (or, more appropriately, a training setting, as that is what vocational educational philosophy promotes at its core) where vocations are the end goal.
If indeed humanity’s ontological vocation is to become more fully human, then the goal of education must be something more than filling an occupation in life like a cog is fills a place in a machine; a liberal, broad based educational approach is required. This is not to say, as Dewey emphasized, that vocations have no place or cannot be utilized in the educational process. On the contrary, vocational education is an essential aspect of education. As the text explains, “vocational educators who find ways to make intellectual developments come alive through concrete projects and activities may well attract a broader student clientele than they currently attract” (Tozer, 346). Not only that, they may even help to empower students who otherwise feel isolated from the traditional academic approach. However, the distinction between education purely for vocation and education through vocation is absolutely essential to formulating a pedagogy intended for liberation rather than subjugation. The impetus behind education, then, should be to fulfill our human vocation instead of filling vocations with humans.

Works Cited

Freire, P. (2006) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Tozer, S., Violas, P., & Senese, G. (2009) School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. 6th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Unique Role of Blacks in Colonial Spanish America

In “Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America,” Mathew Restall outlines a detailed and convincing account of the unique experience many blacks faced as auxiliaries to Spanish conquest in the Americas. He assesses a plethora of historical documentation, often primary accounts, to explicate his three main points: blacks played an integral role in various expeditions into native lands, black conquest roles displayed consistent patterns throughout the different phases of the Spanish expansion, and finally, these patterns should be considered in a “longer-term colonial context” concerning the unique role of black conquistadors and what he labels “black counter-conquistadors” (Restall 172). Following this, his all-encompassing thesis is that all three points converge to establish a unique identity for blacks in Latin America. Restall’s argument is largely consistent with the rather short blurb about the role of blacks in the conquest presented in Colonial Latin America (CLA 78-80), yet his postulation on the distinctive identity of blacks and the role of counter-conquistadors is markedly absent. By compiling such a prodigious amount of evidence and organizing it in a manner favorable to his position, he successfully challenges the idea that blacks played an insignificant, marginalized role. Restall masterfully argues the validity of all three main concepts.

Restall begins by categorizing the three main roles which blacks were pushed into during the Spanish conquest: that of the mass slave, unarmed auxiliary (individual servant or slave), and armed auxiliary. While the first category includes the majority of blacks in the new world (African slaves who worked in large quantities on plantations) and the second group generally remained individual slaves or servants to their masters, the third role played an active, participatory role in the conquest of the New World. These blacks, “armed auxiliaries,” or black conquistadors, were a mix of “African-born slaves and Iberian-born free men” (Restall 175). Throughout the conquest those who fought alongside the Spanish were often freed from captivity. They played a vital role in the conquest and could be found in large numbers in certain expeditions. Likewise, the legacy they left behind is one that still plays an important role in the experience of black Spanish Americans.

Various examples are cited repeatedly which indicate the presence of blacks taking part in the conquest. Restall lists the names of ten different black conquistadors (seven born in Africa, 3 free blacks or mulattos from Spain) who took part in various campaigns stretching from Mexico to Chile. Restall organizes the patterns of black conquistadors along the three phases of Spanish conquest. The first, ranging from the last decade of the fifteenth century to the last 1510’s, is exemplified by one of the most famous black conquistadors, Juan Garrido. Garrido claims to have accompanied both Ponce de León and Valázquez in expeditions of Puerto Rico and Cuba, respectively, and was to later assist Cortés on his conquest of the Aztecs. (Restall 177) Restall later notes that this high involvement in multiple conquests may have resulted in the increased mobility of blacks due to institutional racism in the early colonial period. He also observes Africans were originally used as slave breakers and overseers who managed native slaves, yet Spanish owners became concerned and claimed that Africans would actually incite native rebellion. During this first phase, many blacks arrived as unarmed auxiliaries and only a few dozen or a hundred came during the first two decades but after 1510 the importation of blacks increased dramatically. It is after this date which armed auxiliaries, or black conquistadors, truly began to play an important role in the expansion of the Spanish (Restall 178-9).

Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly how many black conquistadors there were throughout each period, it is safe to say that the number increased as the phases progressed. In the second phase black participation into west and south grew. Whether it was the Montejo-led invasion (who were granted a permit of up to one-hundred slaves from the crown) or the Yucatec campaigns, it is evident blacks played a role in the conquest and sometimes settled in these places. Restall cites at least eight different attempts to push into the north from Mexico in which blacks were present (Restall 182-3). The third major phase was the expansion from the southern area of Central America and into South America. Two hundred armed Africans are said to have accompanied Pedro de Alvarado to Peru in 1534 and overall thousands of blacks ultimately ended up participating in the expansion there, despite the overwhelming silence of historians on their role in that conquest (Restall 183). The 1530’s presented a significant increase in the amount of blacks brought to the New World and subsequently a considerable increase in the amount of black conquistadors. In Chile, only five blacks were given encomiendas (the only blacks in the new world to have been granted them) for their role in the conquests, signifying that despite the vital roles they often took on during the conquest, early colonial institutions had already established firm racial barriers. (Restall 187) Here, Restall presents a warranted indictment of both historians and contemporaries who ignored the crucial role played by the significant number of black conquistadors.

Restall thoroughly details the common life patterns and traits which black conquistadors shared. Most were young men, a significant number named Juan (given it by their masters), often were employed as criers (most common), constables, auctioneers, executioners, pipers, doorkeepers, and guards (Restall 189-91). However, the vast majority of conquistadors were known for their skills in combat. Restall notes a variety of sources which espouse praise of the fighting ability of black soldiers, having deep roots in the Spanish perception that blacks were “natural warriors” (probably stemming from the myth that they were simply primitive, warlike barbarians) who were inherently imbued with the “warrior tradition” (Restall 193). Interestingly, this perception of blacks is highly contrasted with the perception of slaves in the North American southern colonies where the dominant Anglo-Saxons viewed blacks as feminine and loving, incapable of being talented soldiers (and, likewise, unable to violently secure their own freedom). Restall does not point this out, but it is interesting to see how the prevalent myths concerning the underclass can change so abruptly depending on how the dominant group wishes to utilize that group and which social and economic institutions are in question. Restall does bitterly note, however, that only when the valor and battle skill employed were equally matched by a devout loyalty to the Spanish crown, were blacks likely to be recorded with “hagiographic treatment” by historians (Restally 194). Blacks also often formed segregated militias or militias shared with mestizos to fight in the service of the crown (Restall 197-9). The most obvious continuity, however, is the lack of rewards given to blacks for their role in conquests. Blacks were kept within their traditional social roles of lowly servants and rarely given encomiendas or rewards equal to many of their white counterparts. The unrest at not being properly rewarded also contributed to the high rate of mobility among black conquistadors. These factors make Restall’s argument all the more convincing and help outline the racial prejudice which the institution of race-based slavery created.

The last focus of Restall’s article, and probably the most fascinating (and respectable), is centered on what he titles “black counter-conquistadors.” These blacks, refusing to participate or accept their low level status in Spanish society, either deserted to form separate communities or took on acts of piracy in an attempt to make it on their own. Restall outlines the distinct difference between blacks who removed themselves from Spanish society in order to further their own personal gain (pirates like the three “el Mulatos”) and the formation of various collective maroon societies organized by escaped slaves. (Restall 201-204) Either way, the desertion and defiance aimed at the Spanish crown was a strong signal of resistance and that not all blacks were complacent with the treatment of the natives or their own designated social roles. Restall helps to shed light on the black resistance to colonialism and racial domination which is often very absent from traditional history texts. By ending on this note, he reminds readers that resistance always accompanies empire. Unfortunately, resistance was unable to stop the spread of empire in this instance. His argument, in conclusion, is that the submissive roles of black conquerors and the distinctive leadership roles of counter-conquistadors helped shape the inimitable black Spanish American identity.

Restall’s argument is generally coherent with the history presented in the textbook Colonial Latin America. Although his accounts are much more detailed and comprehensive, two of his three main ideas can be found in the text; blacks played an important role in many expeditions (CLA 78) and they shared common biographical traits, namely being treated as social inferiors (CLA 79-80). Many of the same examples can be seen in both sources, such as Juan Garrido and Juan Valiente, for instance, (78-9) and the historical framework presented in each share common themes. Yet, strangely, his third and most important factor, regarding the rise of special black militias, maroon communities which were forced to militarily defend themselves, and individualistic counter-conquistadors did not seem to gain any attention in the text. Likewise, the textbook fails to mention the complex native and African relationships which were sometimes manifested in acts of courageous unity against Spanish dominion. Instead, the section on “Black Participation in the Age of Conquest” only outlines and, indeed, ends on the relationship of stratification, of blacks playing the role of native slave-breakers (CLA 80), leaving readers to assume this is the role they most commonly filled. This, perhaps, is the most glaring absence in the textbook.

Restall’s case is highly organized and displayed in a manner which creates a consistent account of black participation in Spanish America. Each topic he covers appears as a congruent and feasible explication of the pivotal role of blacks. His exhaustive use of various sources to construct his argument makes it hard for one to challenge the validity of his research. Some of his postulations concerning specific numbers or certain biographical patterns are rather vague and he (along with other historians) lack the primary documentation required to give a decisive answer on these issues in specific circumstances; yet, it is obvious that blacks were very involved and more intricately tied into both the expansion of the empire and the struggle to resist it than what traditional historians credit them for. Restall’s most compelling argument is that the multitude of unique roles played by blacks throughout the colonial period is vital to understanding the identity of black Spanish Americans today; they were not natives to the region, Africans untouched by Spanish culture and tradition, or on the same social and political field as white Spaniards. Yet, blacks were a crucial aspect of the Spanish American world throughout every phase of colonization. Some helped build the empire; some tried to stop it. Some were overseers of natives; other supported and incited resistance against their masters. Some were given shares similar to those of whites; most were shafted and confined by artificial social boundaries. His overarching thesis concerning the unique historical roots of black identity is difficult to ignore. Restall’s article is essential for anyone wishing to understand the complex and fascinating role blacks made for themselves as history unfolded in Latin America.

Burkholder, Mark A., and Lyman, Johnson L., Colonial Latin America, Sixth Edition, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Restall, Mathew, Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America, Academy of American Franciscan History.
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