Race and the Making of Family in the Atlantic World

Race and the Making of Family in the Atlantic World

University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Burney Center
601 S. College Road
Wilmington, North Carolina
Thursday, 2014-10-23, 19:30 EDT (Local Time)

Daniel Livesay, Assistant Professor of History
Drury University, Springfield, Missouri

In the eighteenth-century world of slavery and the slave trade, racial prejudices were often stark and unfeeling. Emphasis on racial difference helped slave owners and the wider public justify the systematic abuse of millions of people. Yet, at the individual level, attitudes toward race were incredibly complex. This was especially true for Europeans who had relatives with some amount of African heritage. Throughout the Americas, white men slept with free and enslaved women of color. Typically, these were acts of violence, but in some cases long-term relationships could emerge, with a train of mixed-race children following. In places like the Caribbean, where individuals of color had few educational and professional opportunities, a number of white men sent mixed-race offspring to Britain to live with their families. Britons on the other side of the Atlantic had almost no interaction with individuals of African descent before they were tasked with taking care of family who were simultaneously the descendants of slaves. Subsequently, these families came to understand issues of race as subjects particularly related to kinship. By documenting the experiences of these migrants of color, more light can be shed on modern ideas of race, and the global dislocation of many families. This talk will show that the growing racial complexities at home and abroad can best be analyzed and understood through an historical examination of the family dimension of ideas about race. Notions of racial difference emerged out of debates around family composition and by taking such a perspective, we can deconstruct some of the most enduring and harmful legacies of race-based thinking.

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