Theoretical Meditations
on the Afterlives of Slavery


On Translating the Afterlife of Slavery:
Black Latinidad, Migration and Belonging in the face of Global Antiblackness

Lorgia García Peña
Harvard University

My intervention today is born from my own experience as a Black Latina immigrant scholar who lives in a constant vaivén (coming and going) between belonging and unbelonging. It emerges out of the necessity to hope radically, as Jonathan Lear urges us to do, for another way of being — for a future being, free from colonial exploitation.[i]

Translating Blackness proposes Black Latinidad as an epistemology, as a way of understanding and producing knowledge from the site of unbelonging from “the unfinished project of emancipation.”[ii] That is, I read Black Latinidad not as an embodied identity nor a social construct, but as point of entry and set of methods that allows us to go beyond concepts of homogenous racial and citizenship exclusion; it denaturalizes the nation as a site of belonging, and invites us instead to learn and know from a productive detour, both away from and in contradiction to the colonial order that sustains national notions of citizenship and belonging. To think through Black Latinidad is thus a project of Black possibility, of Black living, of Black being for the ‘unfinished’ implies the availability of an opening, a space for re-shifting: that which is not finished is still in the making. The process invites possibility. Translating Blackness is thus also a political act that interrupts the presence of colonial structures that force so many of us to live in the afterlife of slavery and erases the possibility of our humanity from the streets to the archives. Central to Translating Blackness is a concern with the colonial structures that link anti-immigrant racism and anti-blackness in the twenty-first century, producing globalized categories of human beings that are “susceptible,” in David Hernández’s terminology, to exclusion: ethnic minorities, immigrants, and racialized non-white subjects. Contradicting the practices that often separate the work of racial justice from the work around immigrant rights, what I am hoping to do with this work is to grapple with the multiple ways that people who are deemed to “unbelong” create collective possibilities of being and belonging through cultural and political acts of alliance-building that translate historical experiences of colonial exclusion (such as slavery and segregation) into present-day political contestations of immigrant-minoritized human belonging (#Blacks Lives Matter, #no human being is illegal).

[i] Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 12.

[ii]  See Sharpe, Christina. In the wake: On blackness and being. Duke University Press, 2016. Following Reinaldo Walcott’s terminology, Sharpe proposes the “unfinished project of emancipation” as a historical continuum that reproduces the structures of inequality that force people to live in the “wake” of slavery.