[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #9: Rethinking Empire and Democracy

Monday, Nov 6, 2017

Podcast Transcript:

(0:00) [background music]

Eddie S. Glaude Jr.: Hello, I'm Eddie Glaude and I am the chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and welcome to the African American Studies podcast. I'm delighted to have with me today my new and brilliant colleague, Reena Goldthree. Professor Goldthree specializes in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Her research and teachings focus on social movements; political theory; labor and migration; and Caribbean feminisms. Her latest book is on the horizon right? Its, uh, Democracy Shall be no Empty Romance: War and the Politics of Empire in the Greater Caribbean. Beyond her new, upcoming book, her researches has appeared in the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, The American Historian, Radical Teacher, Caribbean Military Encounters and Global Circuits of Blackness: Interrogating the African Diasporas. She's also the co-editor of the special issue of the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies. Welcome!

Professor Goldthree: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you today.

Eddie: Glad to have you. So, talk with me about the new book! Give me a sense of how it emerged, right? What brought you to this particular subject?

Professor Goldthree: Sure. So, like so many other scholars, my research interest have emerged from an inner section of my personal trajectory and formal academic study. I was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri, which is not a particularly Caribbean space. But it has been historically a flash point for conversation around race and rights. From Dred Scott decision to the uprising in Ferguson. So, for a very long time, I've been thinking about the histories and geographies of black freedom. This project, in particular, emerged, uh, during my first year in graduate school. I had the opportunity to take two courses that utterly transform the spatial configuration (2:00) of my research

Eddie: And this was in Duke university, right?

Professor Goldthree: This was in Duke university. I took, uh, two classes with historian John French, who would go on to be my dissertation advisor. The first was a course, uh, called Afro-Diasporic Dialogues, that looked at the historic ties between black communities and Latin American, the Caribbean, and in the United States. And the second was the course on Afro-Brazilian history. And in both of those courses, the decades after World War One, uh, emerged as a pivotal historical moment. This is the moment in terms of Latin-American, the Caribbean, where you see, the Negritude movement, Afrocubanismo, the Indigenous movement in Haiti. The emergence and global spread of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Rastafari. And to all of those different black movements, I saw the figure of Afro-Caribbean World War I veterans. 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: And I thought, why is it in all of these amazing scholarship that I'm reading about black trans-nationalism, black cosmopolitanism do I not see veterans at the forefront of that, in this work, right? Um, and so, that kind of absence made me think about, what is it that happens during World War I that generates all of these transnational movements in the decades after the war?

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: In my book, I've explored the political and geographic trajectories of Afro-Caribbean veterans, thinking about the ways in which the migrations engendered by the war, produced new understandings of race and empire in the Caribbean.

Eddie: So, talk a little about, what you mean by the migrations after the war, right? So, their movements, right? Because you have, you know Circum Caribbean. You have all the-- so talk a little about that as well.

Professor Goldthree: Sure. So, the, Afro-Caribbean soldiers and their families that I studied in the book are the product of multiple migration.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Before the war, many of the men who (4:00) would ultimately enlist for military service were actually labor migrants. So, they are men who are moving from some the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, places like Grenada and Saint Vincent to the Southern Caribbean Island of Trinidad. But even more spectacularly, tens of thousands of men are moving to Central America in particular to build the Panama Canal.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: So that, for many of the men who served in World War I from the Caribbean, the war is not the first migration for them, it's their first time in Europe. But, many of these men have already experienced, uh, multiple migrations whether southward in the Caribbean, uh, or westward to central America? Uh, or less commonly uh, south, to places like the Brazilian Amazon.

Eddie: Hmm

Professor Goldthree: As labor migrants, right? So they already have an understanding of what it meant to move across national imperial and linguistic boundaries. During the war, we see a new circuit of migration emerged. Uh, as Afro-Caribbean’s soldiers are stationed in Europe, uh, they're stationed in North Africa and the Middle East. Uh, and as far way as India. And that these new migrations, uh, put them in conversation quite literally with colonial subjects from all over the world. So, one of the things that I explored a great deal in the book is how military bases are sights of new forms of cosmopolitanism. 

Eddie: Wow!

Professor Goldthree: I think about the ways in which, what I ask, what is it mean if we think about a military base as a sight of black cosmopolitanism? In the same way in which, uh, a literary salon in Parish might be or Jazz cafe in Harlem.

Eddie: So, give me a sense of what the content of that cosmopolitanism is. It seems to me that it might be, uh, incredibly fraught because, they're all these kind of residual traces of imperial logics, their range, their notions of freedom that are kind of bound, (5:60) that run up against them, and are bound up with, uh, some things that we might wanna trouble. So, give me a little bit more about the content of that cosmopolitan.

Professor Goldthree: So, your instincts are absolutely right. On the one hand, military bases are sights, where colonized subjects from across the world are coming into contact with one another.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, so in bases, for instance, you would often have, uh, or bases, or relatively closely linked military installation you would have. Colonial troops from West Africa, uh, contract workers from Asia. Uh, of course, colonial subjects from the Caribbean, and frequently African-Americans soldiers as well, right? Those bases allowed for soldiers to ask new questions about the global modalities of race. 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: How blackness is constructed in multiple spaces? 

Eddie: Uh-hmm. 

Professor Goldthree: And also, how colonialism works on a global scale. But that certainly didn't create any kind of, uh, utopia around shared ideas of race. One of the things that I discussed in great detail is the fractions around race. The ways in which, uh, West Indians soldiers often saw themselves as distinct from African colonial troops. And occasionally, uh, as distinct from Indian troops as well, they argued that they, uh, were literate soldiers, that they spoke English, that they were educated, and that they should be seen as, uh, as one soldier wrote a special class of natives.

Eddie: Is that self-understanding bound up with a particular, um, view of their relationship to the British crown? I mean, what-- I mean all of these groups are in some ways British subjects. I mean, so, what is the substance of that unique status that they are trying to, uh, possess as it were?

Professor Goldthree: Uh, so, they're both cultural markers and markers around race and rights. One of them has to do with this status that is certainly more invoked than, (8:00) uh, a status concertize through law, of being an ancient and loyal subject of the British crown.

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: The, uh, a corollary status, uh, and phrase also exist for French Caribbean troops. The sense that, uh, Caribbean colonial subjects were among the oldest subjects, in both British and French empires. And therefore, by virtue of those deep and long-standing colonial ties, that they had earned rights. That, uh, perhaps were not fully available to newer work colonial subjects. Um, also for the, the soldiers that I foreground in my work, their status as literate men, um, was deeply important to them as well and was, uh, really, uh, an interesting thing to explore as a scholar. The ways in which literacy served as a tool, not only to challenge the British empire, uh, but also as a tool of self-fashioning.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: As a tool to suggest a kinda distinction even among those who British officials often sought to lump together as colonized natives.

Eddie: So, what happens when they come home?

Professor Goldthree: Oh my goodness, so much! Alright, uh, the entire second half of the book really grapples with the two decades after World War I. Um, most immediately, when they come home, you see a series of spectacular uprisings by soldiers. Uh, the most, uh, the largest of those would take place in, uh, British Honduras, which is, uh, the modern day nation of Belize, where hundreds of soldiers, uh, would be joined by thousands of men, women, and children. Uh, in the capital city, in an uprising in July of 1919. You would see a smaller, uh, uprisings in Trinidad, Jamaica, and elsewhere. Uh, veterans also would join, uh, and form a wide array of political organizations immediately after their return. (10:00) Veterans were at the forefront of the spread and radicalization of UNIA, in the Caribbean, and also in the US. Uh, veterans were also very involved in the spread of labor union organizing in the region. Um, and veterans would also be very involved in, uh, leveraging loyalty. And this is one of the things that I'm interested in.

Eddie: Yeah, yeah.

Professor Goldthree: The ways in which the experiences of discrimination and marginalization during the war didn't simply produced a break from imperial logics, or uh, a critic kind of, uh, militant anti-colonialism. But also lead veterans to try to leverage their military service to make new demands upon the state so that many veterans returned and for the very first time, fearless, so they have a claim on the colonial state. A debt is often the language that they used. 

Eddie: Hmm. 

Professor Goldthree: So, they suggest that there is, and now a new-- a relationship of mutual obligation. That no longer are they simply British subjects but they articulate claims demanding citizenship, uh, both in its political and economic residences.

Eddie: And so, I suspect that, uh, the spark of many of these uprisings, uh, um, probably rooted in the failure of the attribution of that status, and some form of fashioning?

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely. So, during the war, uh, West Indian veterans are able to gain really important concessions. They are paid on the exact same scale as British troops.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Meaning, that whether you enlisted in Barbados or Bristle, you receive the same base pay, um, and they enlisted with explicit promise that they would be treated just as any other British soldier. Those promises fall apart relatively quickly though. Both by, uh, during the war years, but particularly afterward. Uh, as British military officials refuse to pay pensions, uh, and (12:00) separation allowances. These allowances that were granted to soldiers', uh, wives and children, on the same scale as British troops

Eddie: Uh-hmm

Professor Goldthree: Uh, and they also refused to provide the kind of welfare that was given to British soldiers. So, things like unemployment, allowances, robust health care support, and other things, that helped veterans returned to civilian life. And so, many of the contestations deal with the large gap between the promise of, uh, serving on behalf of the British empire, and the lived realities of marginalization after the war.

Eddie: So, these are men...

Professor Goldthree: Yes.

Eddie: Moving about.

Professor Goldthree: Yes.

Eddie: Serving, uh, on behalf of the crown, and on the behalf of the themselves and the nations from which they come. So,  what do-- what might your work, um, how much your works speak to the role of masculinity, right? In the construction of politics that emerges in this moment, if that make sense.

Professor Goldthree: No! It's a fantastic question. A question that has animated this project from the beginning. Um, I mean, I've often thought about the ways in which there's a really rich literature about this. How our understandings of diaspora, often privileged male actors, and so I was very worried about...

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: About doing that same kind of work, or being uncritically involved in that project. But what I think we can learn about masculinity is the ways in which, uh, the pursuit of both rights, uh, and political standing for Afro-Caribbean soldiers is often predicated upon both, um, marshal understandings of manhood.

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, and also understandings about patriarchal, uh, male headed household, which very rarely existed in the Caribbean context, particularly among (14:00)  Afro-Caribbean families. Uh, where there have historically been a variety of family formations, generally, uh, centered around the labor of women. 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Um, and what you see here is an imperial state, uh, in this case, the British imperial state, uh, bestowing certain rights based on the weighs in which soldiers could claim that their families, uh, reflected a model of the imperial family. Uh, an example of that is the ways in which soldiers, uh, in order to receive separation allowances, initially had to prove that they were legally married to their female partner, right? In a region again, where, uh, formal church marriage, uh, was relatively low, instead people tended to live in long term domestic partnerships.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: And so, one of the remarkable things that happened is that, it's actually Afro-Caribbean women who launch protests, uh, insisting that their relationships be recognized through separation allowance payments as well, and they are successful. It's one of the earliest examples of British colonial officials recognizing these partnerships as legitimate, um, by the recognition and the award of state resources.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Um, why you see this the ways in which Afro-Caribbean women are able to make claims based on these relationships, many of the soldiers that I study, continued to be invested and at least projecting this image of patriarchal head of household status.

Eddie: And how would they project it?

Professor Goldthree: Um, so, one of the sources that I dropped on a great deal of letters and petitions by soldiers.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, and so, the-- uh, um, there's a chapter in the book that focuses on disabled veterans and the ways in which they pursue resources from the state. And over and over again, soldiers, uh, even though they have extreme disabilities, uh, will make (16:00) claims, not solely based on the fact that they lost an arm or two, or blind. Uh, but instead saying "I have a family to support".

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: "My wife and children are utterly dependent on my wages", right?. Certainly, there were cases where that was true but it would've actually been unusual.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Right?

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: And so, they are, uh, participating in this narrative of a male-centered breadwinner household.

Eddie: The war actually affords them, kind of a participation in a certain kind of--

Professor Goldthree: Yes. It gives them, uh--

Eddie: A patriarchal.

Professor Goldthree: --some a bureaucratic language valorizing that.

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: So, you not only see, you know, the kind of familiar institutions, like the church valorizing the family formation.

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: But the military as well. That is the way in which they've become legible, uh, as people claiming rights, and that these rights are not only for themselves but for their household as well.

Eddie: Let's talk a little bit, you mentioned your resources, I mean one of the striking things about your work, um, is the expansive archive. Um, it's-- I mean, you know, it's one of thing to kind of answer, to finally have someone finally answer [inaudible] James's call to write about the kind of black West Indian, you know, regiment, right? To pay attention to these Caribbean soldiers. But the way in which you do it, I mean, talk a little about, uh, your archives, and how diverse and the challenges you face moving. Not just simply, uh, through military records and the like but, also across different languages. Talk a little about that.

Professor Goldthree: Yes. So, um, anyone who is ever studied the military in any form, will know it produces an endless series of records, for better or for worse, right? So, of course, uh, as you know things like military records, the diaries of regiments, uh, enlistment information, uh, court-martial, uh, materials are very important to my work. Uh, but one of the key limitations (18:00) of military documents is, how infrequently the voices of the actors I'm most interested in are in the forefront. So, military records tend to give us a very top-down--

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: -understanding of the life of soldiers, particularly rank and file, uh, colonial troops. Because of I was interested in the political imaginaries and voices of both soldiers and their larger families, I turned to, uh, a variety sources beyond the standard archive. Uh, so I'm-- I dropped on petitions and letters, authored by soldiers and their larger family network. That's where I, uh, was able to bring in voices of women in particular.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: I also-- somehow by accident really, uh, found incredible archives of poetry written during the war by soldiers as they're recovering in hospitals.

Eddie: Talk a little bit about that. How did you find that?

Professor Goldthree: Yeah!

Eddie: That was amazing.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, so, during, uh, reading newspapers during this moment, I kept encountering poems about the war. Original poetry, generally very short, printed in Caribbean newspapers and then, during research in the UK, I found the series of autograph books. Um, from a hospital, uh, that among many other groups of soldiers, uh, served as a site for, uh, aiding West Indian troops. And I was utterly shocked to see that as soldiers were recovering, they were also writing poems.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, they were also, uh, drawing illustrations about their time in the war. And so, I draw upon this poetry as a way of thinking about the multiple genres in which soldiers and their loved ones are choosing to narrate their relationship to war. That the petition is certainly really important genre of writing, um, to join (20:00) the British West Indies Regiment, soldiers have to prove that they were literate.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, for the first two years, and so I have the benefit of having an expansive written archive. Uh, but, they also chose to write in these other forms as well, that kind of semi-private writing in an autograph book as you're recovering or submitting poetry to the local newspaper, as a way to narrate war. It's really remarkable when you think about these genres of writing in relation to one another.

Eddie: So, what struck you most? What was revealed most in this kind of-- 'cause in some ways you get at the interiority of the folks who are participating in this-- in something that is, for all intents and purposes, very horrible.

Professor Goldthree: Right.

Eddie: Right? So, what struck you?

Professor Goldthree: Uh, so two things, really emerged strongly from the poems in particular. Um, the first was the ways in which, uh, Afro-Caribbean’s were reworking the language of imperial patriotism. That they were taking the tropes of loyalty and devotion, and martial manhood, and are making explicit connection between those imperial discourses, and their status as racialized subjects. Over and over again, they're arguing that the pursuit of democracy is a racial project for them. 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: That it is a project of self-fashioning and citizenship. And they are taking, uh, discourses that are, in some ways, meant to conscript them into the project of empire and arguing that, uh, using those logics to argue for a new class of rights and new standing. The other that really struck me in the soldiers writing is the way in which they will move so quickly. From pretty formulated discussions of the heroism of war, to their (22:00) own deep ambivalence about their role.

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, and so, in a recent publication I wrote about a soldier who writes a series of poems about what it means to be stuck in a hospital bed as you hear troops marching by. And he begins with this kind of deeply heroic language about how he will overcome any obstacle thrown at him in the war and then he moves to deeply evocative work about the ways in which his own body is failing him, right? And I think that those moments are the kind of interior glimpse that you see of the contradictions of war, particularly for colonial subjects. As they are navigating, uh, a war that is both and imperial and democratic, right? 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Um, one of the challenges of this archive is how diffuse it is especially. I worked in over a dozen archives, uh, in multiple Caribbean countries as well as drawing upon colonial archives in Europe and the United States. Um, and one of the remarkable things is that when you're studying people in motion, right? Um, particularly working-class people in motion that you're chasing after fragments, right? 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: So that it was very rare to find multiple letters in one archive from a soldier, instead I might find a birth certificate one place information about enlistment in another place and then see their name in a report from a UNIA division in another archive.

Eddie: Wow.

Professor Goldthree: It's also remarkable because so many of the soldiers as I said, enlisted, uh, having already migrated and then after the war, British colonial officials, uh, in Jamaica, Barbados and several (24:00) other islands actually sponsored veterans to migrate to Cuba, and around 40% of them did. And so that meant that I also really wanted to grapple with what did it mean for these veterans, uh, to move to Cuba at this moment where Cuba itself is a hotbed of Afro-Cuban organizing, Labor-Union organizing, uh, and Anti-Imperial organizing in relationship to the US. 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Uh, and so I'm both always excited about and daunted about the challenge of studying working-class black folks in motion.

Eddie: I mean this is amazing in so many different ways, but, um, what are-- I mean I hinted at this earlier you know, I think this is, uh, your work is extraordinary for a number of different reasons. But I'm wondering what's the limit? What are the limits of this kind of political imagining? What are their constraints? Moments in which you found, um, in the source material where ah, um, that-- that martial self-conception is a spur for, um, organizing, for resisting and at the same time it limits how that resistance can be imagined if that makes sense.

Professor Goldthree: No, it's a wonderful question. There are several moments in the 1920s and 30s where you see fractures, right? Uh, that military service provides a particular type of community and as we've discussed a particular vision of black-cosmopolitanism, one that is deeply gendered. Uh, and one that in the Caribbean context also excludes other working-class people. Um, not simply other Afro-Caribbean working-class people who did not serve, but also, um, not there were several groups of colonial subjects in the region (26:00) that were excluded from military service. So the large, uh, community of people of Indian descent in the Caribbean were not allowed to serve in the regiment. Um, also there was very low participation of people of Chinese heritage in the region and so the kind of claims making the soldiers are able to martial, uh, fractures, and ultimately helps to reinforce some of the, um, racial and ethnic divisions in the region, right? And there's also a limit to the ways in which women can mobilize claims through soldiers and this is one of the things that I'm deeply invested in this, both thinking about the ways in which women are able to argue that they too deserve rights and recognition because of their war effort. Whether it's through fundraising or the loss of a son, or husband during the war, but of course that reinforces a narrative in which women's political rights are derivative of men's political action, right? 

Eddie: Right. Right.

Professor Goldthree: And of course, that's a deeply troubling and limiting narrative. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Um, also by the 1930s when veterans’ activism is at its height, um, what you see is a real fracture within the veterans’ community over the question of, uh, the political feature of their British West Indies.

Eddie: Right. 

Professor Goldthree: That you have political figures, uh, who explicitly embrace a kind of militant Anti-Colonialism and others who argue that their primary leverage in seeking rights and recognition is through a continued relationship with the empire. And those debates come to a head in the 1930s, uh, when labor protests explode across the British Caribbean, really offering the most profound challenge to British Empire, uh, in the early decades of the century.

Eddie: And how are your, uh, some of your folks behaving in this moment?

Professor Goldthree: Yes. So in many different ways and two of the, uh, (28:00) soldiers that I'm most invested in, uh, one's who would actually, uh, lead C. L. R. James to be one of the earliest voices to say that veterans activism matters, uh, are Arthur Cipriani and Uriah Butler. So, Arthur Cipriani is actually a white Caribbean veteran, uh, from an elite background who serves as a really important mentor to C. L. R. James, and that James calls him the greatest politician in the democratic tradition the West Indies is ever known. Um, and Cipriani from this elite background is transformed politically by the war. He enters uh, at someone who had very little political experience, and whose claim to fame was being an elite horse racer and by, uh, his return is known and, uh, as a champion of the barefoot men becomes a populist hero in Trinidad. Uh, and the others, a man named Uriah Butler, who was born in Grenada but becomes politically active in Trinidad, who leads one of the largest demonstrations in this period of-- for men and he's actually imprisoned, uh, for sedition by the British government. And yet when he emerges, um, from imprisonment still argues that there might be some space for self-government within the empire.

Eddie: Wow.

Professor Goldthree: So there are no-- there are no easier, linear political trajectories. What is most interesting to me in this project is the ways in which this kind of moments of fracture, uh, these debates about raising empire, don't have any formulate conclusion that there are, uh, soldiers who very early on, so that there is no possibility for racial equality within the empire. Ah, and join organizations like the UNIA or Rastafari, uh, or even more radical organizations like the communist party. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: And then there are other veterans who were just as active who issue stinging public critic and yet still find that there's a space, uh, from maneuver if you will within the political apparatus of empire.

Eddie: So we get this title. Democracy Shall be no Empty Romance, where this-- it seems like it reflects this massiveness.

Professor Goldthree: Yes, so uh, the title comes from a short-lived black periodical, uh, from Belize, the Belize independent, which was edited by Garveyite Herbert Hill Cain and this was, uh, from-- this was at-- the quotation is from an editorial welcoming soldier's back in July of 1919, and the full quotation is, "Liberty, equality and fraternity, shall no longer be mere catch words and democracy shall be no empty romance." I'm fascinated by this quotation for several reasons; one is that the ways in which the language of French republicanism. 

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: Ah, which is a language to soldiers often invoked, um, a central to that and of course that language of liberty, equality, and fraternity comes to Afro-Caribbean soldiers not just to the French Revolution but also to the Haitian Revolution, right? So it has particular resonance in the Caribbean. Um, and also the ways in which then this tradition of a kind of militant republicanism becomes attached to the rhetoric of democracy. This insistence, uh, that democracy can simply not mean political rights but, uh, expensive conception that democracy means a full citizenship.

Eddie: Yeah, is this odd-- it's not odd, it's this interesting kind of mixture of French republicanism as you rightly note. Uh, Black nationalism and Wilsionism, right? Because they're-- I mean there's this notion of self-determination, right? Is really defining (32:00) the global landscape as it kind of seize, um, or imagine itself post, uh, of this extraordinary, uh, event called World War 1, right?

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely. I mean one of the things that I really wrestle with is the ways in which soldiers are drawing upon a really, uh-- 

Eddie: [inaudible] of sorts, right?

Professor Goldthree: Yes. That they are drawing from French republicanism, Black nationalism, Wilsionism, to construct their own vernacular conceptions of democracy, right? 

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: And so what is it mean if we read understandings of democracy in this moment from the perspective of working-class Afro-Caribbean people, right? Um, that this is a moment that the political, uh, landscape is quite literally saturated in the rhetoric of democracy, and yet as many historians have documented, this is also the height of imperial expansion.

Eddie: Exactly.

Professor Goldthree: Right? And so I'm fascinated by the ways in which black soldiers, uh, understand and read this moment in all of its contradictions and are speaking back to it, by using the language of democracy and ways that of course, uh,terrified Wilson.

Eddie: Uh-hmm, mm-hmm. So the work, I mean in so many ways writing your work, um, traverses disciplinary boundaries even within history, right? So you work at the intersection of labor history, gender history, military history and.-- [chuckles].

Professor Goldthree: Its own unique way, right?

Eddie: You never let-- in-- in-- in Caribbean, uh, study. So, uh, what's the payoff methodologically? Substantively, right? Outstanding in that kind of interstitial space?

Professor Goldthree: One of them is that the categories that have often divided the field of history, um, we kind of fall apart when you look at lived experience and take it really seriously as the ground from which you then theorize, right? 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: So that what is it mean (34:00) to think about labor history, and intellectual history as parts of the same story, right? Um, what is it mean to think about the politics of gender history, right? Um, that these aren't insights that came to me in a kind of abstract way that is really the complex nature of wrestling with lived experience that made me realize why this isn't just social history--

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: This isn't just a story about masculinity, this isn't just a story about labor, but what makes us a really compelling story is that trying-- taking seriously the challenges and the contradictions of lived experience require multiple tools.

Eddie: Right. It's almost at the heart of what we do in African-American studies, right?

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely. I mean I think the African-American studies for me has been generative in all kinds of ways. It is the field that introduced me to James in France, Vernon and [inaudible] and Claudia Jones. But it is also the field that taught me from my undergraduate days, uh, that the lived experience of working-class black people helps us to understand the world in a more complete and complex way. 

Eddie: Right.

Professor Goldthree: Um, and that these experiences aren't a marginal story, that these experiences are at the very center of how we can think about World War 1? How we can think about questions of democracy? Um, how we can think about the political forbear of the interwar period, right? And that is what is continuous to make me reinvest in this temple period and then this project, is the lessons from this moment that continue to reverberate in our present.

Eddie: And when we give attention to the, uh, the lived experiences of everyday ordinary folk, what we see is that all the caricatures of blackness.

Professor Goldthree: Yes.

Eddie: Right? This kind of easy ways of rendering how, uh, (36:00) black folk lived their lives, right? Seem to just fall apart.

Professor Goldthree: Right, I-- I have been amazed at how often when talking about this project, that people have been surprised that working-class black folks had conception of French republicanism, right? 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Um, or that they have vernacular conceptions of democracy and citizenship, right? And that they have their own intellectual genealogist--

Eddie: Sophisticated intellectual genealogist, right? Yeah.

Professor Goldthree: Yes, right. Um, that come from things like a vibrant transnational black press in this moment. Um, that come from, uh, religious epistemologist that come from a deep tradition of self-knowledge in the Caribbean and, uh,self-study, right? And that I think is one of the things that certainly within our field as well known and deeply valued, uh, but with beyond our field is still often a surprised.

Eddie: Wow. So this book is on its way, yeah, finally is your giving-- it’s being born, it'll make its way into the world over the next year or so. And then you're already hard at work on the next project.

Professor Goldthree: Yes.

Eddie: I think the title is Between Empires. Ah, racial panics and USA annexation fears in the greater Caribbean. Talk little bit and your-- it’s a broader period, right? You're actually going passed World War 2, right?

Professor Goldthree: Yes, so--

Eddie: Or after World War 2.

Professor Goldthree: Yes. So the new project, uh, returns to my questions about raising empire, but in a larger temporal frame in a larger geographic frame, which is a bit scary because my first project had [laughter] a pretty expensive geographic frame. 

[crosstalk]

Eddie: It's pretty big, yeah.

Professor Goldthree: So in this new project, I turn to the world of cultural history and in particular the political impact of rumor. A subject that is often been, uh, (38:00) at the heart of anthropological work, uh, but it also has a really important history and historiography in the Caribbean context. Ah, so I asked in this project how Afro-Caribbean intellectuals are dressing the problem of the expansion of US empire after 1898? 

Eddie: Hmm.

Professor Goldthree: Ah, and I'm particularly interested in what I'm describing as annexation panics. These recurring series of rumors that the United States is preparing to invade a purchase, uh, or otherwise colonize new territories in the Caribbean.


Eddie: Well, there's concrete evidence that something is going on, right?

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely.

Eddie: After just vanish [inaudible] before right go.

Professor Goldthree: Right? And so you have after 1898, the moment in which the United States intervenes and the independence struggling Cuba and does formally colonize Puerto Rico, right? Ah, this, uh, understanding that there is perhaps been a major political shift in the region.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: That a region that has been defined since 1492 by European colonialism, uh, is now falling under, uh, the political view of the United States. And so Afro-Caribbean intellectuals are now grappling with what is that mean? What does it mean uh, to grapple with the not only the threat but the reality of US empire? And this annexation panics, of course, take off after 1898, uh, but then really began to flourish after the United States purchases the Virgin Islands, uh, from Denmark. An event that still is woefully understudied in histories of US empire. Ah, and the Virgin Islands-- the US Virgin Islands is a space is also understudied in the field of Caribbean history. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Professor Goldthree: But this, uh, purchase of the Virgin Islands in 1917 reverberates throughout the Caribbean. Ah, so in this new project, I was shocked (40:00) to discover that it set off a panic among rule, uh, indentured laborers, uh, in Trinidad, right? Indian indentured workers, uh, through circuits of information and rumor, uh, are concerned about what this event will mean for them. I, uh, one of the things I'm grappling with this, how rumor serves as a source of political information for disenfranchised people, and a source of information, uh, that we must take seriously.

Eddie: Do we see any tangible, uh-- so it generates panic.

Professor Goldthree: Yes.

Eddie: Um, it deepens fears, uh, but what's the politics that follow? What's your research saying so far?

Professor Goldthree: Yes. So, so far, one of the kind of, uh, political impacts of this are all of these editorials and even formal, um, publish works on US racial logics. So there is a-- uh-- there's always been an interest in racial politics in the US among Afro-Caribbean intellectuals in particular, but those debates move to the public's fear. And one of the things you see are increased articles about the history of lynching in Caribbean newspapers. You see actual debates and sometimes formally organized public debates. Other debates that take place in black newspapers about, uh, comparing British and US colonial practices. Ah, and you also see, uh, in terms of the material realm, uh, these efforts to sell off land occasionally...

Eddie: Wow.

Professor Goldthree: As people are terrified quite literally about the prospect of, uh, coming under US rule.

Eddie: 'Cause it's happening at the very moment in which, um, racial apartheid in the south is consolidating--

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely.

Eddie: --in that wonderful moment in C. Vann-- C. Vann Woodwards you know "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" is that the very moment in which Jim Crow (42:00) is kind of taking shape. There is this annexation of millions of people of color, uh, under the American regime, so.

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely. Another thing that you see is intense interest in the US occupations of Haidian, the Dominican Republic, which were going on at this moment. Ah, as a test case if you will, to understand and to observe, uh, what to US military occupation means for black and brown people.

Eddie: This is been an amazing conversation. It's so important on so many different levels, I cannot wait for 'Democracy Shall be no Empty Romance: War and the Politics of Empire in the Greater Caribbean' to hit the shelves. I can only imagine the conversations that we'll be having all over the country. And you know, I think it's really important that you and I had this conversation today against the backdrop of what's happened in Puerto Rico, or what's happened in the US Virgin Islands, and the kind of relative silence, um, that we are witnessing to that devastation.

Professor Goldthree: Absolutely. Um, I think that this is a moment where the politics of empire are alive and well, and we see that in the ways in which, um, both the response are really lacked thereof to the response in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And also in Dominic and Barbuda, two places that are only very recently independent nations.

Eddie: Right, right. So, indeed, so thank you all for joining us for this important discussion today. I would like to thank Professor Reena Goldthree for joining me this week. Additionally, a special thanks to Courtney Bryan for providing the music to this podcast and to the staff of the department of African-American studies at Princeton University; our office manager April Peters; our event coordinator Dionne Worthy; our social media specialist Allison Bland; and our technical specialist and audio engineer Elio Lleo. Remember you can find this podcast and more about visiting our website aas.princeton.edu. 

(44:00)

Thank you so much and have a good one. Take care.
[background music]

[END]

 

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