Born in Blackness book cover and Howard W. French headshot

Born in Blackness by Howard W. French

The so-called Age of Exploration wasn’t driven by Europeans chasing goods from Asia, a continent with which they had tied for centuries. European developed modern navigation and empire-making in pursuit of the gold-rich African empires that were beginning to open.

That set off the last 400 years of history, including the modern, caste-making of race, simplifying all African peoples into a single “black” category. That’s from the 2021 book by longtime journalist Howard W. French called “Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War.” (A review here)

Below find my notes for future reference. I didn’t take as thorough notes as I often do because I found myself reading with a near-toddler but it’s a start.

My notes

  • Transformation of African peoples into a single blackness just like a uniform white evolved in Americas
  • In 1996, Berlin “From Creole to African” says this happened not in Africa or Americas but in an in-between space
  • 12m slaves, 6m lost in their pursuit
  • European interest in Africa came first because of gold not Asia
  • Toni Morrison: black people were the cauldron for the American melting pot, against which others could rally
  • Berlin conference in 1884: Europe had just 10% control of Africa but divided up the rest; by 1914, they owned 90%
  • The scramble for Africa was predated by a scramble for Africans
  • Silver in Bolivia and gold and Brazil’s sugar crop first benefited Portugal but also generally brought wealth to fund the Industrial Revolution
  • 1622: Portuguese invasion of Kongo
  • 1760s Tackys War
  • WeB Dubois: Black Reconstruction In America essay (disparaged by mainstream press at the time)
  • Cotton and plantation slavery was the primary driver of the United States to major industrial power
  • Eli Whitney’s cotton gin may play smaller role than getting ever more labor out of slaves
  • Saint Domingue’s slave revolt (Haitian Revolution) against French forced the French to give up on Americas, selling Louisiana purchase to Jefferson
  • Alexander Hamilton: “To the courage and obstinate resistance made by its black inhabitants are we indebted for the obstacles which delayed the colonization of Louisiana”

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