Rafael Cesar, President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, presents the talk, "White Skin, Black Masks: The Making of Race, Literature and History in the Angolan Liberation Struggle (1940s-1970s)" as a part of the lecture series, “Charting the Portuguese Black Atlantic" at New York University.
“I’m each day more interested in joining the fight for the independence of Angola,” wrote Ernesto Lara, an influential white Angolan journalist and writer, in a letter addressed to the leader of the main liberation movement in the country. It was 1959 and the anticolonial war was about to start. “But I'd like to know: will there be a place for white Angolans like us in the liberated country? Or will Angola be a country only for black people? I want a country in which blacks, mestizos, and whites can coexist and mingle, I want Angola to be a new Brazil.” In the years that followed, spanning the war and postcolonial Angola, a boom of literary publications, literary criticism, and social thought in and about Angola would give voice to a similar desire.
However, this imagination that became hegemonic in the literate production was at odds with the demographics and the political expectations of a black African nation, still dealing with a brutal and anachronistic European colonialism and, later, with its consequences. How, then, did an imaginary of colorblindness and racial democracy flourish in Angola in a moment of black liberation? In this talk, I show how a group of white and mixed-race Angolan revolutionaries, in close contact and exchange with Latin American intellectuals, translated Latin-American images of race-mixing and imaginaries of colorblindness and racial democracy, particularly from Brazil, into the cultural production and social and political thought of the country between the 1930s and 1960s. It also shows how this discourse produced an ambiguous racial politics in the context of decolonization, which served to legitimize the power of non-black Angolans, ultimately suppressing the race issue in post-colonial Angola.
Rafael Cesar has a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese from New York University (2021). His book project, tentatively titled “Fictions of Racelessness: The ‘Latin American’ Racial Imaginaries of Angola (1878-2002)” examines the exchange of racial discourses between Angolan writers and revolutionaries and Latin American intellectuals, particularly from Brazil and Cuba, in the formation of Angolan nationalism (broadly conceived) throughout the twentieth century. The book argues that, in contrast with common Pan-African, Afro-Centric, race-based nationalisms from other Sub-Saharan African countries, the mainstream current of Angolan nationalism forged a unique racial imagination in confluence and dialogue with Latin American discourses based on celebratory discourses of race-mixing and colorblindness. For this and other projects, Rafael Cesar has conducted archival and field research in Angola, Portugal, Brazil, Cuba, Germany, and France supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). He is currently a University of California Berkeley President's Postdoctoral Fellow (2021-2022)