5/16 The Failure of Emancipation w/ Kris Manjapra

May 16, 2022

Sam hosts Kris Manjapra, history professor at Tufts University, to discuss his recent book Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation, on how exploitation and racial caste systems that are buoyed by the lasting legacies of emancipations. Professor Manjapra begins by discussing what his idea of the “ghost line” entails, as boundaries as drawn between the mainstream histories, and the histories that never get discussed, yet whose effects still linger, before he walks through the five categories of emancipation – gradual, retroactive, compensated, war, and conquest – that he uses to explore the concept, with a common factor of reparations to slave owners. Then, he and Sam dive first into the Haitian revolution as a “retroactive emancipation,” with the actual revolution climaxing in 1805, but was met with immediate French pushback, refusing to acknowledge their independence, and therefore instituting a boycott of their economy (along with the most of Europe and the US) until they settled, 20 years later, on an agreement to see Haiti as an independent state provided they pay reparations for French slave owners that totaled 22 billion dollars in today’s money. Beyond the two decades of boycott that crippled the budding Haitian economy, Sam and Prof. Manjapra look at how this emancipation was defined by a legacy of debt that lasted up until 1947 (over a century later!), paying homage to the institution of slavery and giving this view of Black people as “property” even more legitimacy, before they look to the role of narrative, and how this stifling of Haiti served to let the West downplay this symbol for Black liberation. Next, Professor Manjapra looks to the gradual emancipations of slaves in the Northeast following the American Revolution, as these states saw the importance of manumission, yet still made property rights central to this mission, with freedom only to be achieved by upcoming generations of Black folks after serving their first 18 years under white ownership. Very similarly to the retroactive emancipation of Haiti, they dive into the justification for this as an homage to property rights, which was (and is) perhaps the central political interest at work in that era, with even the most mainstream of abolitionists tending to refer to enslaved peoples via property terminology. Prof. Manjapra and Sam then dive into the compensated emancipation led by the British empire in the 1830s, becoming a standard form of emancipation, in which they gradually paid back slave owners for their losses, lasting up until 2014(!), and paid for (initially) via extensions of their existing colonial regimes in the Caribbean, thus starting nine generations of Black people paying back England for their ancestors’ freedom. After looking at the role of the Civil War and US emancipation as exemplary of the issues with emancipation, diving into the supposed lack of compensation in this war-driven emancipation, and how we still see the lasting hesitancy around Black freedom in the clauses of the three reconstruction amendments, Sam and Prof. Manjapra wrap up the interview by discussing the remnants of emancipation as a continuation of the mutating exploitation that is the racial caste systems that drive the success of monied interests.

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