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Creating a local black identity in a global context: the French writer Alexandre Dumas as an African American lieu de mémoire

  • Eric Martone (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1740022810000203
  • Published online: 27 October 2010
Abstract
Abstract

Western expansion and domination through colonial systems served as a form of globalization, spreading white hegemony across the globe. While whites retained the monopoly on ‘modernity’ as the exclusive writers of historical progress, ‘backward’ African Americans were perceived as ‘outside’ Western culture and history. As a result, there were no African American individuals perceived as succeeding in Western terms in the arts, humanities, and sciences. In response, African American intellectuals forged a counter-global bloc that challenged globalization conceived as hegemonic Western domination. They sought to insert African Americans as a whole into the history of America, (re)creating a local black American history ‘forgotten’ because of slavery and Western power. African American intellectuals thus created a ‘usable past’, or counter-memory, to reconstitute history through the inclusion of African Americans, countering Western myths of black inferiority. The devastating legacy of slavery was posited as the cause of the African Americans’ lack of Western cultural acclivity. Due to the lack of nationally recognized African American figures of Western cultural achievement, intellectuals constructed Dumas as a lieu de mémoire as part of wider efforts to appropriate historical individuals of black descent from across the globe within a transnational community produced by the Atlantic slave trade. Since all blacks were perceived as having a uniting ‘essence’, Dumas’ achievements meant that all blacks had the same potential. Such identification efforts demonstrated African Americans’ social and cultural suitability in Western terms and the resulting right to be included in American society. In this process, African Americans expressed a new, local black identity by expanding an ‘African American’ identity to a wider range of individuals than was commonly applied. While constructing a usable past, African Americans redefined ‘America’ beyond the current hegemonic usage (which generally restricted the term geographically to the US) to encompass an ‘Atlantic’ world – a world in which the Dumas of memory was re-imagined as an integral component with strong connections to slavery and colonialism.

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Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch , A history of African American theatre, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003

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Journal of Global History
  • ISSN: 1740-0228
  • EISSN: 1740-0236
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-global-history
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