From tracing Kenya’s plundered cultural artefacts to calling U.S. detention centers “concentration camps,” here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
This is Africa
While other African countries have been petitioning for decades and are actively moving towards the repatriation of cultural artefacts that were plundered during the colonial era, Kenya has only recently launched an investigation into which objects were removed from the East African nation, where in the West they are housed and who holds the agency to demand their repatriation.
Calls for the repatriation of plundered cultural artefacts are consistently growing louder, with many rejecting the infantilising ideology that former colonies cannot be trusted to preserve their own cultural heritage. Repatriation is important for a variety of reasons: For example, it not only seeks to address historical injustices but also to restore the agency of countries once under colonial rule. Seemingly for the first time in Kenya’s history, there is a movement to investigate the cultural artefacts stolen and kept outside the country’s borders. [continue reading]
For 40 years, thickening chains of economic interdependence have bound the United States to the People’s Republic of China. But recently they’ve started to show signs of rust. The Dow Jones lurches whenever U.S. President Donald Trump fires off another tweet in his tempestuous trade war with President Xi Jinping’s China. Strategists speak of a “new cold war” between the world’s richest and most populous countries. From the Obama administration’s much-ballyhooed pivot to Asia to the Defense Department’s proclamation of a return of “great power competition” in January 2018, the commercial engine that has generated wealth and suppressed tensions across the Pacific Ocean since 1979 is in danger of breaking down entirely.
Yet relations between nations and peoples comprise more than Olympian statecraft. Analysis of the U.S.-China relationship often overlooks a critical set of actors in this vital drama: the political entrepreneurs, always hustling, sometimes corrupt, who have helped drive this process of economic convergence and been well compensated in return. Those relationships are often intensely personal—even as they shape hundreds of millions of lives—and hopscotch across the private and public squares in ways that blur the lines between the individual and the nation, between public service and feeding at the public trough. [continue reading]
The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was first held in London, England in 1982, and Trinidadian historian and activist C.L.R. James kicked off the inaugural event. The book fair took place annually from 1982 to 1991 and then biannually from 1993 to 1995 in London as well as Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, and other cities. In total, there were twelve, and they all served as a “meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and the people who inspire and consume their creative productions.”1 Sponsored by New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications, and Bogle L’Ouverture Publications, which were local organizations in the Black British community, the book fair represented the interplay between culture and politics, afforded opportunities for diverse cultural expressions, and disseminated information about local and international issues.2 These annual events also brought together a variety of multicultural and multiracial people who exhibited and sold their books, engaged in critical intellectual exchange, and circulated different forms of knowledge through panel discussions, public readings, film screenings, musical or dance performances, and other artistic and cultural events.
Moreover, these annual events not only had a significant influence on participants from South Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States, but also on racialized communities in Europe such as Belgium, France, and Germany. In particular, Black German activist-intellectuals and African political refugees and artists living in Germany became involved with the book fairs. Black Germans’ involvement in these events demonstrated their ability to practice a Black internationalism that overlapped with and was informed by other internationalist figures and movements. They used their participation in the book fairs to gain more recognition for the Black German community, forge connections with others across the Black diaspora and people of color, and pursue politics that advanced equality and social justice. Black Germans’ continental activism relied on those networks to agitate for broader social and political change within and beyond the borders of Germany. [continue reading]
Private Peter South was part of Company K of the First Michigan Sharpshooters, known by contemporaries as “the Indian Company.” In June of 1864, Confederate soldiers captured South near Petersburg, Virginia. Six months later, South died due to scurvy while a prisoner at Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. His mother, Lucy Kamiskwasigay, applied for a pension soon after her son’s death. Other Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi) individuals tried to help Kamiskwasigay receive a pension. For example, in May of 1868, Joseph Wakazoo testified in support of his late comrade’s mother: “Her son Peter, had he lived and discharged a son’s part, would have supported her in old age, but he gave his life to his country….” Wakazoo pleaded on behalf of Kamiskwasigay: “All her property—except a piece of land granted to her by the Indian Department, + which she has no right to sell, or means to improve—would not sell for over fifty dollars, and that amount would not pay her debt, contracted on the sure belief that the United States Gov. would redeem its pledge by granting her, in common with others, a pension.”
Wakazoo made many claims on the government in his brief deposition. He appealed, like many veterans, to the government’s “pledge” to support Union soldiers and their families. By mentioning Kamiskwasigay’s allotment—”a piece of land granted to her by the Indian Department”—he also noted her Indian identity and status. Wakazoo emphasized that this Anishinaabe mother should “get her just due” from the government. Kamiskwasigay was awarded a pension in 1869. [continue reading]
This week, conservatives weaponized Jewish suffering to divert discussion from the massive human rights abuses occurring at our border. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), daughter of the man who called torture “enhanced interrogation,” scolded Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for using the term “concentration camp” to describe the growing civilian detention system, including the reopening of Fort Sill, previously a Japanese American internment camp, to hold children. Since then, Jews have split on whether it’s appropriate to use “concentration camp” outside the context of the Holocaust. There are those who find the term too emotionally charged, or who believe the sheer scale of the Nazi Final Solution bars any possible comparison.
Though I disagree, I understand. My father turned seven on June 22, 1941, the day the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. I was raised with the story of how my grandmother saved my dad and aunt with her quick thinking and a cramped spot on a cattle train leaving Odessa for Siberia. Those who remained were shot. As a Jew, I bear witness to the memory of those who did not survive. I’m also a legal historian, and my research on genocide and crimes against humanity has made clear that while the Holocaust is unique in its scale and implementation, the perpetrators and motivations are not. Genocide is a human crime, not a German one. In the wake of World War II, human rights laws were written in the hopes of preventing future tragedies, not for labeling the past. [continue reading]