Race scholars often refer to the colonization of Indigenous peoples in the Americas and the enslavement of Africans as a founding moment in the making of today's racial hierarchies. Yet their narrative of this initial moment often mischaracterizes early European states, erases Indigenous and African states, and naturalizes racial group belonging. Such practices are counterproductive to the antiracist project. Following the lead of decolonial scholarship, much recent work by historians has sought to recover and reconstruct the institutions, social structures, and agency of African and Indigenous peoples, as well as revisit assumptions about European power, institutions, and agency in their historical encounters with their continental “others.” I highlight the potential of this approach for sociologists of “race” by narrating two significant historical events in the making of the modern Atlantic world: the conquest of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire, and the transatlantic enslavement of subjects of the kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo (in today's Angola) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I analyze how particular European, Indigenous, and African actors made decisions in the context of their own and others' historically situated and dynamic political and social structures. I read these historical events through the lens of decolonial scholarship, and sociological literatures on group-making, state formation, and the emergence of capitalism, to make sense of the violent social process that led to the breakup of African, Indigenous, and European political and social structures and the making of colonial and racially hierarchical social structures in the Atlantic world.
I would like to thank Fidan Elcioglu, Dan Hirschman, Anna Korteweg, Neda Maghbouleh, Krintin Plys, Rania Salem, Simon Schwartzman, Tahseen Shams, Dan Silver, and especially the editors of the journal and of the special issue (Julian Go, katrina quisubing king, and Alexandre White), as well as anonymous reviewers, for their careful reading and constructive feedback on different drafts of this chapter.
Schwartzman, L.F. (2021), "Seeing African and Indigenous States and Societies: Decolonizing and Degrouping Race Scholarships' Narratives of Conquest and Enslavement in the Early Modern Atlantic World", White, A.I.R. and Quisumbing King, K. (Ed.) Global Historical Sociology of Race and Racism (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 38), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 135-160. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920210000038007
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