Native and Black

Neat and distinct interpretations of identity have been significantly challenged by contemporary scholarship on racial formation which actively refutes earlier essentialist, scientific racialist and eugenics frameworks (Leonard,2016). The new scholarship acknowledges the more complex histories of place in the context of Atlantic World studies.  To be Native and Black is now understood as not mutually exclusive (Brooks, 2002; Dismukes, 2007; Forbes, 1993; Saunt, 2005). Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country, is an example of one recent volume that describes the complex and intertwined histories of Native and Black communities, Afro-Native intermarriage, and the maintenance of tribal identity in the context of complex interracial histories (Miles and Holland, 2006).

Cover of Red, White, and Black

Historians have been writing about such encounters for several decades, with Gary Nash’s 1974 book Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early America, now in its seventh edition. James Axtell, in the American Indian Quarterly Review (1977-78), appraised this study as disrupting “the facile characterization of races and cultures into ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’… by a cultural relativism that judges each culture on its own terms. Dynamic whites no longer act upon passive black or red pawns; each group is active in pursuing its own interests…” Nash’s study help to inaugurate what is now the thriving field of the Atlantic World studies, described by J. H. Elliott:

"The new Atlantic history might be defined as the history, in the broadest sense, of the creation, destruction and re-creation of communities as the result of the movement, across and around the Atlantic basin, of people, commodities, cultural practices, and ideas. It is not the history of the advent—or non-advent— of modernity, a concept that has bedeviled the history of the Americas, but rather of change and continuity in the face of new experiences, new circumstances, new contacts, and new environments."

(Gallup-Diaz 2017 p. 5).

Cover of The Red Atlantic

Through more recent studies on the Black Atlantic and the Red Atlantic, it is now possible to understand various locales in relation to these larger histories of Indigenous, Black, and Maroon communities. Colonial archives and repositories of studies tempered in eugenics frameworks can all be better understood in relation to a more rigorous North American studies and a more international framing around racialization, power, and wealth (Gilroy, 1993).

Many scholars have come to understand that Native American history cannot be approached by limiting sources and evidence to colonial documentation. There is not enough of it, and much that exists is biased. Indeed, the challenge taken up by scholars for the past decades has been to decolonize methodologies and to engage in more careful readings of colonial documents (Smith, 2012).

“ Imperialism provided the means through which concepts of what counts as human could be applied systematically as forms of classification, for example through hierarchies of race and typologies of different societies. In conjunction with imperial power and with ‘science’, these classification systems came to shape relations between imperial powers and indigenous societies.”
- Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Ngāti Awa / Ngāti Porou iwi
Native and Black