For white people, creolization was always a choice. For instance, a white person looking at enslaved people could choose to adopt the African dress practice of headwrapping that they saw enslaved Africans maintaining. But for the Black enslaved person — creolization always happened under duress. Stop speaking your language. I'm changing your name. Stop dancing. Don't play your drums anymore. Creolization for the enslaved was about the limits of African cultural retention under the the brutality of slavery.
What can the audience expect from your lecture?
They're going to learn a lot about Canadian slavery, because I'm sure a lot of them have never heard of such a thing. Before starting at UMass Amherst in 2022, I had established the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery, in Halifax, Canada, because Canada has a 200-year history of transatlantic slavery under the British and the French that most Canadians have no clue about. It's not that they don't know the details — they don't even know that it happened. That's the level of ignorance in Canada. It’s the same for many Americans in relation to their ignorance about slavery in the American North. That is why I brought my institute here to UMass, renamed it Slavery North, and expanded it to also encompass research on slavery in the American North.
For many people in the audience who have not had the opportunity to study transatlantic slavery at all, I think they'll find it interesting how I'm doing the research — the types of archival documents that I am analyzing to make my arguments. For instance, talking about correspondence, or a bill of sale, or a fugitive slave advertisement.
I hope they tune into how even the nature of how I do this research is different from other professors' research on free people, or especially free white people. When researching white enslavers, I may have someone's whole diary, or business ledgers, or correspondence. But for enslaved people this is not the case because they were materially deprived, terrorized, physically brutalized, strategically prohibited from becoming literate, and subjected to systemic surveillance. The enslaved were also overworked and therefore typically had no leisure time. Given all of this, they were deprived the means to leave traces of their own lives. I hope students will pick up on what it takes to do the research on enslaved people in terms of archival practice.