Afrobits Places

There is a heavy Western narrative when it comes to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which is heavily dominated by a few countries such as the United States (80%), among others. Nevertheless, there are many stories that take place in all over America that enabled the development, integration and evolution of those African cultures that arrived at the different ports of the New World. This is why it is important to highlight and remember the African heritage deeply rooted in America, which now has turned and travelled back across the Atlantic in a new and evolved culture that transcends space and time.

We wanted to integrate as many cultures and countries as possible, but we also had Design and Technical Interaction challenges that directed us to produce a narrative that hopefully tells the story of how different elements of the tangible and intangible culture from those different countries and communities in the African Continent who’s diaspora is still contributing to different cultures around the world.

Hidden Stories

Since there are many stories that didn’t fit in a single installation, we can showcase a little bit further the background of where are the sounds and small histories of why we selected them. But most importantly to enable wider audiences to learn and be aware of many of the different narratives around the world. For example: According to many historians, Yanga in Veracruz, Mexico, was the first community or town in America ever founded by free black people. Furthermore, Mexico had its first Afro-descendant president in 1823. Vicente Guerrero was one of the key Generals in the Battle for Mexican Independence. Therefore, for people who live in the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, of the United States, Barack Obama is the second Afro-descendant president that they have in their country.

New Spain’s Cast System (Wikipedia)

The relationship between the natives of the Americas in particular Mesoamerican cultures had different relationships with the African immigrants. In the early colonial stages of New Spain (Mexico), the blessing from the Catholic Church to recognise mixed marriage promoted the mix of the different races. Mexico began paving the way for integration and somewhat to inclusion in terms of race alone. Especially after the large toll that the cocoliztli (epidemic) on the native population. This epidemic is argued that caused the death of 50% to 80% of the population of Mesoamerica. This pushed the New Spain and local industries such as the sugar cane industry to push more the import of slaves from Africa. Such migratory footprint is undeniable, but not necessarily visible, the large mix of different races in Mexico produced a blend of such races. As a result, the government aimed to produce a ‘cataloguing’ system to understand what was happening. This was followed by diverse governments in the Americas, such as Peru, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, among others. Despite the Euro-Colonial imposition of classification, such documentation showcases the large diversity that was happening in Mexico at that time, which also showcases how the racial features of the different cultural groups blended with the local cultures of the time. It is important to highlight that all these people, including the descendants of black mixed races, were born free.

Among other countries, Mexico had by then afro-descendant politicians, high ranking military people populating diverse areas of society. In the Mexican battle to become independent from Spain, slavery abolition was also building up. In the period from 1821 with the Plan de Iguala, begins the freedom of slaves, thus culminating in a Constitutional law by 1824. The actions taken by Vicente Guerrero paved the way for independence and freedom to all, regardless of their race. In 1822, Guerrero eliminated all racial descriptions from all death, birth and marriage certificates. If we can not identify race, then that would be a good way to prevent racism.

Hidden Stories of Liverpool

Although Liverpool has been informally considered the European Capital of Slavery, there are as well many hidden stories that fail to come up to a light to general populations. From academic research to folk stories, it is important to remember the historic connotations of the roles of the diverse social groups that take place in the world. In the case of Liverpool and Great Britain, the slave trade wasn’t something that was solely exported but it’s deeply rooted in a historic heritage of segregation and racism. This is not something that affected only black people, but all people of colour, including natives from the Americas and South Asia. Projects such as Runaway Slaves in Britain opens a small glimpse into the commerce of such human commodities. The database presents a recollection of enslaved runaways captures as well as advertisements of enslaved people being sold.

Gore’s Liverpool Commercial Pamphlet, 2 October 1772, p.6.

In addition to the diverse warrants and for sale ads, British people aimed to showcase their commodities in paintings that became snapshots of that time. In this case, there was an increase of coloured people depicted as servants. In this case, while some were not enslaved, the remaining vast majority were. This prompted the relationship between master and slave and property. This relationship started booming in the societal depiction in British paintings, where servants (slaves) were more present in everyday life.

Unknown artist, eighteenth century, Elihu Yale; William Cavendish, the second Duke of Devonshire; Lord James Cavendish; Mr. Tunstal; and an Enslaved Servant, ca. 1708, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire

Such examples present evidence that the slave trade wasn’t something endemic to the sugar trade, or the American and African Continent. The British and Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was alive and booming. Databases such as the Runaway Slaves in Britain, and Slave Voyages aim to give a voice to those silenced voices through quantifiable data that help us produce novel narratives. Many of these voices are the unsung heroes that helped the movement for emancipation from the other side of the Atlantic.

A Way Forward

There is a wide number of groups, organisations, and individuals working towards the reduction of friction and repercussions attached to a wide range of segregations and discriminations. With Afrobits we have focused solely on showcasing the positive contribution that African cultures have had in different parts of the world which are not common in the portfolio of Western communities. If we are to advance the rights and of all human beings, it is important to recognise the diverse discriminations, such as geographical and economic discriminations. The United Nations has focused on diverse kinds of discrimination such as: “discrimination against indigenous peoplesmigrantsminoritiespeople with disabilitiesdiscrimination against women,  racial and religious discrimination, or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” Furthermore, the United Nations has defined that: “all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to just, fair and equitable laws and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”. Nevertheless, there is a wide range of organisations indicating that they are practising integration, when in fact other forms of segregation are taking place.

A way forward to understanding better this challenges can be through a report by Alana Associates, that aims to understand how this process might take place in society. As highlighted by the United Nations, this is not only a racial issue but a problem of providing spaces for the diverse members of society. There is a growing set of evidence that showcases that inclusion in society such as education can bring a wide range of social, economic and cultural benefits, among others. The following graphic showcases the diverse kinds of discrimination that can take place in society such as educational environments.

  • Exclusion takes place when a group is prevented to access a particular benefit from society (e.g. education, services).
  • Segregation provides separate environments aimed to respond to a specific need, thus producing larger isolations (e.g. housing, visas, LGBTI marriage)
  • Integration aims to include specific groups into the ‘mainstream’ societal groups, forcing them to integrate to those set of rules (e.g. migration housing, disabled access in heritage organisations)
  • Segregated Integration can take place when further segregation based on specific traits are further placed within groups in diverse parts of integrated societies (e.g. ghettos as in Chicago Black Ghettos, China Towns)
  • Inclusion calls for a systemic change of rules that considers the needs of those groups.

With Afrobits we are aiming to produce some level of inclusion at least in the hopes of re-highlight the role that other countries in the Global South, which commonly fall outside the Western narrative had on the empowerment of African forced and non-forced migrants in the Americas. After our research, we focused primarily on a narrative from Africa, the Middle Passage, Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, the United States and Great Britain (Liverpool). There is a dedicated post where we explain the background of each track.