What is possible when empire is uncertain about its authority? This essay looks to West Indian Emancipation, a moment of crisis, for a method. As emancipated peoples of African descent became wage laborers, and set the terms of their work, the sugar industry required free—unbonded—labor. With the arrival of Asian indentured labor, however, it became more difficult to manage the imbrications of race, gender, sexuality, capital, and labor. Proposition takes advantage of this epistemological and enunciative quandary. By dwelling in cultural and historical archives, proposition offers new possibilities about emancipation’s present and the futures that might follow. This essay considers this matrix through an 1871 correspondence between the secretary of state for the colonies and Governor Rawson William Rawson of Barbados and the Windward Islands. The question at hand: “the increasing disposition of Creole women to form connection with Chinese and Indian immigrants.” This question does not compel a fantasy of interracial intimacy. Rather, it suggests that good work and the racial family were crucial to the life of the plantation—and that unsanctioned “connection” might hasten its demise. Proposition is a critical mode of speaking back, a mode of testing alternative timelines and scenes of freedom.
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Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard; Criticism as Proposition. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 January 2022; 121 (1): 91–108. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-9561559
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