Through the discussion of case studies from Jewish communities, this panel questions the conceptualization of early 'racial' attitudes and relationships between Africans, Euro-Africans, and non-Africans. It appraises the role of West Africans' representations of identity, an issue still timely today
Recent scholarship has greatly increased our understanding of the respective commercial roles of Luso-Africans, Portuguese Jews, and New Christians in the development of commerce in diverse goods including but not limited to slaves. The complexity of social relations in Guiné and South America renders contemporary identity categories including 'Black' and 'White', ambiguous or even misleading. Some scholars (such as Jonathan Schorsch) attribute racialist attitudes to the Portuguese community in Amsterdam essentially from its inception. Others (Peter Mark and José da Silva Horta) revise this interpretation underlining the role of West Africans in the process of identity representation. Yet other authors (Toby Green) take an approach somewhere between these two interpretations. Do historical case studies of diverse Jewish communities including members of African descent in Northern Europe, Senegambia but also in Surinam (Aviva Ben-Ur) promise to shed light on this indirect 'debate'? Participants are invited to focus their discussion around several related questions: -Can one speak of 'racial thought' in a period when the modern concept of 'race' did not exist? -How does one address issues of early attitudes and relationships between Africans, Euro-Africans, and non-Africans without imposing conceptual categories of a later period? -What insights can we draw from a comparative study of relationships between African Jews, European Jews, and Eur-African Jews in Senegal, Brazil, Surinam ('inter alia')? - In what ways can West Africans identity representations help us reappraise 'racial' attitudes and relationships and what connections may there be with similar social and cultural challenges today?