Making Race in the American West

Chair and Commentator: Rudy Guevarra Jr., Arizona State University

Shape Shifters: A Theory of Racial Change 
Paul Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara

Between Arab and Black: Zammouri, Race, and Arab American Identity 
Rana Razek, University of California, Santa Barbara

West of Jim Crow: A Conceptual and Empirical Framework 
David Torres-Rouff, University of California, Merced

Paul Spickard, "Shape Shifters: A Theory of Racial Change." We are accustomed to thinking of identities—racial, ethnic, etc.—as if they were unalterable features of individuals and groups. A is Black, B is Jewish, C is Chinese, and so are all of the members of their respective families and kin groups, and so must they remain. In the American West, many people have changed identities over the course of their lives, or over generations in families, as they have moved from one social context to another, or as new social rules have been imposed on them. This is not racial, ethnic, or religious imposture. It is simply the way that people's lives have unfolded in fluid social circumstances. Spickard presents a theory for understanding the shape, means, and meanings of racial change, based on the life stories of several such shape shifters from the American West.

Rana Razek, "Between Arab and Black: Zammouri, Race, and Arab American Identity,” examines competing narratives of Zammouri (Estebanico), the Muslim Moroccan slave brought to the Americas on the ill-fated 1527 Narváez expedition. One of the few survivors, Zammouri was a translator, healer, guide, and scout, and was reportedly killed by Zuni Indians in what is now New Mexico. Arab Americans and African Americans both lay claim to Zammouri’s legacy of “discovery” and conquest, in order to enhance their claim to inclusion. For the Zuni, rather, Zammouri was a harbinger of conquest and colonial violence, and is memorialized as Chakwaina, the black monster kachina. From the Native perspective, Zammouri represents the beginning of a long and violent history of colonization that continues to the present day. For Arab and African Americans, Zammouri’s position as a Black/African/Arab/Muslim/Slave and non-European is essential to the story. These opposing narratives speak to issues of race, power, and colonialism then and now. Zammouri’s changing racial identity illuminates Arab American racialization and racial in-betweenness; if early twentieth-century “Syrian” Americans were positioned somewhere between “Arab and White,” today, Arab Americans have drifted demonstrably toward the dark end of the racial spectrum.

David Torres-Rouff, "West of Jim Crow: A Conceptual and Empirical Framework." What happens when Jim Crow’s structural function is separated from the crucible of Black-White relations in the post- Reconstruction South? I argue that policies and practices we call Jim Crow also arose in the North American Southwest beginning in the eighteenth century and developed within successively Spanish, Mexican, and American intercultural communities. Without recourse to chattel slavery as a touchstone for social, political, and economic relations, people in the Southwest developed institutions that defined and differentiated racial hierarchies; that sponsored unfree labor and imprisonment for profit; and that relied on legal and extralegal violence to impose social and spatial segregation. On what knowledge did Southern Whites rely when developing what we now call Jim Crow? Did the Southwest provide a model, and did a direct transfer of knowledge take place? Addressing Jim Crow's long shadow requires a reckoning of its compound, multiregional origins and its multiracial history.

Recorded in April 2018 at the OAH Annual Meeting held in Sacremento, California as part of the Mellon-funded Amplified Initiative.

Full Session


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Making Race - Full Session / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

Paul Spickard


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Making Race - Paul Spickard / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

Rana Razek


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Making Race - Rana Razek / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

David Torres-Rouff


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Making Race - David Torres / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

OAH Members can access all of the recorded panels by logging into the member portal at the OAH website.