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Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation

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If the 1619 Project illuminated the ways in which life in the United States has been shaped by the existence of slavery, this “historical, literary masterpiece” (Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy) focuses on emancipation and how its afterlife further codified the racial caste system—instead of obliterating it. To understand why the shadow of slavery still haunts us today, we mu If the 1619 Project illuminated the ways in which life in the United States has been shaped by the existence of slavery, this “historical, literary masterpiece” (Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy) focuses on emancipation and how its afterlife further codified the racial caste system—instead of obliterating it. To understand why the shadow of slavery still haunts us today, we must look closely at the way it ended. Between the 1770s and 1880s, emancipation processes took off across the Atlantic world. But far from ushering in a new age of human rights and universal freedoms, these emancipations further codified the racial caste systems they claimed to disrupt. In this paradigm-altering book, acclaimed historian and professor Kris Manjapra identifies five types of emancipations across the globe and reveals that their perceived failures were not failures at all, but the predictable outcomes of policies designed first and foremost to preserve the status quo of racial oppression. In the process, Manjapra shows how, amidst this unfinished history, grassroots Black organizers and activists have become custodians of collective recovery and remedy; not only for our present, but also for our relationship with the past. Black Ghost of Empire will rewire readers’ understanding of the world in which we live. Timely, lucid, and crucial to our understanding of contemporary society, this book shines a light into the gap between the idea of slavery’s end and the reality of its continuation—exposing to whom a debt was paid and to whom a debt is owed.


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If the 1619 Project illuminated the ways in which life in the United States has been shaped by the existence of slavery, this “historical, literary masterpiece” (Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy) focuses on emancipation and how its afterlife further codified the racial caste system—instead of obliterating it. To understand why the shadow of slavery still haunts us today, we mu If the 1619 Project illuminated the ways in which life in the United States has been shaped by the existence of slavery, this “historical, literary masterpiece” (Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy) focuses on emancipation and how its afterlife further codified the racial caste system—instead of obliterating it. To understand why the shadow of slavery still haunts us today, we must look closely at the way it ended. Between the 1770s and 1880s, emancipation processes took off across the Atlantic world. But far from ushering in a new age of human rights and universal freedoms, these emancipations further codified the racial caste systems they claimed to disrupt. In this paradigm-altering book, acclaimed historian and professor Kris Manjapra identifies five types of emancipations across the globe and reveals that their perceived failures were not failures at all, but the predictable outcomes of policies designed first and foremost to preserve the status quo of racial oppression. In the process, Manjapra shows how, amidst this unfinished history, grassroots Black organizers and activists have become custodians of collective recovery and remedy; not only for our present, but also for our relationship with the past. Black Ghost of Empire will rewire readers’ understanding of the world in which we live. Timely, lucid, and crucial to our understanding of contemporary society, this book shines a light into the gap between the idea of slavery’s end and the reality of its continuation—exposing to whom a debt was paid and to whom a debt is owed.

30 review for Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    This book describes several types of emancipation of formerly enslaved people. In each case, actual freedom was elusive, and if it happened at all it took a very long time, leaving the formerly enslaved people significantly disadvantaged. Gradual emancipation - in New England and the mid-Atlantic states of the United States and in the Spanish Americas, where freedom was paid for by continued forced labor and the goal of actual freedom kept getting pushed forward. Retroactive emancipation - decad This book describes several types of emancipation of formerly enslaved people. In each case, actual freedom was elusive, and if it happened at all it took a very long time, leaving the formerly enslaved people significantly disadvantaged. Gradual emancipation - in New England and the mid-Atlantic states of the United States and in the Spanish Americas, where freedom was paid for by continued forced labor and the goal of actual freedom kept getting pushed forward. Retroactive emancipation - decades after the slaves revolted in Haiti, France “emancipated” the slaves, provided that Haiti go into perpetual debt to French banks in order to pay the former slaveholders (for a century). Compensated emancipation - the British Empire permitted continued forced labor and the British government gave cash payouts to the slaveholders, setting a precedent for other countries. War emancipation - exemplified by the American Civil War and it’s aftermath. Conquest emancipations - “While refusing to regulate the abolition of slavery in colonial Africa, colonial administrations simultaneously pointed to slavery as their justification to extend wars of conquest across African society.” “British slaveowners and their heirs received lucrative state-funded reparations bankrolled by British taxpayers for 180 years until 2015. On the other hand, the emancipated African people of the Caribbean states were deprived of education, healthcare, the right to land and livelihood, the vote, and the foundations for independent economies.” 2015! Can you even imagine that? That’s what you can expect when the terms of emancipation are governed by the oppressors. Instead of reparations to the formerly enslaved, you get indentured servitude, Jim Crow laws and payments that further enriched the slave holders. This book certainly had a lot of information and read like a text book (although one written by a pretty disgruntled professor). I sort of wavered back and forth between information overload and fury. About 25% of the book consists of endnotes. The book is short and should be read. You will learn a lot. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paige Haas

    Do you ever read something that is so glaringly obvious yet it still blows your mind? Kris Manjapra pieced together the history that I knew, with the things I should have known, sprinkled with honest observations that left me dumbfounded but also telling myself “DUH!” The biggest takeaway for me was that emancipation was done by and for the perpetrators of slavery. It wasn’t informed by Black liberationists. The people with the power to enact change were by and large the criminals and their main Do you ever read something that is so glaringly obvious yet it still blows your mind? Kris Manjapra pieced together the history that I knew, with the things I should have known, sprinkled with honest observations that left me dumbfounded but also telling myself “DUH!” The biggest takeaway for me was that emancipation was done by and for the perpetrators of slavery. It wasn’t informed by Black liberationists. The people with the power to enact change were by and large the criminals and their main priority was protecting their peers and wallets. Not only that, but slave owners received reparations while denying the humans they stole, abused, and often killed any reparations or even apologies. The arguments and pleas made by Black liberationists in the 1860s are frighteningly close to what we hear today from Black people still fighting the same fight. I think this was a really important book for me to read and I would recommend it to all of my friends and family. We still see the effects of emancipations around the world today and it’s important that we are educated on them. When we learn to recognize these harms, we can better work to repair them. (And this time, we should listen to the voices of those who are affected and let them lead.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Malik Al

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I received an advanced copy of this book to reveiw. In ‘The Black Ghost of Empire - The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation’, Kris Manjapra masterfully juxtaposes the present with the absent, revealing the truth of what once was, by illustrating vividly what was not. Using his own ancestral Afro-Asiatic lineage as the nexus upon which the narrative arch of enslavement and emancipation gyrate, Manjapra illustrates how the enslaved continued to compensate their enslavers through I received an advanced copy of this book to reveiw. In ‘The Black Ghost of Empire - The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation’, Kris Manjapra masterfully juxtaposes the present with the absent, revealing the truth of what once was, by illustrating vividly what was not. Using his own ancestral Afro-Asiatic lineage as the nexus upon which the narrative arch of enslavement and emancipation gyrate, Manjapra illustrates how the enslaved continued to compensate their enslavers through the injustices of so-called ‘apprenticeship’, indenture and colonialism, long after their purported ‘emancipation’ had occurred. Indeed the process of ‘emancipation’ itself, is characterised as a legal mechanism of support for the slave owners transitioning out of slavery, done to the detriment of those they enslaved, who received nothing and who’s lot barely changed in the process. This legal posturing - treating slave owners as victims of property loss, rather than enslaved people as victims of crimes against humanity, - was defined by the slave owners themselves and enacted incrementally for their own benefit. Manjapra illustrates the absurdity of white European enslavement practices, - designed to not only exploit, degrade and dehumanise black people but also to dismember their history, - as a nefarious network of voids created by enslavers, to render the black experience into a malaise of invisible ghostly apparitions. Traversing these voids in search of his own history he likens to pursuing those ghosts; whilst ironically being “unseen” - generation after generation, due to those very same voids. A case of a dog chasing it’s tail at the behest of its master, who’d trained him to do just that. This book takes the self-aggrandisement of white abolitionisms and rams it back down the throats of those who lauded it as an example of white benevolence. In cting the “Marronage’ (namesake of the Maroons of St Domingue - Haiti) he contextualises black ‘self emancipation’ and ‘insurgency’ within the abolitionist gamut, as yet another ghost that swirls unseen in the shade of the self indulgent white abolitionists, wallowing in their own righteousness. Manjapra states; ‘The story of the triumphant declaration to end slavery, disintegrates under investigation’. Manjapra references the Doxa (popular misconceptions) in North America; like the one ‘exonerating the north and praising New England abolitionist intelligence’. These fallacies are evidenced elsewhere, in books like Grant Hayter-Menzies ‘The North Door: Echoes of Slavery in a New England Family’ (OJP Vermont 2019) Hayter-Menzies ‘New England family’ held slaves from reign of Elizabeth I in 1555, through ‘til 1864, moving between New England, Connecticut and Massachusetts, before moving south to North Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana. Stories like these, debunk entirely the myth of an absolute Northern abolition, a theme that Manjapra grapples relentlessly with throughout his treatise, referencing also Du Bois’ 19th century post-slavery sociological study ‘The Philadelphia Negro’ (1899) highlighting the lack of reparative justice for those who’d been enslaved in the north and continued to suffer in slave-like servitude, post-emancipation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) I once recalled briefly reading/hearing about how European nations ended slavery before America and a big part of that was the economic compensation of slaveholders. I also wondered that if we did something like that in America, then maybe the Civil War could have been avoided. I was sorta correct about the first part, but I had no idea what that compensation looked like. As for the second, well, maybe it might have avoided war, but if we were like Europe, it would have been somethin (Audiobook) I once recalled briefly reading/hearing about how European nations ended slavery before America and a big part of that was the economic compensation of slaveholders. I also wondered that if we did something like that in America, then maybe the Civil War could have been avoided. I was sorta correct about the first part, but I had no idea what that compensation looked like. As for the second, well, maybe it might have avoided war, but if we were like Europe, it would have been something akin to oppressive Jim Crow for a lot longer. This work lays bare the truth about how nations like England, France, Spain, Brazil, and the US, ended slavery, but it was hardly to the benefit of the previously enslaved. Reparations were enacted…for the owners, and the former slaves lived their lives hardly any better or freer than before. France was particularly vindictive with Haiti, and got the rest of the West to isolate and all but subjugate that nation for having the gall to liberate itself from slavery at France’s expense. It is hardly an American phenomenon that those who were once slaves and their descendants were and still are subjugated. Tot explains much and dispel other myths and half truths. A tough tread, but worth the time to do so.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cassondra Perea

    This book is filled with tons of important information that is so often suppressed from the public. Most people do not want to see the horrific things we have done and are doing to the African American community. We would like to think that slavery is in the past when it so clearly is not. There are residual side effects that sadly will continue unless we as a society decide to fix what was taken away from so many. It was powerful to see the history of slavery the way Kris Manjapara wrote it. Ho This book is filled with tons of important information that is so often suppressed from the public. Most people do not want to see the horrific things we have done and are doing to the African American community. We would like to think that slavery is in the past when it so clearly is not. There are residual side effects that sadly will continue unless we as a society decide to fix what was taken away from so many. It was powerful to see the history of slavery the way Kris Manjapara wrote it. However, his book reminded me of a college textbook. The material was dense and took me awhile to get through. I am not sure if this occurred because the content itself was difficult or I was just worried about dissecting it for a term paper. Special thanks to NetGalley.com and Scribner for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest feedback.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Emancipation has a complicated history. This book gives a well-researched, comprehensive education about the subject. It contains a lot of information. The author examines, in detail, the terms and conditions that the United States and other countries have implemented for the emancipation of their slaves. It is quite a bit more complex than just freeing the slaves. Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read and review an advance copy of this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    From the 1770s to 1880s slavery ended and emancipation began across the Atlantic world. This did not create freedoms but more racial caste systems. What I took away from this book was more of an understanding of racial oppression. This book is a siren song and so important in everyone's live especially today in the face of more blatant racism in our lives. Five stars! Thank you to Scribner for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. From the 1770s to 1880s slavery ended and emancipation began across the Atlantic world. This did not create freedoms but more racial caste systems. What I took away from this book was more of an understanding of racial oppression. This book is a siren song and so important in everyone's live especially today in the face of more blatant racism in our lives. Five stars! Thank you to Scribner for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    Absolutely phenomenal and essential text for anyone looking for a comprehensive history of the long-standing effects of transatlantic slavery in the United States. Includes a sizeable section dedicated to Haiti and the punishment the nation was made to endure for the 'audacity' to successfully emancipate itself from French colonial rule during the Haitian Revolution from roughly 1791 to 1804. Absolutely phenomenal and essential text for anyone looking for a comprehensive history of the long-standing effects of transatlantic slavery in the United States. Includes a sizeable section dedicated to Haiti and the punishment the nation was made to endure for the 'audacity' to successfully emancipate itself from French colonial rule during the Haitian Revolution from roughly 1791 to 1804.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Black Ghost of Empire is not a lengthy work of historical analysis, but it is dense with information organized in a carefully crafted argument. The book explores the concept of emancipation, the many forms it took, and who stood to gain from each method (spoiler alert: it was not the people released from enslavement). Manjapra compares different localized acts of emancipation while highlighting their interconnectedness across space and time. Before getting into the details of specific emancipatio Black Ghost of Empire is not a lengthy work of historical analysis, but it is dense with information organized in a carefully crafted argument. The book explores the concept of emancipation, the many forms it took, and who stood to gain from each method (spoiler alert: it was not the people released from enslavement). Manjapra compares different localized acts of emancipation while highlighting their interconnectedness across space and time. Before getting into the details of specific emancipation projects, Manjapra elucidates the etymology of the term. Its origins lie in Latin and with the Roman concept of a slave-owner's voluntary release of slaves. This emphasizes the inherited view of emancipation as a process controlled by and favoring the owner with no agency or consideration for an enslaved person in the implementation. This is a theme throughout the different global examples spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. Emancipation schemes aimed to prolong slave-owner power over enslaved people and allow them to keep or even inflate their wealth. Periods of extended indentured servitude, re-enslavement elsewhere, and reparations (!) for slave-owners for loss of "property" were common. Beyond examining the goals and results of emancipation, Manjapra shows how black people resisted both enslavement and the following schemes to release them on white terms. They ran away, revolted, and created mutual aid societies. They wrote about their experiences, hopes, and plans for the future. They formed political movements and agitated for change. This book powerfully dispels misconceptions that emancipation ushered in a time of freedom and improved opportunities for enslaved people. Rather, it increased racial disparities in wealth and solidified barriers to black social mobility. There are a plethora of important ramifications for current society, not least of which is the need for reparations for those whose ancestors suffered enslavement. This is an informative, impactful read. I highly recommend it. Thanks to Scribner for my copy to read and review!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Diana (Reading While Mommying) Dean

    This revelatory nonfiction book looks at how "emancipation" movements in Europe, Africa, and North and South America prioritized the lives and livelihoods of slaveholders as opposed to freed enslaved people. Manjapra uses a litany of facts to discuss the "after" emancipation realities in these locations, how some forces attempted to fight back (Haiti), and how, inevitably, reparations went to slaveholders and their heirs, while institutions and policies were formed to continue to subjugate Black This revelatory nonfiction book looks at how "emancipation" movements in Europe, Africa, and North and South America prioritized the lives and livelihoods of slaveholders as opposed to freed enslaved people. Manjapra uses a litany of facts to discuss the "after" emancipation realities in these locations, how some forces attempted to fight back (Haiti), and how, inevitably, reparations went to slaveholders and their heirs, while institutions and policies were formed to continue to subjugate Black people. It's enlightening and enraging. Although this book contains many stats and citations, Manjapra still shares the information in an engaging tone, while highlighting things most definitely not taught in history classes. Reading about the truly repugnant Thomas Thistlewood, a Jamaican slaveholder who bragged nonchalantly in his diary about raping over 135 Black women, some repeatedly was eye-opening. The specific torture he invented was particularly stomach-churning. I didn't know about the Haitian Revolution or how Britain's response to emancipation created an imperial system that is still in play to this day. Manjapra's thesis is this: The dissolution of slavery led to institutional and societal structures in these locales that fueled the continuation of a racial hierarchy where white supremacy reigned and the devastation wrought by slavery reverberated through future generations. He proves this with painstaking factual detail, enlightening anecdotes, and impassioned prose. An educational gem.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Hill

    Did you know that slave owners were paid reparations after slaves were freed for their “loss of property”? These reparations would equate to hundreds of million dollars today. Did you know that these now “freed” slaves were forced to work for their former slave masters as unpaid “apprentices” because they were deemed uncivilized and needed to apprentice with their “former” slave owner to “learn” how to act in society? Did you know police were used in the late 1800’s to keep “freed” slaves in lin Did you know that slave owners were paid reparations after slaves were freed for their “loss of property”? These reparations would equate to hundreds of million dollars today. Did you know that these now “freed” slaves were forced to work for their former slave masters as unpaid “apprentices” because they were deemed uncivilized and needed to apprentice with their “former” slave owner to “learn” how to act in society? Did you know police were used in the late 1800’s to keep “freed” slaves in line while working as unpaid servants? If these free men, women and children wanted to quit working for their former masters they could not. If they left the plantation they were subject to arrest, incarceration and even death. Ironically almost 150 years later Black people still face mass incarceration, and are still being over policed and murdered. Read all about this and more in the fascinating book #BlackGhostofEmpire on sale now! This book took me a bit longer to read as it was a lot to digest. I will say this is history that needs to be told. This is why we want kids to learn about this countries real history so these atrocities never happen again. Thank you. @netgalley for this ARC

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shannan Harper

    A compreshensive, and well researched look into slavery in several parts of the world, as well how they were emanciapted at differnt times. Great read for anyone doing or into research or academia. It is a powerful read with a lot of information on each and every page.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hartman

    Interesting book about slavery and how it really exists in some form today. Worth reading for those that want a better understanding about slavery.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lora Hearst

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rob

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sean Feeney

  19. 5 out of 5

    J.W.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rupert McNally

  21. 4 out of 5

    LaShawnna R

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maddy B

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bradley Green

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nia Tarae

  25. 4 out of 5

    Savannah Draper

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Henderson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ken

  28. 5 out of 5

    Devin Givner

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Not Mike

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