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Racist violence and armed resistance in the early twentieth-century U.S.–Mexico borderlands

A savage song examines the multiple narratives of race, manhood, and nation to emanate from practices of anti-black and anti-Mexican terror in the early twentieth century, tracing within them the broader reverberations of slavery, settler colonialism, and U.S. imperialism. It considers instances of violence enacted by white citizens and agents of the state, as well as instances in which Mexican and black men respectively took up armed resistance to massacre. Drawing upon mainstream and radical print media from the United States and Mexico, cultural texts, government documents, and archival materials, the book asks how these moments of killing and dying were understood by a range of actors, under what historical conditions they unfolded, and how they came to be infused with raced, gendered, and historical meaning. Notions of masculine power were central to explanations that sought to rationalize or celebrate racial violence and the order it enforced, as well as those which sought to imagine new worlds. In U.S. cultural and political discourses, the racial degeneracy of black and Mexican men was delineated not only in the acts of savagery they supposedly committed or threatened to commit, but also in the profuse, public, and abject manner in which they died. Mexicans and African Americans challenging U.S. violence deployed their own discourses of death and resistance that both subverted and rearticulated dominant gendered logic.

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Margarita Aragon

Examining the racialized discourses of the “illegal” alien and the Watts uprising, this concluding reflection will examine how early twentieth-century constructions of violence and masculinity were reconfigured in later decades but in ways that reiterated the enduring themes of savagery, death, and punishment.

in A savage song
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Margarita Aragon

This chapter will explore the multivalent discourses of civilization, savagery, and manhood that run through some of the Mexican and U.S. textual residues of the1915 Plan de San Diego uprising in South Texas, and its brutal repression. Examining the cultural texts produced during and after the conflict offers insight into the ways in which the historical violence of U.S. expansion and its contestation were imagined by U.S. authors, law enforcement, and press, as well as ethnic Mexican radicals and militants. While the Plan de San Diego visionaries called for the liberation of the black race and an end to the racist oppression of U.S. capitalism, their analysis of the present and vision of the future evoke a more ambiguous reading of blackness than their call for common struggle might initially suggest.

in A savage song
Margarita Aragon

This chapter examines the constellation of ideas about race, manhood, resistance and violence that shaped the transnational social landscape in which anti-black and anti-Mexican violence unfolded in the 1910s. it examines how a range of white American, African American and Mexican political figures, activists, racial theorists and scholars interpreted the New World histories of slavery and conquest. While the black and Mexican writers and political actors whose ideas are considered here offered their own narratives of New World history diametrically opposed to those which claimed the supremacy of white U.S. civilization, they also perceived struggles for freedom, social transformation and nationhood through a masculinist frame. The chapter will examine how such discourses of manhood and virility permeated the politics of resistance against U.S. violence, imperialism and Mexican dictatorship, as I will begin to examine here, in African Americans’ anti-lynching activism and the Mexican anarchist movement in the borderlands. I will pay particular attention to how the history of slavery in the Americas shaped constructions of gender, race and historical struggle.

in A savage song
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Margarita Aragon

This chapter examines the multiple discourses of death and manhood that emerged around the military execution of thirteen black soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry in 1917. The presence of armed black soldiers in the nation’s uniform threatened to subvert the racial and gendered order of Jim Crow. Within this fraught context, the Twenty-Fourth’s attack on white policemen in Houston and their subsequent hanging provided a flexibly imagery for imagining black manhood. While African American writers invoked the soldiers’ manly death to denounce the racial order against which they had struck, the same imagery was used by the white press to subtly legitimize their punishment and obscure the intelligibility of black dissent.

in A savage song
Margarita Aragon

This chapter examines the 1910 massacre of African Americans in Slocum, Texas, by a white mob who claimed to be preventing a murderous black uprising. It traces white Americans’ shifting justifications for lynching and racist terror from the end of the Civil War through the early twentieth century, when social scientists, political figures, and media presented white violence as a response to unspeakable “black crime.” Within this context, the chapter argues that even after the threat of black insurrection was dismissed, condemnations of the massacre were continually qualified through contemplations of the need for racial discipline and imagined black abnormality. In discourses of racist violence, images of white vulnerability were frequently intermixed with those of white wrath and power. Assertions of black innocence and violability likewise were continually shaded with assertion of black culpability.

in A savage song
Margarita Aragon

This chapter examines U.S. and Mexican discourses of race and nation in the aftermath of the lynching of Antonio Rodriguez, a Mexican national, in Rock Springs, Texas. As writers and demonstrators in Mexico denounced the murder, they highlighted the fact that lynching was a practice Americans wielded against “inferior races.” While protestors express affinity with African Americans, others asserted claims to manhood, honor, and resistance through differentiating Mexicans, “who have a country,” from the putative nationlessness of black race. This troubling use of blackness, the chapter suggests, reflects the legacies of transatlantic slavery in both the U.S. and Mexico.

in A savage song
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The twentieth century dawns in blood
Margarita Aragon

This chapter sets out the historical and ideological context in which the events analysed in the book take place. The book takes a relation framework that recognizes the specificity of different historical forms of racism while also being attentive to the fact that these forms did not arise in isolation from one another. Looking at the encounters of violence examined in this book alongside each other, the chapter argues, allows some insight into the tangle of gendered racisms that emerged from the expansion of racialized capitalism in the Americas and the enduring material and cultural legacies of slavery, settler colonialism, and U.S. imperialism. In particular, the chapter introduces the U.S. constructions of savagery and masculinity that emerged at the turn of the century to explain the dominance of white race and the death and subjugation of the world’s “degenerative races,” as well as African Americans and Mexicans’ own conceptualizations of manhood, virility and struggle.

in A savage song