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"War is at us, my black skin": The Politics of Naming an Event Open Access

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The event that scholars and Jamaicans frequently call the “Morant Bay Rebellion” of 1865 resulted in long-term social and political consequences which profoundly shaped the course of Jamaican history. Yet contestation concerning the name and the naming of this event by Jamaican people on the ground has received scant attention in the historiography. In contrast to previous approaches, this thesis establishes that ordinary, subaltern Jamaicans from 1865 to the present day specifically named and remembered the events in question as a war at the exclusion of names like “rebellion,” “uprising,” “riot,” and “insurrection,” and that (post)colonial elites, aided by conventional scholars and commentators, have omitted this history in order to (re)produce and legitimize the idea that oppression and exploitation on the basis of race are things of the past. In turn, this thesis demonstrates that perceptions of blackness and whiteness during the events of 1865 were contingent and shifting rather than reducible to racial binaries and essentialisms which corresponded simply with skin color. Paul Bogle and his allies imagined blackness as tied to anti-statist political orientations, while many contemporaries in support of the colonial state used racial identification to represent and differentiate various groupings of black people as (dis)loyal to the governing regime and its racial hierarchies.

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