How did Africans become “blacks” in the Americas?
Those who were forced into the ships of the infamous slave trade probably thought of themselves using ethnic and territorial terms that have been lost to us. But across the ocean, enslavers and local elites lumped Africans of many different backgrounds into a single category of debasement, “Negroes,” and sustained this category through laws that regulated freedom.
But the creation of racial identity through legal means took some surprising turns.
From the beginning, enslaved people and free people of African ancestry used those …