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“In an apocalyptic account of history, the end is inevitable and destruction can be traced to the most innocuous and routine beginnings, like the exchange of salutations and vows of love on the Atlantic coast. The certitude of hindsight gives the demise an inevitable cast. But there were no black clouds casting a shadow on the Portuguese when they arrived, nor were storms brewing on the horizon. The heavens did not weep. All the omens that might have betrayed something terrible about to happen failed to appear or went unnoticed. Who knew the cost of naming the world anew? Who could have imagined the worlds destroyed by the horse and the musket, or the death reaped by luxury goods, or that sugar, coffee, and tobacco would transform three continents? It was not possible to foresee the Portuguese royal insignia scored along the west African coast as far south as Angola or to anticipate the crucifix branded onto the breasts and arms of captives…

“Deciding the matter of cause and effect is, by necessity, belated; causality is a the benefit of retrospection. One apprehends the signs of an inevitable demise only in hindsight. It is like trying to figure out when things began to change in a failed relationship: are the signs visible only after things have ended badly, or were the signs always there and you just failed to heed them? Only in looking back can the course from now to then be traced; or can we say, ‘Ah, this is how it began’; or weigh contingency and necessity, chance and causality; or wonder if the seemingly inexorable character of events was little more than the collective force of circumstance, accident, and caprice.

“The randomness and contingency of history nonetheless produces two classes, winners and losers. Like men at a gaming table, over the course of time the gap between these groups will become bigger and bigger…

“The record of the encounter between Europe and Africa is a litany of stories about events that never happened. Myth is the threshold of history. On the slave route, it is no different.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother


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