We Will Remain Metis: Race, Family, and Citizenship in Twentieth Century Francophone Africa and Europe, ca. 1914-1962

Rachel Jean-Baptiste is an associate professor of history. Her project, which explores the history of métissage and métis across French-speaking Africa, was awarded an ISS Individual Research Grant in 2016. She provided this update in June 2017.

How did this project come about? What inspired it?

Like my previous, 2014 book (Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life in Colonial Libreville, Gabon) and published articles, this project involves diverse source materials, multidisciplinary methodologies, and transnational research. Conjugal Rights challenged the dominant idea that urbanism in colonial-era Africa was gendered male. I argue that urban life was fueled by a changing sexual economy of emotional, social, legal, and material relationships between women and men. An aspect of the sexual economy in Libreville that I analyzed was the persistence of interracial sexual and domestic relationships, nearly always between Gabonese women and European men. In writing Conjugal Rights, the tension between the fluidity of racial identities and the rigidity of these same categories as conceptualized by historical actors continued to surface. Written and oral sources tantalizingly revealed that conversations and contestations around the meanings of “métis” took place on a larger scale beyond Gabon, calling into question colonial boundaries that distinguished one African colony from another, divided French Equatorial Africa from French West Africa, and demarcated Africa and Europe. These narratives cried out for in-depth analysis in a book. Whereas Conjugal Rights ends with attention to interracial sexual and domestic relationships in Gabon, We Will Remain Métis casts a wider lens on the history of métissage and métis across French-speaking Africa.

How has it progressed since you received an ISS Individual Research Grant?

Since receiving the grant, I have been able to complete all of the research for the book. I was in Germany in summer of 2017 and completed all archival research. I have now written 3 of seven chapters of the book. I have sent off the book proposal and draft chapters to a press for publication consideration.

What notable or surprising findings can you share at this point?

Some big debates in the history of European colonialism in Africa, but francophone Africa in particular, focus on colonialism as extractive and coercive but also involving the rhetoric of a "civilizing mission." I have found that there was a fledgling colonial welfare state, with the French funding a small pool of money for education, health, and material services to the illegitimate mixed-race children of French men and African women. I am also finding that Africans directly solicited the colonial state for money and services, arguing that French colonialism was to bring betterment to the social and material lives of Africans and for the French to live up to the rhetoric of colonialism.

What is the next step?

I have four more chapters to write and I will continue to write up these chapters with the intention of having a complete manuscript to the submit to a publisher by summer 2018. 

Learn more about Rachel Jean-Baptiste.