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La Puissance Paternelle : Métis (Multiracial) Children, White Fathers, and Male Networks of Care in Twentieth Century Colonial West Africa and France

Lane History Corner, Room 307

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Professor Rachel Jean-Baptiste (Stanford History and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) will give a talk titled La Puissance Paternelle: Métis (Multiracial) Children, White Fathers, and Male Networks of Care in Twentieth Century Colonial West Africa and France.

This paper analyses the small number of cases — four in total but focusing on one in particularly which has the densest amount of archival material—that I uncovered in the archives regarding sustained parent-child relationships between white fathers of varied European nationalities who fathered multiracial children with African women in different colonies in French East Africa and French West Africa.  Over the course of the 1930s and 1940’s, these men attempted to or had legally recognized their children or otherwise had their children live with them in Africa or Europe and maintained a relationship of care.  Rather than focusing on the legal aspects of the cases, which is something I have done in prior publications, I focus on the “infrastructure of feelings” that create relational rupture or facilitate relational repair or connections that link white fathers, paternal kin, and France to multiracial children, and the role of multiracial children in cultivating affective bonds and social and legal belonging to their fathers’ milieus. This infrastructure included the very context of colonial rule and the racial inequities that undergirded it, as well as structures such as metropolitan and colonial courts, regimes of family law, and metropolitan and colonial civil service bureaucracies. They acted as gatekeepers of affective and relational bonds and ruptures and mediated how these bonds or ruptures translated into citizenship status, parental and children’s rights, and social rights such educational scholarships and welfare payments. Yet it is the expressions of vulnerability, precarity, love, shame, anger, and despair by white European fathers and their social circles, emotions not often explored in histories of colonialism, that animate these cases and my analysis. In focusing on the gendered history of emotions, I try to understand shifting meanings of race, masculinity, family, and belonging in the French Atlantic World.