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Up until the mid-​nineteenth century, there was room for some flexibility and fluidity in racial categories in the United States. But as the second half of the nineteenth century dawned and social and political tensions in the United States led the country down the path to civil war, the already fragile space for interracial relationships and intimacy, and for mixed-​race persons themselves, was gradually but decisively closed by a tightening political and legal climate. The closing of this space of fluidity for free people of color was accompanied by a 29 R a c i a l S y s t e m s a n d t h e R a c i a l Pa l i m ps e s t ( 29 ) tightening of the boundaries of whiteness—​so that “whiteness” demanded purity in lineage—​and a corresponding broadening of the category of “blackness” to include everyone with discernible African heritage.

For those familiar with colonial Cuba in later centuries, this sixteenth-​century state of affairs will be surprising because it seems like a racial picture more fitting to the US South than to Cuba, which was known to have a relatively large population of free people of color in the nineteenth century. Indeed, it runs counter to Tannenbaum’s argument about the relative leniency and moral superiority of Spanish colonial laws. In contrast to the somewhat rosy picture that Tannenbaum paints of slavery and manumission in Latin America, sixteenth-​century Cuba was clearly a hostile environment for people of African descent—​whether slave or free.

These stories emerge from rich interview data with white St. Domingue/​ Haiti descendants and from oral histories with white Creoles. In Chapter 6, we compare the contemporary experience of white Creoles to that of Creoles of African descent. Whereas Creoles of color were slower than whites to adopt an Anglo-​American approach to race, changing conceptions of blackness during and after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements challenged Creole identity and made it more difficult for some Creoles of color to see themselves as distinct from other black Americans.

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