Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire (2019)

Book Review by Sandrine Jacquot

This book gives readers insight into seven key figures whose contributions to decolonization and anti-oppression movements in the francophone world have been largely overlooked. Focusing on Caribbean and African experiences of French colonialism in the early to mid-twentieth century, this book effectively explores the lives and work of these black women coined ‘political protagonists’ who redefined notions of citizenship and belonging. 

Beginning with Suzanne Césaire, the author explains how she was, and still is, often sidelined, erased, and identified by her relation to her husband, Aimé Césaire, despite being a visionary in her own right. Having worked in Martinique and Haiti for the French government, she held a dual position as an advocate for anti-imperialism and was a proponent for a Caribbean renaissance. The text also foregrounds Paulette Nardal, whose writings span decades and genres. The author examines her as a pioneer of the Negritude movement. Nardal emphasizes the work of black women as necessary intellectuals, cultural producers, and political actors. Unfortunately, her work remains understudied. Eugénie Éboué-Tell and Jane Vialle used their time in the French Resistance during World War II to inform and guide their work in feminist anticolonial practices. These elected representatives to France’s highest governing bodies were two of the most important voices in the conversation about race, gender, and citizenship at the time. Next, the author discusses Andrée Blouin, whose conflicting racial affiliations in both her personal relationships and political associations emphasizes the oppression of colonial racial and gendered hierarchies present throughout francophone Africa. Comparatively, Aoua Kéita’s explicitly feminist writing reveals the interconnectivity of colonial and patriarchal oppressions in the French Empire. The author analyses Kéita’s work as important for feminist rewritings of history. The author concludes with Eslanda Robeson, who contributed to defining black women’s citizenship in a global context. She is particularly notable for her role in mapping a new Global South identity. Taking this more global perspective to conclude the book successfully emphasizes its main points: the importance of black women’s transnational activism in the advancement of citizenship rights, anticolonialism, and feminist movements across Africa and the diaspora. 

Informative and well-written, this book effectively analyzes these women’s literature in the context of their lives. This book is a necessary read for those wanting to learn more about Black history in the French Empire. 

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