African American and Japanese people share a rich history of nearly two hundred years of transnational engagement and activity. African American writers discussed Japan as early as 1828, and, in the African American and abolitionist press, the 1860 Japanese Embassy to the United States inspired a perception of transnational solidarity between African American and Japanese people based on the shared experience of racial prejudice and the right of all men to participate in the affairs of the world. From the 16th century to the early 19th century, Japanese ideas surrounding Blackness were very different from the racial ideologies prevalent in Europe and later the United States. Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War inspired African American admiration for Japan as a global leader in the fight against racism and imperialism, although Japan expanded its imperial activity across Asia throughout the early 20th century. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the Japanese racial equality bill made Japan even more of a symbol of the fight for racial equality to African American civil rights leaders and writers. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese intellectuals were inspired by the African American struggle for civil rights, as well as their transnational engagement with African American people, to promote anti-imperialism within Japan. Meanwhile, in the 1930s, pro-Japanese organizations proliferated across the United States and influenced tens of thousands of African American people. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended much, but not all, African American sympathy for Japan. The FBI was concerned that Japanese military agents would racially agitate African American people into subversive activity. As part of the war effort, the Japanese military did plan pro-Japanese racial propaganda targeted toward America’s Black people. During the Occupation period, many Japanese people adopted negative racial attitudes toward Black people. At the same time, during the postwar period, many Japanese and African American people shared transnational relationships free from the increasing racial prejudice perpetuated by the American state. Japanese and African American relations, as well as representations and perceptions of Black people in Japan, have continued to change throughout the 21st century.
Matthias van Rossum
Slavery and slave trade were widespread throughout the empire of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Asia. The VOC was not only a “merchant” company but also functioned as military power, government, and even agricultural producer. In these roles, the VOC was involved in the forced relocation (and forced mobilization) of people in direct and indirect ways. This entailed commodified slavery and especially slave trade, in which persons were considered property and sellable, but also a wider landscape of forced relocations (deportation, non-commodified transfers) and coerced labor regimes (corvée, debt, and caste slavery). Much more research into the histories of slavery, slave trade, and wider coercive labor and social regimes is needed to shed light on the dynamics and connections of local and global systems.
Kevin P. McDonald
Defining European piracy in the Indian Ocean is a complicated task and depends entirely on competing definitions and perspectives. As newcomers to the region, Europeans inserted themselves, often violently, into a complex long-distance trade system that had functioned relatively smoothly for centuries before the Portuguese arrival in 1498. Divergent cultural norms, particularly long-standing religious differences, were a central issue for the militantly Catholic Iberians, as they did not accept nor respect claims of sovereignty from local Muslim and Hindu rulers. Among Europeans, a similar dynamic applied after the Reformation, as rising Protestant empires, such as the Dutch and British, began to compete with the Portuguese, and each other, for control of the lucrative Indian Ocean commodities and markets as they battled for global trade dominance. Since the total number of Europeans in the region at any given moment remained quite low relative to the size of the Indigenous populations, they relied on violence and coercion to achieve their economic objectives. The persistence of European piracy in the Indian Ocean exposes a long-standing interconnected Indo-Atlantic world that is yet to be fully integrated into the historical narratives regarding European imperial and Atlantic histories.
By the late 19th century, when much of Islamic Central Asia was conquered by the Russian Empire, the region was home to tens of thousands of slaves. Most of these slaves were Shiʿa Muslims from northern Iran, though the slave trade also ensnared many Russians, Armenians, Kalmyks, and others. Slave labor was especially commonplace in the Sunni Muslim domains of Khwarazm and Bukhara, where enslaved people constituted a substantial proportion of all agricultural workers, domestic servants, and soldiers. Slaves also labored in many other roles, and an individual slave could be tasked with a variety of jobs. Slaves served, for example, as concubines, craftsmen, miners, herdsmen, entertainers, blacksmiths, calligraphers, and even, in rare instances, as government officials. Before the 16th century, the majority of the slaves in Central Asia—defined here as the region extending from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea through Xinjiang, China, and from southern Siberia to northern Iran—seem to have been trafficked to the region from India. This changed in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a significant number of Iranian war-captives were brought north and enslaved during the course of numerous armed conflicts between the Central Asian Uzbeks and Iranian Safavids. Many of these slaves evidently labored on the region’s rapidly expanding agricultural estates. In the 18th and 19th centuries, frequent Turkmen raids into northern Iran resulted in tens of thousands of Iranian Shiʿas being captured and funneled into a booming slave trade in Khwarazm and Bukhara. Further north, a much smaller number of Russians were seized and sold into slavery by Kazakh nomads along the steppe frontier. The region’s slave trade declined in the late 19th century and seems to have remained dormant throughout the Soviet period. The post-Soviet period has witnessed a resurgence of human trafficking throughout Central Asia. In recent decades, local governments and international organizations have labored with mixed success to combat a new kind of slave trade, as Central Asian victims are trafficked by criminal cartels to neighboring countries, or to other regions of the world, for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Various forms of labor obligation, coercion, and oppression existed in colonial India, but the supposed dichotomy between “free” and “unfree” labor was rarely absolute. European slave-trafficking, internal trades in women and children, domestic slavery, caste-based obligations for agricultural and other labor, and capitalist systems such as indenture represented distinct but overlapping forms of “unfree” labor in the South Asian context. Enslaved Indians were exported to various European colonial possessions in the 17th and 18th century or provided domestic services within the homes of both the European and Indian elites. Meanwhile, various preexisting local labor relationships such as begar, caste-based obligation, and debt bondage involved elements of coercion, control, and ownership that mirrored some of the characteristics of slavery. These underwent significant changes in the colonial period, as the colonial state both tapped into and sought to reshape the Indian labor market to suit the needs of the imperial capitalist economy.