Instead, being black in New Spain meant bringing "a perspective, a way of seeing, if you will, to the historical experience," which allowed blacks to define their own social lives as they interacted with other social groups p. Despite Bennett's enormous theoretical scope, his source material has a difficult time carrying his argument.
Afro-Mexicans Fight for Visibility and Recognition
If Bennett's only claims were that the Catholic Church sought to regulate Africans and their descendants as part of a Christian population and that blacks in Mexico were not socially dead, his sources would be very convincing. However, since Bennett is arguing for a deeper, more nuanced understanding of collective black identity, this source appears flat and one-dimensional.
In his careful study of the ecclesiastical records, stories abound of Africans and Creoles whose kinship networks extend across the colonial Spanish caste system and across the geographic space of New Spain, and that were maintained in many cases as long as the individual was alive.
Similarly, Bennett has no trouble convincing the reader that the Catholic Church, in its disciplining and regulation of black lives, gave little consideration to social category or ethnic identity when granting marriage dispensations or punishing misbehaving Christians. In these stories, free blacks, who have frequently been seen in other histories as posing problems to the hegemonic social order, never seem to pose problems to the Catholic inquisitors as social beings; it is only when they lose their commitment to Christian virtue that the church deems it necessary to regulate them.
Yet it is this focus on the ecclesiastical response to black lives that alerts the reader to a potential snag in Bennett's chain of argument, one that he seems unwilling to acknowledge in the text: the myopic and highly problematic nature of his sources. Ecclesiastical records may convincingly show when the church found it necessary to interfere in black lives, but they cannot demonstrate that it was solely the church through which black social lives were formed.
They may show what punishments and regulations the church chose to impose on black lives, but they cannot say exactly what effect this discipline had on daily existence. Finally, and most important, they present a highly problematic construction of personal identity, one that Bennett seems to take at face value, but one that must have been filtered through black social lenses to manufacture useful identities for the inquisitors.
While Bennett finds repeated invocations of blacks knowing each other since birth to be convincing proof that blacks maintained lifelong social relationships, we are given no hint of precisely how those social ties were forged, maintained, or even if they were true as presented to the panel. In other words, why did people choose to present themselves the way they did in front of the Inquisition council?