Code noir, Casting a Shadow on People’s Memories

After Dr. DeFrantz’s discussion on how Code noir influenced some dance forms, I started thinking about the lasting effect slave codes left on society. Reiterating what Dr. DeFrantz touched on in the discussion, the codes specifically targeted enslaved African peoples in the French colonies in the eighteenth century. It placed restrictions on enslaved people’s religious practices, marriages and relationships, when they could meet together, and how they could be treated, among other aspects. As Dr. DeFrantz highlighted, these codes separated people into categories based on color, influencing how the rules affected them and how they were viewed in society. Code noir essentially went out of effect in 1803 when the U.S. took possession of Louisiana, eventually being replaced by the American slavery system many people are more familiar with.

Due to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery and laws similar to Code noir were prohibited. In the context of our course concept, memory, these laws and racist structures are not forgotten in modern society, though. In my Women and Nineteenth Century Social Reform class with Dr. Woidat, we discussed how racist laws themselves may be outlawed but the spirit of the laws live on. As much as we as a society may want to forget slavery’s atrocities, the spirit of the law lives on in some people’s minds, therefore prolonging racist structures, such as Code noir. Some people remain ingrained in the mindset that the racism such laws enforce and promote is acceptable, often long after the laws are abolished. Take for example the numerous videos in the media right now that show African Americans as being dangerous in the eyes of police and their lives as being less valuable. There aren’t necessarily laws such as Code noir that promote this mindset but people act as if there is. In terms of social change and legislation that promotes a better society, memory plays a role in keeping people glued to the past. It isn’t just the laws that need to be changed but also how people move past archaic and vestigial social structures that categorize people based on preconceived or meritless notions. It raises the questions, “how do we as a society best effect social change to allow equity for everyone?” and “how should society deal with weaning its citizens off of mindsets that are outdated and bigoted?” One important aspect in beginning to answer this question involves this realization: social change is just as much an issue of people and their memories as it is an issue of legislation.


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