Quebec Studies

Re-Visiting the Creole Myth: Race and Ethnicity on the New Orleans Stage

Quebec Studies (2021), 71, (1), 41–60.

Abstract

Scholars who have studied the contested meaning of “creole” in Louisiana have typically maintained that the “Creole myth,” that is the strategic redefinition of the term “creole” to refer to the white descendants of Louisiana’s original French and Spanish settlers, emerged during or shortly after the Civil War. Drawing on a newspaper article and two case studies related to the New Orleans theatre, this essay proposes a new periodization for the emergence of the “Creole myth” and a re-evaluation of the cultural and political work it was doing. I want to suggest that conceiving of the Creole myth as an antebellum phenomenon (rather than examining it in the context of the postbellum era) allows us to see that its creation was not just motivated by French Louisianian concerns about cultural integrity and ethnic survival but also by this population’s anxiety about race and the status and mobility of free people of color. As a rhetorical tool that gained traction in the 1830s, the strategic redefinition of “creole” to exclude all people of African descent operated in tandem with other attempts to curtail the rights of free people of color, preventing their social, economic, and political ascent during the antebellum period.

Ceux qui ont étudié le sens contesté du terme « créole » en Louisiane ont typiquement maintenu que le « mythe créole », c’est-à-dire, la redéfinition stratégique du terme « créole » à ne comprendre que les descendants blancs des colons d’origine française ou espagnole est apparu pendant ou peu après la guerre de Sécession. S’appuyant sur un article de journal et sur deux études de cas du théâtre à la Nouvelle-Orléans, cet article propose une nouvelle périodisation de l’émergence du « mythe créole » ainsi qu’une réévaluation du travail politique et culturelle qu’il exerçait. Je veux suggérer qu’en concevant le mythe créole comme phénomène d’avant la guerre de Sécession (plutôt que de l’examiner dans le contexte de l’après-guerre), nous comprenons que sa création a été motivé non seulement par des préoccupations d’intégrité culturelle et de survie ethnique de la part des Franco-louisianais, mais aussi par leur anxiété raciale par rapport à la mobilité des gens de couleur libres. Comme outil rhétorique qui a gagné du terrain dans les années 1830, la redéfinition stratégique de « créole » afin d’exclure tous ceux d’ascendance africaine fonctionnait en combinaison avec d’autres tentatives à restreindre les droits des gens de couleur libres, empêchant leur ascension sociale, économique et politique pendant l’ère d’avant la guerre de Sécession.

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Braun, Juliane