Black Legend: The Unexpected Story of “El Negro Raúl” and the Untold History of Race in Argentina


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


History, and Romance Languages and Literatures


For residence at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress during academic year 2019-2020


Is it redundant to speak of racial stories? In some ways, ideas about race always consist of narratives about who people are and are not. But sometimes these stories adopt patterns with stock characters, plots, and morals, persisting across multiple generations and genres. The tales surrounding the dandy-turned-beggar Raúl Grigera (also known as “el Negro Raúl”), an Afro-Argentine man who rose to fame in early-twentieth-century Buenos Aires, illuminate the special power of storytelling to shape and reproduce ideas of race. Drawing on an extensive corpus of published texts about el Negro Raúl and on previously undiscovered personal archival records, this project reveals how exaggerated narratives of disparaged and disappearing blackness sustained Argentina’s particular ideologies of national whiteness in the long twentieth century. At the same time, it offers the first story of black presence and self-fashioned celebrity for modern Argentina.