Ariela J. Gross is the John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History, and a co-director of the Center for Law, History, and Culture, at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (2020) (with Alejandro de la Fuente); What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (2008) which was named a Choice outstanding academic title, co-winner of the James Willard Hurst Prize, and winner of the Lillian Smith Award and the American Political Science Association's Best Book on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics; and Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (2000). She is currently working on a study of race, law, and conservatism in post-World War II America, as well as a book on the uses of the history of slavery in contemporary law and politics. Gross’s work has been featured in popular media outlets, including the Washington Post, Zócalo Public Square, Lapham’s Quarterly, and El País.
How did Africans become 'blacks' in the Americas? Based on the book she co-authored with Alejandro de la Fuente, "Becoming Free, Becoming Black," Gross tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders' efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies - Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana, she demonstrates that the law of freedom - not slavery - established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.