Global Circuits of Blackness: Interrogating the African Diasporaby Jean Muteba Rahier
Global Circuits of Blackness is a sophisticated analysis of the interlocking diasporic connections between Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. A diverse and gifted group of scholars delve into the contradictions of diasporic identity by examining at close range the encounters of different forms of blackness converging on the global/i>
Global Circuits of Blackness is a sophisticated analysis of the interlocking diasporic connections between Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. A diverse and gifted group of scholars delve into the contradictions of diasporic identity by examining at close range the encounters of different forms of blackness converging on the global scene.
Contributors examine the many ways blacks have been misrecognized in a variety of contexts. They also explore how, as a direct result of transnational networking and processes of friction, blacks have deployed diasporic consciousness to interpellate forms of white supremacy that have naturalized black inferiority, inhumanity, and abjection. Various essays document the antagonism between African Americans and Africans regarding heritage tourism in West Africa, discuss the interaction between different forms of blackness in Toronto's Caribana Festival, probe the impact of the Civil Rights movement in America on diasporic communities elsewhere, and assess the anxiety about HIV and AIDS within black communities. The volume demonstrates that diaspora is a floating revelation of black consciousness that brings together, in a single space, dimensions of difference in forms and content of representations, practices, and meanings of blackness. Diaspora imposes considerable flexibility in what would otherwise be place-bound fixities.
Contributors are Marlon M. Bailey, Jung Ran Forte, Reena N. Goldthree, Percy C. Hintzen, Lyndon Phillip, Andrea Queeley, Jean Muteba Rahier, Stéphane Robolin, and Felipe Smith.
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Global Circuits of BlacknessInterrogating the African Diaspora
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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IntroductionTheorizing the African Diaspora: Metaphor, Miscognition, and self-recognition
PERCY C. HINTZEN AND JEAN MUTEBA RAHIER
The Work of Diaspora
It is critical for any theorizing and conceptualization of the African diaspora to ask the question: "Why diaspora?" There is much to be gained from an examination of the work the term does and why its currency has grown in the arena of black consciousness and representation. It may well be important, in this regard, to consider "diaspora" as a metaphor or analogy related to what Clifford Geertz has suggested to be the central issue in any discussion of social reality: "How symbols symbolize, how they function to mediate meaning" (1975:208).
Metaphor derives its informative value because, according to Paul Ricoeur summarizing Clifford Geertz, "it says what it wants to say by comparison" to a sign or signification that is already part of the structure of experience and understanding of people's social world (Ricoeur 1986:256). It provides the lenses through which people experience and see reality (Stephan 1990). The use of the expression "African diaspora" as a signification of the black condition emerged during the 1950s in the wake of the Holocaust of World War II. What the Holocaust revealed was the centrality of racial violence to the European modernist project (Mamdani 2005:3-16). Such a realization pervaded European postwar understanding of itself and provoked Aimi Cisaire (1995) to tie the European bourgeoisie's inability to forgive Hitler to "the fact that he applied to Europe the colonial practices that had previously been applied only to the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the Negroes of Africa." For Frantz Fanon, "Nazism turned the whole of Europe into a veritable colony" (1967:75).
What the Holocaust revealed were the consequences of violent abjection carried to its extreme. It became the signifying event for the acknowledgment and acceptance of a Jewish history of rejection, abjection, and exclusion in European popular consciousness. "Diaspora," when transferred as a signification of the black social reality, served as a powerful metaphor to publicize the even more devastating, brutal, and pervasive violence that constituted the common history of colonialism and slavery. It served in scholarship about black social reality to "elevate hitherto unconsciously held analogies into self-conscious theory, to extend the meanings attached to the analogies, to expand their range through new observations and comparisons, and to give them precision through specialized vocabularies and new technologies" (Stephan 1990:42). For black scholarship, it opened up the space for "speaking back" to the objectifying anthropological gaze by turning it upon itself through the lens of the Jewish experience now acknowledged to be the product of European pathology.
It is therefore not surprising that the first iterations of African diaspora scholarship made specific reference to forced exodus. The African diaspora emerged, according to this form of conceptual specification, out of the collective phenomenon of displacement and dispersal (Palmer 2000). Thus, Tiffany Patterson and Robyn Kelly argued that diaspora "served in the scholarly debates both as a political term, with which to emphasize unifying experiences of African peoples dispersed by the slave trade, and also as an analytical term that enabled scholars to talk about black communities across national boundaries" (2000:14). These politics and analytics were present in black scholarship from the inception: the very point of Patterson and Kelly's intervention. However, before "diaspora" (following Jean and John Comaroff's description of the space of liminality that exists between consciousness and unconsciousness), these politics and analytics remained unspecified "in the realm of partial recognition, of inchoate awareness, of ambiguous perception" (1991:29). To a large extent, they remained captive to continental (for example, African), regional (for example, Caribbean), and national (for example, African American) discourse.
We would like to argue that, as metaphor, the political and analytical work performed by diaspora has much to do with issues of recognition and consciousness that we consider to be the central analytics in the scholarly engagement with blackness. Diaspora, in this sense, was a response to what Althusser, engaging the Marxist debate on ideology and distortion, identified as the "miscognition" of the subject (1971:182). Here, we would like to link "miscognition" to "misrecognition" because both relate to ideological distortion. Such distortion, as it pertains to blackness, derives from the ruling ideology of white supremacy that we consider to be the central force in the process of black abjection, exclusion, and erasure. As ideology, it functions in and through an interrelated system of cognitions, actions, and social structures that are the constitutive elements of symbolic action (Winant 2001:317). In other words, diaspora reveals (analytically) and contests (politically) the space of symbolic action as interpellation. White supremacy is therefore at the center of black misrecognition. Through distortion, it renders blacks incapable of reason and rationality as enlightened subjects, thus denying them claims to civilization and modernity. Misrecognition is therefore at the critical center in a process of subjection whereby, following Althusser's definition (1971:182), blacks (or any subject) become submitted to "the ideological apparatus of the state" (see Ricoeur 1986:150). White supremacy naturalizes black inferiority, inhumanity, and abjection. Such misrecognition is instantiated by, through, and in symbolic action.
Misrecognition has been the focus of black studies from its inception. Indeed, it is a central motif in Du Bois's conceptualization of "double consciousness" that results from the "taken for granted" imperatives by blacks of always looking at one's self through a consciousness produced by the ideology of a racial statist pedagogy (Du Bois 1999). As politics, "diaspora" is involved in the black struggle for recognition or, alternatively, for a "more faithful recognition" (Ricoeur 1986:150) of black modern subjecthood. In this sense, it is interpellated in the universal politics of misrecognition produced by white supremacy. It inserts itself in the semiotic order of symbolic action that renders blacks incapable of inclusion in the universe of the civilized nation (see Smith's and Rahier's contributions to this volume) that, for the United States, according to Du Bois, is peopled by the "American." Against misrecognition there is a struggle to attain self-consciousness and self-recognition as "a better truer self " (Du Bois 1999:17). Diaspora as metaphor also opens up the space of collective self-recognition for examination and analysis. By filtering into popular consciousness as ideology, such examination and analysis opens up possibilities for black universal collective recognition. We employ the term "revelation" to highlight our understanding that diaspora renders visible the "space" of collective self-recognition and self-consciousness that may exist at subliminal levels of black consciousness and may have been rendered invisible by distortion, misrecognition, and miscognition. Here, we employ wholeheartedly the analytical framework proposed by Jean and John Comaroff, who consider reality and experience to situate themselves in a "chain of consciousness" along "two extremes: the unseen and the seen, the submerged and the apprehended, the unrecognized and the cognized" (1991:29). This allows us to appreciate black consciousness and self-recognition as occurring across this "chain of consciousness" that at one end is "submerged, unseen and unrecognized" and at the other is "perceived and explicitly marked" (29). The former, existing "in the un-remarked recesses of the collective unconscious," is nonetheless constituted by an "implicit structure of shared meaning that human beings absorb as they learn to become members of particular social worlds" (29). The work diaspora does in this regard is to provide the "conditions" under which the "unrecognized ... may be called to awareness" (29). Such conditions, according to Jean and John Comaroff, move consciousness from "hegemony" to "ideology." It is in this sense that we consider diaspora to be ideology where "the silent signifiers and unmarked practices may rise to the level of explicit consciousness, of ideological assertion, and become the subject of overt political contestation" (29). Thus, this "space of consciousness" is the referent of diaspora. In this sense, diaspora is the entire chain of consciousness, the "implicit structure of shared meaning" that provides the basis for universal black self-recognition. It does the ideological work of calling "into awareness" what is "unrecognized." As such, it creates the conditions for recognition against the hegemony of misrecognition. Here, following Gramsci, we consider "hegemony" to be "part of a dominant world view which has been naturalized, having hidden itself in orthodoxy" (see Comaroff and Comaroff 1991:25).
The Diversity of Diasporic Subjectivities: Different and Separate Ontologies?
Thus, there is a universal, even though incorrect, associationthat is seen to be necessarybetween diaspora and migration (as in the "West Indian diaspora" in North Americawhich is dealt with in Hintzen's contribution to this volume) that can be explained when diaspora is understood through the analytic lens of metaphor. Involuntary exodus and denial of claims of belonging to their places of residence through ideology (anti-Semitism and white supremacy) serve to link Jews and blacks. Thus diaspora fits perfectly into the understandings of the black condition organized around involuntary presences of the racially abjected who long for return. Diaspora allows collective self-recognition for black subjects in and across different national territories through originary claims to Africa. The conditions for such collective self-recognition increased dramatically with the intensification of migratory flows of black people across national boundaries in the post-World War II era (see Cohen 1997, Hintzen and Rahier 2003, Brown 2005, 2006). Such intensification made possible forms of self-recognition that may have been previously "submerged, unseen, unrecognized." That diaspora emerged as a metaphor for the black condition at this particular juncture is therefore not coincidental. It is here where works such as Jacqueline Nassy Brown's (2005, 2006), which examines the effects of the presence of black American GIs in the English port city of Liverpool, gain their importance. Brown insists that we must acknowledge the role of power and hegemony in the structuring of the black relational networks that exist both among different territorially or nationally specified black communities and between differently gendered and classed people within particular black communities. Although her emphasis was on the "hegemonic position" of black American soldiers stationed in Liverpool, what becomes evident in her numerous accounts of the latter's encounter with both black and white residents of the city is how their presence acted to change and complicate the local semiotics of blackness. Such change had the productive effect of revealing to the local black community new possibilities of being through the specifically American historical trajectories of blackness and from differential access to resources enjoyed by the American servicemen. Where Brown insists on processes of hierarchization at work between U.S. and local blacks, we also see a process of "friction," to borrow Ana Tsing's formulation (2005). The encounters between black GIs and black residents in Liverpool revealed a global connection while making possible a set of more or less painful creative and interactive performances of negotiation during which blackness and diaspora are, in fact, reinvented, reimagined, and experienced anew, transforming history and memory along the way, and pointing to novel futures. Indeed, Anna Tsing challenges the ordinary understanding of globalization in terms of "clash of cultures" and prefers to use instead the metaphor of "frictions" to account for the diverse and often conflicting social interactions that make up the contemporary world and that produce new meanings and interpretations of the things in focus. These new forms of consciousness of and about blackness extend across the gamut of possibilities, from white female desire related to the superior class and prestige position occupied by the black GIs relative to the poor majority in the city, to the very fact of black class superiority and the opportunities it brought for upward mobility in the racial hierarchy of British Liverpool. In other words, the presence of the black American GIs challenged and contested the "perceived and explicitly marked" misrecognition of blacks as abject, poor, and undesirable that constituted black consciousness and the "consciousness of blacks" in Liverpool. It revealed new ways of being black to both blacks and whites. (See especially Jacqueline Nassy Brown 2005 and 2006.)
The case of Liverpool demonstrates the possibilities for mutual recognition across transnational difference (see Forte's and Phillip's contributions to this volume) and how the encounter between different black subjects can reveal conditions of being black that are unseen and unrecognized in "place-bound fixities"a notion borrowed from David Harvey (1996:296). Harvey's use of the concept is appropriate because it is pitted against the "uncontrolled vectors of spatiality" (292) that serve "as a metaphor for displacement and disorientation" (Mitchell 1994). Diaspora accomplishes the task of revelation of that space of consciousness that was previously unseen and unrecognized. As such, it disrupts hegemonic stability and the naturalness of place derived from misrecognition. In his contribution to this volume, for example, Percy Hintzen shows how West Indians in the San Francisco Bay area in California have struggled against emplaced national strictures of racial identities in the social formation of their host societies. Black immigrants in California have taken advantage of their status as immigrants and of the geographic references it allows for publicizing and performing a self-identity and cultural politics that escape and contradict the logic of national racial ordering and of the hold of white racial exclusivity on modernity. In other words, through diaspora was revealed their consciousness of being "human." Such a revelation was grounded on identification with the Anglophone Caribbean to challenge "perceived and explicitly marked" hegemonic black consciousness linked to the American nation. In her contribution to this volume, Andrea Queeley examines how diaspora as metaphor can function to change the semiotics of symbolic action in which blackness is encrypted. This is distinct from its role as revelation because, rather than merely revealing what is "subliminal," diaspora can also change in a fundamental way the consciousness of blackness and of being black. She argues that, in the Cuban context, the struggle for recognition is engaged around the insertion of black consciousness into the signs and relations of national symbolic action. It is conducted even though, in the process, it can undermine black dreams of economic mobility and social justice. In the Cuban national imaginary, blackness is positioned on the constitutive outside of Cuban peoplehood, in the premodern temporality of Africa. The struggle for black recognition in Cuba was, therefore, one over the very consciousness of blacks as modern subjects.
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Meet the Author
Jean Muteba Rahier is an associate professor of anthropology and the director of the African and African Diaspora Studies Program at Florida International University. He is the coeditor, with Percy C. Hintzen, of Problematizing Blackness: Self Ethnographies by Black Immigrants to the United States.Percy C. Hintzen is a professor of African American Studies and the chair of the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of West Indians in the West: Self Representations in a Migrant Community.Felipe Smith is an associate professor of English at Tulane University and the author of American Body Politics: Race, Gender, and Black Literary Renaissance.
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