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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

Judith Misrahi-Barak
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Subjects: Plural, Gendered and Queer

Diaspora, Creolization, and the Boundaries of Caribbean Identity

H. Adlai Murdoch


The importance of diaspora to any understanding of the Caribbean can be seen both in its crosscultural patterns of ethnic and cultural admixture, and in the regional patterns of migration and exchange that connect many Caribbean territories. A representational framework for Caribbean patterns of diaspora would need to reflect a remarkable range of influences; from the various strands of ethnocultural affiliation linking these territories to their African, Indian, Syro-Lebanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English avatars to the transformative effects of contemporary migrations that have refigured the ways in which these new subjects come to represent themselves and their experiences. The cultural and demographic phenomenon of twentieth-century Caribbean migration was largely a postwar event, where these groups increasingly differentiated themselves from the larger immigrant cultures of their respective metropoles, from the nationalist patterns of their host country and from the established identitarian framework of their countries and cultures of origin. Crucially, this Caribbean cultural diaspora would draw on its own fissures and conflicts to enact new notions of ’Caribbeanness’, ’Frenchness’ or ’Britishness’ in an explicitly transnational and transformative space of hybridity and renewal. Ultimately, reconsiderations of the diasporic Caribbean will compel us to revise long-held notions of the role and place of ’center’ and ’periphery’ in a post/colonial context, and to map the evolving boundaries of contemporary Caribbean identity.

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1Any examination of migration and creolization in the Caribbean should perhaps begin by examining the history of population transfer, of migration, métissage, and cultural exchange that emerged in the wake of the Columbian watershed. For in fact, the year 1492 marks the architectonic shift that engendered a Caribbean history that was specific and transmissible. A representational framework for Caribbean patterns of diaspora thus would need to reflect a remarkable range of influences; from the various strands of ethnocultural affiliation brought together by inward migration, linking these territories to their African, Indian, Syro-Lebanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English origins to the transformative effects of contemporary outward migrations that have refigured the ways in which Caribbean subjects are inscribed both within and without the region.

2If we focus on the complex patterns of migration, multiplicity and exchange that lie at the core of any identitarian framework seeking to define the peoples of the Caribbean, we must come to terms with the fact of the Caribbean as a settler and immigrant society, one where successive inflows and outflows of population lead to the claim that the region, in Stuart Hall’s words, is now ’twice diasporized’ (Hall 1995: 6). Perhaps the most far-reaching among these diasporic shifts was the fact that an Africa-based ethnicity became the dominant ancestral source for the large majority of the region’s population, effectively replacing the indigenous Amerindian Caribs and Arawaks, who were essentially wiped out within a century of the Columbian arrival and of whom only traces remain in a few islands. Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, and one of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island, claims nine Native American tribes present before the Dutch established their first colony in 1616. Belize, on the other hand, located in present-day Central America, was long dominated by Mayan civilization and culture before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Much of this population was decimated by disease and conflicts between tribes and with Europeans. Notable ethnic groups like the Kriols and the Garifuna are mixed-race groups whose presence was catalyzed in one way or another by the colonial encounter. Broadly speaking, then, the series of diasporic encounters and intersections engendered by the twin terrors of colonialism and slavery led to the definition of the region as a zone of ethnocultural and linguistic contact, as Mervyn C. Alleyne explains:

It was contact among immigrant groups of diverse origins (who are often simplistically condensed by outsiders as “European” on the one hand and “African” on the other) that became the most significant factor for the emergence of West Indian societies, because nowhere else in the hemisphere was the destruction of the indigenous peoples and their civilization more complete. (158)

3In the event, the social exigencies of this process would engender specifically Caribbean patterns of sociocultural transformation, particularly in the areas of language, culture and folklore, and musical expression.

4Slavery actually contributed materially to the diasporization of the region, particularly in linguistic terms. For example, studies have shown that slaves arriving in the Caribbean originated in widely dispersed areas; just those slaves brought to Saint-Domingue, for example, came from countries as disparate as Senegal, Angola, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Their dispersal took many forms; historians have shown that slaves brought to the region aboard Spanish, French, Dutch or British ships often were sold to planters of various nationalities once they reached the New World. For their part, once they learned to associate particular behavioral characteristics with specific African areas of origin, planters consciously mixed batches of slaves to avoid the creation of social solidarity, and indeed often transferred them to other islands, further exacerbating the diasporization effect.

5Language formation in the crucible of the plantation thus became the primary indicator of diaspora’s first iteration in the Caribbean, the result of forced interaction between colonial masters and varied groups of slaves, as Peter Roberts explains, ’In the Caribbean as a whole, Creole languages are the result of contact between English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch ( “languages of colonising people”) and West African languages ( “languages of a colonised people”)’ (14). While Caribbean creole languages thus mediated developing modes of survival and resistance, these linguistic patterns simultaneously serve to reflect the compound, shifting realities that have shaped Caribbean history. In a key way, then, bearing in mind the presence of, inter alia, Scottish, Irish, Dutch and Breton plantation overseers, and slaves from myriad groups speaking literally hundreds of languages, this last functions as a mirror of Caribbean diasporization itself, as Alleyne observes, ’The language situations existing in the Caribbean are mirrors through which the complex cultural history of the region may be observed’ (158). These ongoing principles and practices of transformation mediated the diasporic complexities of cross-cultural communication and exchange. This initial, initiatory moment of ethnic and linguistic creolization effectively symbolizes the expanding patterns of ethnocultural exchange through which the region would largely come to be figured.

  • 1 For an excellent overview of subcontinental immigration into the region and its several effects and (...)

6This process of diasporization was again reoriented through the wholesale importation of a replacement labor force into the region from the Indian subcontinent for several decades following emancipation-an event occurring in 1834 for the British Caribbean and in 1848 for their French counterparts-creating a sustained demographic and cultural shift that again transformed the matrices of Caribbean identity. These major population inflows, made up of Indian, and, later, Chinese, Lebanese, and Portuguese communities continued arriving in massive numbers through the second decade of the 20th century, such that people of South Asian descent now make up over 45 % of the population of Trinidad, 55 % of the population of Guyana, and about 15 % of the population of Guadeloupe.1 These populations would have brought with them their languages, cultural patterns, and religious practices, all of which slowly would have been transformed and integrated into the larger cultural whole, transforming and reinscribing the shape, substance and expression of Caribbean identity.

7The longstanding claim that the region has long been the de facto homeland for all of these groups subtends the fundamental paradox undergirding the diasporic foundations of the New World, as Stuart Hall has pointed out:

None of the people who now occupy the islands-black, brown, white, African, European, American, Spanish, French, East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Jew, Dutch-originally “belonged” there. It is the space where the creolisations and assimilations and syncretisms were negotiated. The New World is the third term-the primal scene-where the fateful/fatal encounter was staged between Africa and the West. (Hall 1990: 234)

8It is this arc of encounter and transformation that allows us to posit the Caribbean as both a diasporized and a creolized society, where the complex process of ethnocultural admixture mediated the commingling of peoples from elsewhere that provided the framework for regional identity. Both as a concept and a practice, then, diaspora is arguably at the center of what we know today as the Caribbean community. And so if, as Hall cogently claims, Caribbean subjects are ’twice diasporized’, the first iteration of this process was arguably an enforced intermixture between multiple cultures in the Caribbean, followed by the large-scale outward migration of Caribbean peoples to a variety of continental metropoles in the 1950s and 1960s.

9In the twentieth century, it is arguably the second iteration of Caribbean diasporic identity that allows us to posit a Caribbean diasporic community both at home and abroad; following the end of the Second World War, the Caribbean region was marked by a striking phenomenon of outward migration to the principal cities of North America and Europe, including New York, Miami, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, London, and Paris. From a diachronic perspective, this migratory movement extended from the 1940’s well into the 1980’s, with North American cities gradually supplanting the former colonial capitals of London and Paris as destinations of choice for the region’s population, as a series of Immigration Acts, particularly in England, closed off these locations to aspiring Caribbean migrants. For our purposes, however, this analysis concentrates on the initial period of Caribbean movement to the European continent, a period stretching from the latter half of the 1940’s through the first half of the 1980’s. In the event, then, what was central to the historical principle of an identifiable pattern of inward migration cedes in this case to a transnational and transcultural inscription of Caribbean identity, engendering a new diaspora from the communities and locations of the old. Now if, as Robin Cohen points out, diasporic definitions have varied and been modified over time, such that ’the original Greek word, signifying expansion and settler colonization’, has ceded to ’the increased use of the term to describe many kinds of migrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds’, then, resultantly ’transnational bonds no longer have to be cemented by migration or by exclusive territorial claims’ (Cohen 1997: 25-26). Given this transnational context, Cohen does not hesitate to assert that ’the behavior of Caribbean people in their places of sojourn and settlement provides telling evidence of the creation of a cultural diaspora’ (152). Here, movement, settlement, difference and communication ground this iteration of diaspora, for although ’the peoples of the Caribbean may be thought of as parts of other diasporas-notably the African victim diaspora, the Indian labour diaspora and the European imperial diasporas’, as he continues (137), the overarching importance of the diasporic concepts of migration, displacement, and ethnocultural difference militates against the urge to reinscribe a singular imagined natal territory as diaspora’s ineluctable defining characteristic; rather, given the scale of Caribbean moves to the former colonial metropoles, with all their insistent corollaries of class, racial, and cultural distinctions, we should conceive of diaspora here ’as a frame of cultural identity determined not through “return” but through difference’, as Brent Hayes Edwards suggests (12). With difference and diaspora strategically conjoined, then, while the initial inscription of diaspora in the Caribbean does not in the strictest sense make it a ’motherland’, it is nevertheless incontrovertible that the region as a whole figures as ’home’ for those who are ’away’.

10Large-scale West Indian migration into Europe is recognized as beginning with the docking of the MS Empire Windrush with its 450 West Indian passengers at Tilbury in the UK in 1948. Here, as Adrian Favell points out, Britain’s postwar colonial open-door policy may have inadvertently opened the floodgates, ’Britain’s peculiar relationship to the post-colonial Commonwealth ensured that, in this period, Britain maintained an open door relation to members of the Commonwealth who, as sovereign subjects, were effectively British citizens with rights of entry and abode’ (101). In the event, the arrival of the Windrush launched a demographic Caribbean movement that averaged over 32,000 people per year between 1955 and 1962, a burgeoning Caribbean presence brought up sharply by the passage of successive and restrictive Immigration Acts between the 1960s and the 1980s. In this early period, the clash of race and culture gave rise, inter alia, to the Notting Hill riots of 1958. This event and its aftermath became a watershed moment for the inscription and integration of black Commonwealth subjects into a divided society dominated in large part by white Britons. Post-war Britain suffered from marked labor shortages, and industries such as British Rail, the National Health Service and public transport recruited many workers from Jamaica, Barbados and other former island colonies. Afro-Caribbeans were encouraged to journey to Britain via immigration campaigns created by British governments, with well over 100,000 arriving in just over a decade; however, many of these new arrivals were to endure prejudice, intolerance and extreme racism from certain sectors of indigenous British society. Early African-Caribbean immigrants found private employment and housing denied to them on the basis of race. Chronic housing shortages and outright rejections of West Indian and other black renters were exacerbated by overt patterns of racism and segregation; it was not uncommon to see signs in the windows of rooming houses that read ’no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ and leaflets and wall slogans urged ’Keep Britain White’. As a result, large numbers of people were crowded into filthy, unsanitary spaces, often sleeping six or more to a room with groups of men often using the same bed in turn as their work shifts began and ended, grim conditions which were the culmination of a vicious circle driven by the pervasive housing shortage that was itself exacerbated by segregated rental practices.

11On the morning of 24 August, 1958, nine White youths, engaging in what they called ’nigger-hunting’, assaulted five Black men in separate incidents in Shepherd’s Bush and Notting Hill, igniting nights of rioting that continued until 5 September, making this period without a doubt the worst racial violence Britain had ever seen. In other words, it is probably not an exaggeration to claim in retrospect that the 1958 Notting Hill riots succeeded in setting and shaping the parameters of British race relations for the next forty years. The riots and their aftermath marked the dawn of a new West Indian identity for the growing diaspora living in Britain and the beginning of a search for a common black ancestry as an act and assertion of diasporic resistance to clearly racialized hierarchies of social dominance. Despite these challenges, an entire generation of Britons with African-Caribbean heritage now exists, contributing to British society in virtually every field. Figures for 2007 estimate Britain’s African-Caribbean population at about 600,000, or just over 1 % of the nation’s populace. The cultural assertion of this diasporic presence takes myriad forms, among which are literature, film, and television.

12But perhaps the most visible of these identitarian acts are Caribbean Carnivals staged throughout the UK, of which the best known is the annual Notting Hill Carnival. This was due in large part to the leadership and imagination of the Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones who insisted that this could be accomplished through the instantiation of London’s now emblematic West Indian Carnival. Technically, Carnival began in January 1959 in St Pancras Town Hall as a response to the depressing state of contemporary race relations as an attempt at cementing cultures and fostering integration and pluralism following the riots. As its size and influence grew-some claim that Notting Hill is now the second largest street festival in the world, after Rio’s carnival-increasing, and increasingly devoted attendance by Carnival enthusiasts would cross racial and national lines, integrating this diasporic event into the fabric of the national culture and effectively making London’s Notting Hill Carnival Europe’s largest street festival, attracting well over one million people. Indeed, from a broader perspective, overseas carnivals-including Labour Day in New York and Caribana in Toronto, the largest such events in the USA and Canada-have evolved to play an important sociopolitical and cultural role for the Caribbean diaspora in these countries. These metropolitan carnivals are arguably directly related to the spread of the Caribbean diaspora into Europe and North America after the Second World War, again in response to the demand for cheap immigrant labor. The Caribbean Carnival aftermath to Notting Hill, then, is not a primarily religious or a predominantly secular event. It is linked to the struggle of Caribbean migrants to Britain to inscribe a cultural identity through resistance and ethnocultural self-affirmation. It has acted as a bond between the diasporic community and those at home, contributing to the construction of a transnational, pan-Caribbean identity. Indeed, if carnivals are a reflection of the patterns and tensions undergirding a range of social forces, as well as the political and affective aspirations of the respective societies, then the evolution of these festivals in their various metropolitan milieux speaks directly to the ongoing resistance taking place in these metropoles and engaged in by transnational Caribbean communities in the face of overt and covert patterns of marginalization, oppression, and othering. Driven by the memory of Notting Hill, and organized by the diasporic Caribbean communities, these metropolitan or overseas carnivals have come to be the primary means of promoting cultural identity and sociopolitical integration within the Caribbean diasporic community while mediating the positive assertion of difference between these communities and their host societies.

  • 2 For an excellent overview and discussion, see Anselin, 1990.

13On the French side, while there has been a regional presence traceable over time on the mainland, I would like to examine the specific case of the Antillean citizens of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the départements d’outre-mer, DOM or French overseas departments, citizens of France by law but subject to otherness and exclusion stemming from their ethnic difference from the mainland majority. What distinguishes the citizens of the DOMs here is that following the departmentalization law of 1946, they were not foreigners seeking entry, but nationals moving from the periphery to the center of the nation-state. Specifically the substance of this diasporic movement into France was shaped by BUMIDOM, or the Bureau pour le développement des migrations dans les départements d’outre-mer. Between its inauguration in April 1963 and its dissolution eighteen years later, BUMIDOM funneled over 160,000 workers from Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion onto the French mainland, many of whom sought to escape rising unemployment in their own territories; for example, the unemployment rate in Guadeloupe still hovers somewhere between 25 % and 35 %. The result was a prolonged boom in French Caribbean displacement to the French mainland in the 1970s and 1980s, such that the rapidly changing demographics of contemporary France shows that there are approximately 800,000 people of French West Indian birth or descent currently resident on the French mainland, or almost twice as many people as make up the entire population of either Guadeloupe or Martinique, with more than 80 % of this population residing in Paris-now known in certain quarters as the ’third island’.2 As the presence of this multivalent Caribbean diaspora transforms the ethnographic makeup of the mainland, the constant circulation of its citizens between center and periphery simultaneously transforms mainstream French culture, as Robin Cohen points out, ’given that there are no immigration restrictions... return, circulatory and retirement migration are common, as are family visits and casual tourism’ (Cohen 1997: 143). However, disillusionment is also rife, as he continues, ’The younger generation of Caribbeans living in France often talk of returning... They place a high value on what they perceive to be their own culture, shared values, and “roots”’ (Cohen 1997: 143), thus cementing the notion of difference that grounds the articulation of diasporic identity. This nascent community faced a number of challenges, not least among them the adjustment to being a minority group. As part and parcel of this process, many Antillais came to terms with Edouard Glissant’s dictum that it is in metropolitan France that many Antilleans confront their antillanité for the first time. Here, the realities of race and otherness steadily undermine France’s cultural paradigm of assimilation and its corollary of conformity. ’Assimilation has been promised to immigrants’ as David Beriss writes, ’at the price of abandoning public attachment to their cultures of origin’ (xviii). Ironically, however, it will be their cultural and linguistic specificity that these Caribbean departmental migrants will use to assert their cultural distinctiveness, construct Caribbean community groups on the mainland, and lambaste the limitations of the French ideal of assimilation, as Beriss points out, ’As French citizens, Antilleans are cultural insiders, but as dark-skinned postcolonials, they are visibly marked as outsiders’ (xviii). Indeed, this new antillanité that emerges in response to metropolitan challenges of acceptance and integration is marked by difference in a number of ways, as David Beriss continues,

In France, however, they were challenged to invent an Antillean identity that had never existed in the islands... to be recognized as culturally distinct, Antilleans used art, social policy, and religion to shape their identity in ways recognizably French in form but Caribbean in substance. (21)

  • 3 The term DOM is an acronym derived from department d’outre-mer, or ’overseas department, ’ referrin (...)

14Numbers, however, neither tell nor determine the whole story. The cultural characteristics of ’otherness’ that are then assigned to such groups tend to result in the designation of an ambiguous identitarian framework, one that ultimately reinscribes the displaced domien within an internal colonial relationship to the dominant nation-state. Once on metropolitan soil, such subjects often find that they hardly correspond to the prevailing national image of what it means to be French, and as a result their relationship to the state, their very identity as citizens is continually questioned, despite the termination of the long colonial history that bound them to the state in the first place.3 In the context of a republican nation-state that long was once an empire, the implicit contradiction that lies between appealing to universal citizenship on the one hand, and a historical cycle of alternating inclusion and exclusion on the other, both confounds and complicates the oppositional implications of assimilation and immigration. Such oscillating perceptions of the migrant subject, as Balibar and Wallerstein have argued, mark ’the heritage of colonialism... a fluctuating combination of continued exteriorization and” internal exclusion “’ (43). In what is essentially a binary constitution of self and other, it is the structuring of these representations in bipolar terms that in turn engenders and explains” the ambivalence of the dual movement of assimilation and exclusion of the ’natives’ “(42), resulting in the imposition of an ongoing cycle of identity and alterity that ultimately frames the migrant, diasporic subject in the interstices of ethnic and cultural ambiguity.

15In sum, then, not only do expatriate Caribbean communities transform these metropolitan centers in a variety of ways, they are also transformed in their turn through their cultural exchanges with the larger European communities of which they became a part. As Cohen rightfully points out, while Caribbean migratory movements, which were largely labor-driven, ’do not in themselves constitute a diaspora’, their ’sense of a common history is powerfully reinforced by racism and colour discrimination in many of the places to which African-Caribbean people have migrated’. As a result, he ’conclude [s] by suggesting that the African-Caribbean people... do constitute a diaspora, though in a special and qualified sense’ (Cohen 1992: 168). What we see here is a complex web of signification, one in which several strands of nationalism, history, culture, ethnicity, and, especially, discourse, encounter and transform each other, giving rise to varied inscriptions of cultural identity that function within a doubled framework of discourse and representation. Further, characteristic definitions of Caribbean diasporic identity as one rooted in mixture and transformation both at home and abroad is directly linked both to the colonial experience and to the patterns of postcolonial migration that ensued from it; in the French and English cases, as the Caribbean diasporic presence in the metropolitan center expanded and cemented itself, praxes of self-definition paralleled the increasing size, visibility and presence of Caribbean migrant groups and their cultural corollaries of creole, calypso, reggae, fiction, food, drama, and dress. It was this critical, creolized hybridity of the displaced Caribbean subject, which would confirm the adaptability and continuity of Caribbeanness within a diasporic framework. With movement-into as well as out of the region, whether obligatory, voluntary, or vocational, and whether occasioning emplacement, displacement or return-clearly established as an elemental component of Caribbeanness, not only did all groups presently making up the Caribbean populace arrive there from elsewhere, but the very multiplicity of strands and filiations involved in cycles of arrival and departure led to the incontestable creation of an ethnic, cultural, and locational home for this populace. It is in this conjunction of Caribbean diaspora with Caribbean identity that the region’s particular inscriptions of transnationalism and hybridity takes shape.

16These patterns are inextricably bound up with the unprecedented and uncategorized patterns of creolization spawned in the wake of the Caribbean colonial encounter. The distinctiveness of the patterns of diversity, encounter and change that were eventuated by processes of cultural intersection in the Caribbean would have brought the metropoles face to face with a Europeanness-that-was-not-one, a doubled specter of sameness and difference, as Stuart Hall claims:

there is something quite distinctive, throughout these and other colonial settings, where different cultures were brought together and forced to coexist under the brutal impact of colonization, slavery, and transportation, which produced a specific cultural model: and the heart of that model is the process of creolization.
(Hall 2003a: 41)

17In other words, whether migrating as Commonwealth citizens of the Empire or full-fledged citizens of the hexagonal patrie, creolized Caribbean arrivants to these European metropoles were immediately and inalterably marked as ethnically and culturally other, inferior and inadmissible, the unwanted Caliban to the nation’s proud Prospero. Ineluctably inscribed in the interstices of being and becoming, framed and defined by their diasporic difference yet insistently articulating the validity of their subjectivity representing the languages and cultures of their experience would come to play a critical role in expressing the itinerant identities of the Caribbean periphery in the convolutions of the metropolitan center.

18Indeed, it is through this doubled diasporic presence, inscribed both at home and abroad, that these heterogeneous continuities of hybridity and performance delineate and define Caribbean subjectivity, where varied iterations of difference continually extend the boundaries of identity, as Stuart Hall has argued:

The ’New World’ presence... is... what makes Afro-Caribbean people already people of a diaspora... The diaspora experience as I intend it here is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of ’identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity. Diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. (Hall 1990: 235; emphasis in the original)

19Through the constant pluralities and performances of its constantly evolving locational and experiential framework, then, the intrinsically and historically heterogeneous Caribbean diaspora identity establishes itself through a simultaneous process of continuity, expansion, grafting and transformation. Its identitarian strategies centered on coalescing the various strands of the Caribbean postcolonial presence, particularly in Britain. As decades, and generations passed, and this Black British community became increasingly established, its specific articulations of Caribbeanness marked a differentiation between this metropolitan group-by now made up of third-generation Black British descendants of Caribbean migrants whose links to the Caribbean were perceptibly more tenuous than those of their parents or grand-parents-and Caribbean people who continued to live and work in the region. In other words, while a Caribbean connection continued to be acknowledged, it now took second place to patterns and perceptions of British belonging and exclusion. This conundrum resulted in the appearance of an ’insider-outsider’ mentality, as these geographically separated but historically and culturally linked groups sought to clear a space for their own authenticity.

20Now, if indeed it is these multiple inscriptions of arrival and departure, place and ethnicity that define the diasporization of Caribbeanness, then the diasporic displacement that undergirds Caribbean communities within and without the region turns upon the complex issue of identity, and the varied ways in which the community articulates it. If the compound arrivant groups making up Caribbean communities at home are linked to the re-formation of such groups in, say, London, a clear trajectory becomes apparent that confirms what Paul Gilroy terms ’the doubleness and cultural intermixture that distinguish the experience of Black Britons in Europe’ (Gilroy 2003: 52). Identity thus emerges from the diasporic experience as an ethnoculturally-grounded and multivalent process, arguably superseding the hoary borders of nation and nationalism and re-placing them with the hybrid inscriptions traced by the experiential arc of this Caribbean diaspora. The genesis and continuity of groups like this metropolitan Caribbean community also have been succinctly described and defined by Hall:

Such people retain strong links with their places of origin and their traditions, but... are obliged to come to terms with the new cultures they inhabit, without simply assimilating to them and losing their identities completely. They bear upon them the traces of the particular cultures, traditions, languages and histories by which they were shaped... they are irrevocably the product of several interlocking histories and cultures, belong at one and the same time to several ’homes’ (and to no one particular ’home’)... They are the products of the new diasporas created by the post-colonial migrations. They must learn to inhabit at least two identities, to speak two cultural languages, to translate and negotiate between them.
(Hall 1992: 310, emphasis in the original)

21From this conjunction of being and becoming, an implicit valorization of identity as a compound, transnational construct arguably undergirds the cultural production of contemporary metropolitan diasporas. Yet at the same time this doubleness occasions shifting attitudes and temporalities and is not necessarily a panacea. R. Radhakrishnan explains the phenomenon this way:

The tensions between the old and new homes create the problem of divided allegiances that the two generations experience differently... To what extent does the ’old country’ function as a framework and regulate our transplanted identities within the diaspora? Should the old country be revered as a pregiven absolute, or is it all right to invent the old country itself in response to our contemporary location?... when people move, identities, perspectives, and definitions change. (123)

22While this alternation between, or simultaneous affiliation with two cultural and political locations may constitute the essence of diaspora on the one hand, articulating differential and even rhizomic patterns of belonging, its specific rejection of the nation qua political entity as the ultimate and exclusive source of identitarian association or attachment radically reforms longstanding notions of the symbiotic nature of identity and territory. Paul Gilroy provides a clarification of the paradoxes associated with such developments:

The idea of diaspora offers a ready alternative to... rooted belonging. It rejects the popular image of natural nations spontaneously endowed with self-consciousness... diaspora is a concept that problematizes the cultural and historical mechanics of belonging. It disrupts the fundamental power of territory to determine identity by breaking the simple sequence of explanatory links between place, location, and consciousness. (Gilroy 2000: 123)

23By building on such an identitarian perspective, one that valorizes disruption, disjuncture, and diffusion, migrant Caribbean communities in these European metropoles would reconceive the implicitly sequential connection between belonging and identity. Instead they would construct a protean framework for their cultural realignments, drawing on patterns of subjective simultaneity and plural possibility that would facilitate the emergence of new forms of diasporic identity. Identity, in these terms, is a construct in constant evolution, and is best seen, in Stuart Hall’s words, as-’a “production”, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation’ (Hall 1990: 222). Pursuing the resonances and implications of this critical intersection of subjectivity and representation will continue to extend and (re) define our view of the limits and activities of the current Caribbean diaspora.

24As these metropoles are increasingly recognized as the new postcolonial cultural contact zones, there is no question but that these overseas Caribbean diasporas are infiltrated and infused with critical traces of otherness that, as Hall argues, somehow articulate a new set of possibilities that allows these groups, displaced into a new, hybrid space of Englishness and Caribbeanness which is, simultaneously, both and neither, to meld change with continuity so that they ’became “West Indian” in England’ (Hall 2003b: 188). In this way, the series of interactions and exchanges that gave rise to creolization in the Caribbean Sea are reproduced and transformed in the metropolitan site, whose ethnic, cultural, social, and political difference (s) produce alternative networks of being and becoming, as he continues, ’they contract relations with the surrounding society and culture; increasingly, they are open to crosscultural influences; over time, their historic traditions become modified to a greater or lesser extent by the persistent contacts of everyday life’. In these terms, then,” the process of transculturation is unstoppable “(2003b: 190), such that the creole language (s) of the metropole (s) now reflect not only their cultural and geographical distance from their points of linguistic origin, but also the necessary doubleness and creativity of a subject both positioned and positioning itself.

25The creolization process that was once the (hall) mark of the cultures of the periphery is thus now exported to the center, in a new moment of spatial and cultural appropriation that (re) marks the amorphous nature of national boundaries; an assertion of modernity that frames and enables the (re) doubling of identity for the (re) defined Caribbean diaspora. But does this secondary moment of metropolitan creolization engender in its turn a similar framework for creole identity to that produced, if only in part, by the metropolitan presence during the colonial period? Françoise Vergès suggests an apt caveat in this regard, ’Creolization is a process, with a dynamics of consolidation and reification of identities. The world might be in the process of creolization; Creole identities remain” identities”, that is, the processes of identification to which they adhere cannot be foreseen’ (357). Given today’s increasingly fluid characterizations of nations and borders, and their shifting corollaries of ethnicity, language, and nationality, increasingly penetrative patterns of creolization lead to the concept of ’multiple subject positions’ as being more reflective of today’s postmodern, peripatetic condition where communities are predicated on incessant fragmentation, doubling, and displacement. This leads to a sort of post/colonial palimpsest where the metropolis is increasingly being feted as the space where the empire writes back to the center, engendering a material and symbolic re-visioning of the metropolitan role in which, as Françoise Vergès writes: ’There is now a pastoral of postcolonialism in which the city is the locus of transnational politics’ (356). Within such a compound framework of cultural exchange, it is becoming increasingly clear as a consequence that, both for diasporic groups and their metropolitan Others, the possibility of firmly fixing either identity or its boundaries and limits is an increasingly implausible proposition.

26The resulting expansion and circularity of cultures, and indeed their transgressional contact and overflow beyond national borders and boundaries, belies the longstanding binaries of a colonial ideology predicated upon the notion of cultures and peoples as distinct and self-contained, the kind of ideology that allowed, and indeed encouraged, the spread of hierarchies of inequality and attitudes of appropriation arising from the growth of the nation-state. With the patterns of creolization to which these practices gave rise re-turning to the metropole, these colonially-driven demographies that have historically articulated discretely constructed subjectivities and cultures finds itself subverted from within by the dissonances and doubleness of a migrant Caribbean cultural plurality, whose diasporic discourses of subjectivity contest and contradict assumptions of integrity grounding longstanding unitary concepts of Britishness and Frenchness. By contrast, in seeking to define these patterns in contradistinction to Bhabha’s characterization of this colonial phenomenon as ’this ’part’ culture, this partial culture... the contaminated yet connective tissue between cultures’ (54; emphasis in the original), these expanding pluralities of diasporic difference project rather a signal moment of cultural splitting, where the very incom-mensurability of the encounter between diaspora and intégrisme disturbs the singular axes of national culture and traces complex new tendrils of interdependent affiliation.

27These arbiters of identity and affiliation remain inveterately problematic, and pose seemingly intractable challenges for today’s diasporic communities. As Gilroy explains in a wider diasporic context, between difference and its signification (s) lies the troublesome terrain of unity:

The status of nationality and the precise weight we should attach to the conspicuous differences of language, culture, and identity which divide the blacks of the diaspora from one another, let alone from Africans, are unresolved within the political culture that promises to bring the disparate peoples of the black Atlantic world together one day. (Gilroy 2003: 70)

28But even in these terms, which suggest that in a post-migration era Britishness, Frenchness or Caribbeanness does not remain static, but in fact is variably inflected by perceived differences of language and culture within and beyond the metropole, the resulting intersections and divisions speak directly to the protean, transformative character of the Caribbean diaspora, and draw on it to creatively redefine broader, long-held notions of nation, identity, and belonging. Here the challenge is a complex one, and involves ’trying to ’represent’ the complex multifaceted aesthetic and political meanings of... diaspora culture, ’ as Kobena Mercer puts it (252). But if such considerations lead us to privilege the concept of cultural identity over national identity in the Caribbean diasporic formation, such an approach must also come to terms with whether cultural identity itself here is singular or plural, fragmented or holistic. In addition, such a re-centering of the concept of diaspora also compels us to relocate Caribbeanness beyond the implicit limitations of nation, language and culture, and to valorize the pluralisms that, in Benitez-Rojo’s words, have always rendered Caribbean cultural patterns ’excessive, dense, uncanny, [and] asymmetrical’ (23). Over time, these cultural and diasporic patterns would gradually reshape the defining terms and themes of Caribbean literary production through shifting patterns of self and belonging so that ’the presence of the past in the absences of popular memory is invoked through multiple chains of association, ’ as Mercer continues (253). As the varied iterations of diaspora are increasingly incorporated into the inscription of Caribbean subjectivity, the monolithic ideal of identity imposed on the region as the heritage of the colonial encounter reveals the longstanding diasporic pluralities and practices that are integral to its capacity for articulation.


Works Cited

Alleyne, Mervyn C. ’A Linguistic Perspective on the Caribbean’, in Caribbean Contours, Sidney W. Mintz and Sally Price, eds. Baltimore, MD; Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985; 155-180.

Balibar, Etienne and Immanuel Wallerstein. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso, 1991.

Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Trans. James E. Maraniss, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

Bhabha, Homi. ’Culture’s In-Between’, in Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, eds. London: Sage, 1996; 53-60.

Beriss, David. Black Skins, French Voices: Caribbean Ethnicity and Activism in Urban France. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004.

Cohen, Robin. ’The Diaspora of a Diaspora: The Case of the Caribbean’, in Social Science Information, 31: 1 (1992): 159-169.

Cohen, Robin. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. New York: Methuen, 1997.

Edwards, Brent Hayes. The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Favell, Adrian. Philosophies of Integration: Immigration and the Idea of Citizenship in France and Britain. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Gilroy, Paul. ’The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity’, in Theorizing Diaspora, Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur, eds. New York, NY: Blackwell, 2003; 49-80.

Hall, Stuart. ’Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, Jonathan Rutherford, ed. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990; 222-237.

Hall, Stuart. ’The Question of Cultural Identity’, in Modernity and its Futures, Stuart Hall, David Held and Tony Mcgrew, eds. London: Polity Press, 1992; 273-325.

Hall, Stuart. ’Negotiating Caribbean Identities’, New Left Review 209 (Jan-Feb 1995): 3-14.

Hall, Stuart. ’Créolité and the Process of Creolization’, in Créolité and Creolization: Documenta 11_Platform 3. Okwui Enwezor et al., eds. Hatje Cantz: Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2003a; 27-41.

Hall, Stuart. ’Creolization, Diaspora, and Hybridity in the Context of Globalization’ In Créolité and Creolization: Documenta 11_Platform 3. Okwui Enwezor et al., eds. Hatje Cantz: Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2003b; 185-198.

Mercer, Kobena. ’Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination: The Aesthetics of Black Independent Film in Britain’, in Theorizing Diaspora, Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur, eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003; 247-60.

Radhakrishnan, R. ’Ethnicity in an Age of Diaspora’, in Theorizing Diaspora, Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur, eds. New York, NY: Blackwell, 2003; 119-131.

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Vergès, Françoise. ’Post-Scriptum’, in Relocating Postcolonialism, David Theo Goldberg and Ato Quayson, eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002; 349-358.


1 For an excellent overview of subcontinental immigration into the region and its several effects and implications, see Bridget Brereton, 1981, particularly Ch. 6, ’The Newcomers 1838-1917’.

2 For an excellent overview and discussion, see Anselin, 1990.

3 The term DOM is an acronym derived from department d’outre-mer, or ’overseas department, ’ referring to the law of 1946 that incorporated France’s quatre vieilles colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion, into the French state as integral elements of the nation, and conferring citizenship on its inhabitants. This remains the only case of former colonies being assimilated into the national framework of their erstwhile colonial masters. Hence a term like domien, referring to a person originally from one of these territories, whether currently located in metropole or DOM.


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