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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 3

Corinne Duboin
Claudine Raynaud


‘Racial Stalemate’?: Black/African Diaspora and African American ‘Identity’1

Corinne Duboin et Claudine Raynaud

Texte intégral

  • 1 The term ’racial stalemate’ is taken from Barack Obama’s speech ‘A More Perfect Union’ (March 18, 2 (...)
  • 2 These selected essays initiated as presentations at the conference ‘African Americans, “Race”, Dias (...)
  • 3 In the 60s, George Shepperson emphatically stated: ‘The Middle Passage and the experience of slaver (...)

1This volume of essays—theoretical interventions as well as case studies—tries to draw the link between new conceptions of African American ‘identity’, the changing curricula of Departments of African American Studies, and the input of current developments in Diaspora Studies, more particularly ‘Africa-diaspora studies’ (Manning 2003: 488) as they have evolved since the 1990s.2 While African Americans are part of the African diaspora as descendants of slaves3, the concept of the ‘African diaspora’, its history and its evolution, troubles and informs their relationship to Africa (the continent as the real and/or imagined homeland) and to African Studies (the disciplinary field). In turn, African Studies and Africa-diaspora Studies overlap and have engaged in debates and dialogues that have mutually and continuously reconfigured their objects of study over the years (Manning 2003). What should be noted from the start is the constant reminder in the field of the lack of precision with which ‘Africa’ is apprehended: it is often seen as an undifferentiated mass and, as Gomez has underlined, slaves only became ‘Africans’ once they were in America (1998).

2In the 2008 edition of his Global Diasporas (1997), Robin Cohen, a sociologist specialized in migration studies and a leading scholar in the field, explains his choice of the word ‘diaspora’ to conceptualize new patterns and unprecedented formations:

Could refashioning the old idea of diaspora provide a means to understand new and revived forms of transnational and transtatal movements? How were these movements mapping onto, and changing, the accepted ways of understanding global migration, emerging identities, complex oscillating flows and unexpected patterns of settlement and integration?

  • 4 Manning, for instance, signals that Gilroy leaves out Africa’s contribution to modernism and writes (...)
  • 5 At the University of Michigan, for instance, CAAS (Center for African American and African Studies) (...)

3The diverse uses of ‘diaspora’ initiated in the field of Cultural Studies (Hall 1990; Clifford 1992), and then elaborated in relation to black consciousness and modernity (Gilroy 1993; Edwards 2001; 2003) have impacted African American Studies and generated controversies and discussions.4 A rethinking of African American ‘identity’ in relation to a subject, more broadly and complexly understood as racialized and diasporic, has been under way. Tensions have come up in the disciplinary field once constructed as Black Studies, then African American Studies or African American and African Studies5 as it integrated the new research or refused to accommodate it. In the mid 90s, Gilroy’s notion of the ‘Black Atlantic’ replaced the experience of slavery at the center, at the same time as it effected a critique of ‘nationalism’ (cultural nationalism) and racial essentialism (afrocentrism) (Raynaud 2012), two notions crucial to historical definitions of ‘blackness’. More specifically, the conveners wanted to test whether the concept of ‘intersectionality’ (Crenshaw 1991; Collins 1998; 2006; 2008; McKinnon 2013) proved a useful tool in the current efforts that draw on Black Feminist Studies, Gender Studies, Queer theory and GLBT Studies. The concepts of super-diversity (Vertovec 2006; 2007), multi-ethnicity and multiraciality, might help reconfigure the ‘black subject’ in process (Kristeva 1977), a subject that increasingly finds him/herself within what Avtar Brah has named ‘diaspora space’:

Diaspora space is the intersectionality of diaspora, border, and dis/location as a point of confluence of economic, political, cultural and psychic processes. [...] Diaspora space is the point at which boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, of belonging and otherness, of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are contested.
(1996: 208–9)

  • 6 Cohen labels Brah a social constructivist and bemoans a loss of precision among postmodern scholars (...)

4Away from the authenticity of a prescribed blackness and the fixed categories of racialized discourse, ‘identity as a process of movement and mediation’ (Gilroy 1993: 19) would rest on fluidity, multiplicity, and contingency. It is practiced more than ascribed, experienced more than attributed in the constant shift between self- and other-definition. As Brah makes clear, the mobilities inherent in diasporas, and the concomitant construction of diasporic selves, contest borders, challenge boundaries, interrogate a multilayered conception of identity. They unsettle racial categories, and consequently, racial hierarchies, which, in her vision of a postmodern subjectivity, they may contribute to undo.6

  • 7 The division of Africa between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa is still used in an opposition b (...)
  • 8 ‘Let us use some other terminology. Let us speak of the African dispersion, or uprooted Africa as s (...)
  • 9 One must note the implication of Caribbean leaders alongside African Americans.

5The third term in our equation, the notion of ‘race’ has been historically articulated with that of black/African diaspora, more specifically in the late 19th and early 20th century (Manning 2003: 489). After WWII, race gave way to place in African Studies and, in the 60s, efforts to establish historical and cultural connections superseded discourses that relied on racial organization. The oscillation between the term ‘black’ and ‘African’ to qualify the forced (or willed) migration of people from the African continent foregrounds this very fact and links the complexity of the ‘African diaspora’ to race studies more so than other dispersals and diasporic consciousnesses.7 From the start, the term itself was debated as some favored ‘African dispersion’ or ‘scattered Africa’.8 As Ashraf Rushdy observes, the notion of ‘African diaspora’ is linked to nationalism: the political movement known as Pan-Africanism (Delany, Crummel, C.R.L. James, Padmore, Blyden, Du Bois, Garvey)9 and the emergence of the African nation-states after their independences. Patrick Manning also retraces how the rival discourse of pan-Africanist studies developed in the 60s, parallel to studies of the African diaspora (2003: 491). While the first project focused on cultural representations of black identity and the political expressions of nationalism, the latter looked more broadly at the African influence in the world. Whereas nationalism is the contested term in Diaspora Studies that conversely stresses transnationalism (Tölölyan 1991: 3–4), the history of the ‘African diaspora’ is de facto tied to the emergence of pan-Africanism, the fight against anti-black racism, and Third World consciousness. Consequently, it cannot be severed from the concepts of ‘nation’ and of nationalism. Neither can it be separated from the slave trade, slavery and the colonization and de-colonization of the African continent. Slavery and postcoloniality, as well as race consciousness, are at the core of its often contested exceptionalism. Trauma, oppression, and forced migration are still coterminous with ‘black’ diaspora (see Cohen 2008: 40–48) in an opposition between ‘victim diasporas’ such as the Jews, the Irish, the Armenians, and the Palestinians, and ’deterritorialized diasporas’ (for example, Caribbean peoples [Cohen 2008: 124–135]). Alternatively, a diachronic distinction should be made between ‘historical diaspora’, a product of the slave trade and slavery, and whose main distinguishing feature is the length of time of its happening (from the 15th to the mid 19th century), and ‘modern African diaspora’ (Harris 2001). There have been, and are still, many ‘African’ diasporas.

  • 10 Golden defines ‘post-black’ as ‘a clarifying term that had ideological and chronological dimensions (...)

6While the emphasis on race gave way to a foregrounding of ‘nation’, and then to the contestation of the latter term in the evolution of the field, ‘race’ itself is now under increased scrutiny at the very moment of signal developments in diaspora studies. Either seen as declining in significance (Wilson 1978) or still mattering (West 1994), the new millennium witnesses its questioning as a relevant category, primarily among US scholars. Indeed, with the election of Barack Obama to the US Presidency, the term ‘post-race’ has achieved a certain currency. Together with ‘post-black’, a notion that emerged within the discipline of art history (Golden 2001)10, ‘post-raciality’ stands at the core of heated debates among scholars (cf. Touré 2011; Patterson 2011). The question raised is, among others: has the rise of a black bourgeoisie brought an end to the ‘victim’ status of the black minority? The possibility of expressing a multi-racial identity on Census forms since 2000 reflects a change in mindset, even if its impact is extremely limited, or even nonexistent. What is the role of new African immigrants in building post-racial societies in the US, Europe, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American/Caribbean countries? As most American scholars have acknowledged, post-raciality is a utopic gesture, and systemic racism still a reality. Yet certain changes have nonetheless occurred that put forward mixed identities, hybridity, and fluency. Lawrence Bobo, for instance, explains how Jim Crow has indeed been followed by other kinds of racism (laissez-faire racism, symbolic racism) and gives at least three controversial definitions of post-racialism. The first one corresponds to ‘the waning salience of what some have portrayed as a “black victimology” narrative’ (2011: 13). The second one supports the proposition that ‘the demographic makeup and the identity choices and politics of Americans are rendering the traditional black-white divide irrelevant’ (2011: 13–14). The third, and most contested one, asserts that ‘American society, or at least a large and steadily growing fraction of it, has genuinely moved beyond race’ (2011: 14). His answer is that, if Jim Crow is a thing of the past, post-racialism can only be the hoped-for future of an appeased and unified American society.

  • 11 See the bibliography at the end of this volume.

7As it embraced or entered into a dialogue with the Black Atlantic, current research on Blacks in Europe, Blacks in Latin America and in the Indian Ocean11 has opened new ways of conceptualizing race and black consciousness. The relation to time and place, heritage and territory, history and memory of peoples of African descent has been rethought notably through approaches such as global or connected history. The conception of black diasporas as rhizomatic, in motion, and plural leads to reformulating such cultural manifestations as the Harlem Renaissance or political struggles like the fight against apartheid. Can transnationalism, creolization, or cosmopolitanism be substituted to or complement ‘black diapora’ (cf. Cohen 2008: xvi)? How are we to think of a ‘global’ black diapora in the context of intercultural and interracial exchanges? Gilroy prefers the term ‘planetary’ to ‘global’, tainted as it is with colonizing impulses, in his reflection on the loss of the British Empire and race-thinking and chooses to promote a cosmopolitan ‘planetary humanism’ (2000a). A comparison between African Americans and new African migrants to the US may help us confront the longue durée social process of diaspora sedimentation and short durée recent migration flows, as Veroni-Paccher explains in this volume. Africanist historian Michael Gomez offers for his part a comparative study of Morocco and the Dominican Republic in relation to ‘blackness’ that eventually shows a fluctuation of identity formations congruent with the analyses and comments of literary and art critics.

  • 12 Other names could be added to this list, such as Teju Cole, Uzodinma Iweala, and Chris Abani.

8We had indeed ventured that the arts—literature, the visual arts, popular culture, the Internet—were privileged markers of the evolutions that Diaspora studies analyze: notions of avant-garde, of globalization, of utopias. The current controversy around African American literature (Warren 2011a; 2011b, Gates 2010), the presence of writers who reject racial identification (cf. Everett, Whitehead), and the flowering of an American literature from the African diaspora (cf. Adichie, Mengestu, inter alia)12, point towards an unsettling of categories. The scholars in the humanities that answered our call took up the challenge of investigating the changing contours of African American-diasporic identities in novels, films, art exhibits, poems or personal essays. What emerged is a postmodernist questioning of ‘race’ in such works as Everett’s Erasure (2001) and his I am Not Sidney Poitier (2009), together with a broader political commitment that draws on interracial and inter-ethnic coalition like the Canadian collective ‘Writing Thru Race’ and ventures a ‘black Pacific’. Grounded in a reinterpretation of the past of slavery, the works of Atlantic visual artists Kara Walker, Fred Wilson, Magdalena Campos-Pons, Lubaina Himid do not stop at mourning, but call for action. This political mobilization is concurrent with memory work presently undertaken in Europe and the Americas. Memorialization— the creation of museums, the edification of monuments, and official celebrations included in national calendars—marks the current turn to fight invisibility and oblivion. It is a concrete example of the working of a politicized notion of the black diaspora at the level of diverse national consciousnesses.

9Such a political future for the notion of diaspora was indeed noted by Cohen when he underlined the directions of diaspora studies. Focusing on the work of younger scholars like Anthias (1995), Sökefeld (2006), and Chariandy (2006), he stressed that:

For Chariandy a diasporic consciousness represents but one form of mobilization in a wider struggle to attain global social justice. Again the implication of crossover with other communities is clear and indeed he perhaps goes furthest in meeting Anthias’s demand that the diasporic idea should be made compatible with a cross-ethnic cooperative struggle by progressive forces and third world peoples of many different backgrounds.
(Cohen 2008: 15, italics mine)

10Echoing what these researchers ultimately advocate, the linkages between African American ‘identity’ and the Black Diaspora, difficult as they may be to establish, thus become an instrument for greater social awareness, for the apprehension of a layered self, together with a more comprehensive understanding of cross-national, cross-racial alliances. This gesture seems thus to repeat with a displacement the politicization present at the inception of the concept. Although Cohen has stressed the backlash that would derive from state controlled ‘diasporas’—economic and nationalistic advantages are in effect drawn from them—, the relation between ‘home’ (the US) and an imagined ‘homeland’ (Africa) and the denunciation of the racial stigma associated to ‘blackness’ at home or abroad manifest a will to go ‘beyond race’ while acknowledging the reality of its effects. The murder of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in Jefferson, MO, on August 9th, 2014 and the race riots that lasted a week and saw the intervention of the National Guard bring us back to the persistence of racial divide and racial hatred in the US. More recently, on Dec. 23, 2014, another black teenager, Antonio Martin, eighteen, was shot dead by a white police officer at a gas station in Berkeley, MO. The killing sparked violent protests, as did a grand jury’s decision last November not to charge police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. The fatal incidents and the recent verdict raise questions about law enforcement, police brutality and race in America. Yet the mobilization and the exposure given to those crimes, the international outrage they have provoked, are sure signs of effective transformations.

11Robin Cohen listed four phases in Diaspora Studies, the first one corresponding to the classical model (i.e. the Jewish Diaspora). The second phase saw the use of diaspora as ‘a metaphoric designation’ to describe different categories of people—‘expatriates, expellees, political refugees, alien residents, immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities tout court’ (Safran 1991: 83). He labeled the third ‘the social constructivist phase’, a phase that still pervades some of the current academic endeavors. The last phase was one of consolidation. He emphasized:

While the increased complexity and deterritorialization of identities are valid phenomena and constitutive of a small minority of diasporas (generally those that had been doubly or multiply displaced over time), ideas of home and often the stronger inflection of homeland remain powerful discourses and ones which, if anything, have been more strongly asserted in key examples.
(Cohen 2008: 2)

  • 13 The others are West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and North Africa. It is th (...)

12‘Home’ and ‘homeland’ thus remained key notions among diasporic communities. Do they still function as such in the African diaspora and for the African American minority in the US? Is there a new distance between African Americans and Africans from the diaspora? This new distance would in fact reflect the divides within the African American community itself, with a large portion of that population being impoverished and, as numerous studies have shown, more likely to be incarcerated according to what has been named the ‘New Jim Crow’. While scholars ponder the plasticity of identities (the different ways in which one can inhabit blackness), the racial factor remains as a fixture of the American social fabric. At the same time, the African Union has defined the African Diaspora as the ‘sixth zone’: i.e. another zone that is not located on the Continent, but that must be taken into account when dealing with ‘Africa’.13 Institutional reality has been given to what was, has been, and can still be a progressive political notion and, as the essays in this volume demonstrate, if aptly used, a tool to understand and ponder the changing notion of what it is to be ‘black’ in America and abroad.

13The volume includes a selection of fourteen essays delving into the subjects of ‘race’ and Diaspora through theoretical and practical analyses in an interdisciplinary way that stimulates dialogue and new thinking.

14The first part of the volume ‘Theorizing Diaspora, Blackness and Post-Raciality’ broaches the subject with four essays that question these concepts through a sociohistorical perspective. They outline the shifts and persistence in the perceptions of African Diaspora identities and the long-lasting construction of Blackness as otherness.

15In ‘The Diaspora of and to Nations?: The Case of Africa’, Ashraf Rushdy opens the discussion with a focus on the formation of the African Diaspora concept, its introduction during the 1965 first international conference on African history held in Dar es Salaam, and the ensuing development of African Diaspora Studies discussed during the 1979 conference held at Howard University. Rushdy’s critical synthesis of the debates allows him to show the points of convergence and divergence between African scholars and their American counterparts, as members of the African Diaspora. As Rushdy points out, the seminal discussions held in Dar es Salaam and the questions raised about the definition of Diaspora in relation to nation and nationalism have to be (re-) examined within the geopolitical context of the mid-60s: the postindependence period in Africa, where new decolonized nation-states emerged, in parallel with the post-Civil Rights era and the rise of black nationalism in the U.S. In 1979, St. Clair Drake oriented the debates sparked in 1965 toward the political role of the African Diaspora, its range around the globe, and the notion of return. The goals, scope and objectives of African Diaspora Studies were also discussed, questioning the relation between an academic approach to the African Diaspora as a field of studies and a more political one within a Pan-African project. Given the contemporary developments of theory, stemming from these initial discussions, and the new meanings of ‘Diaspora’ that have come out in the context of globalization, Rushdy concludes on the possibility to envision Diaspora identity as an ‘alternative to nationalism’ that unites rather than divides the African Diaspora disseminated around the world.

16In his essay, ‘Peregrinations of “Blackness” and Race across Time and Space: The Impulse of Mitigation’, Michael Gomez extends the discussions and debates; he opts for a comprehensive approach to African Diasporas—advocated by Drake—to explore the shaping of national identities in relation to race and the perceptions of Blackness and Africanness on a global scale. His comparative analysis encompasses multiracial societies with a distinct history of black slavery and slave trading in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, or the Atlantic. Gomez focuses on the United Arab Emirates (Qatar and Oman in particular), Morocco, and the Dominican Republic so as to shed light on salient similarities in the ways these societies have responded to the presence of an African Diaspora throughout history. He demonstrates how these racially stratified societies have been continuously built on porous, fluctuating if not loose definitions of national and ethnic identities (the sense of ‘Arabness’ or ‘Dominicanness’). Gomez underlines that the unstable (re) constructions of imagined communities and their biased collective sense of self have resulted in a shared ongoing denial, erasure, or rejection of Africanness that still persists today throughout the world.

17Besides, the increasing ethnic diversity of North American and European societies also requires a rethinking of ‘race’, blackness and the African Diaspora. On the political scene, the election and re-election of Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president, together with the appointments of Ministers of African descent in European democracies in the past few years have led some to believe that the Western World has entered a new color-blind era. Thus, Lisa Veroni-Paccher and Mark Reid interrogate the pertinence of such recent concepts as ‘post-raciality’ and ‘post-blackness’. In her essay ‘Blackness and the African Diaspora in “Postracial” America’, Lisa Veroni-Paccher argues that the recent presence of non-European migrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America challenges rigid racial categorizations in contemporary America. Using public opinion data, she points out the need to move beyond the now-obsolescent white/black binary opposition. In ‘Whose “Post-Racial” “Post-Black” is it?: USA, France, Italy and England’, Mark Reid uses iconographic documents and newspaper articles to examine the contradictions between the promotion of new political discourses erasing ‘race’ and obvious public manifestations of everyday racism. Reid thus gives evidence that weakens the theory of postracism/post-blackness.

18The second part of the volume, ‘African Americans, “Race” and/in War’, gathers together three essays that investigate, through the lens of military history, the agency of the Black Diaspora and its commitment to defeat injustices. The essays explore the impact of war on African Americans soldiers who volunteered to serve their country.

19In ‘“Making Abolitionists of the Whole Community”: Jeffrey Brace and Charles Bowes’, Anthony Parent sheds light on the lives of two African American Revolutionary War veterans and ministers, using their memoirs and pension records. These primary sources are rich with details that help reconstruct the struggles of two men who enlisted in the Continental Army, fought for both national independence and personal freedom, and later became fervent abolitionists in the New Republic.

20In her essay ‘Civil Rights Pioneers: Building Race Consciousness in the WWII Armed Forces’, Maggi Morehouse also demonstrates the growth of race consciousness among African American men and women at war, who served in segregated military units during WWII. Morehouse, who has collected many testimonials and oral narratives of African American soldiers over the past twenty years, together with letters and official records, contends that during the postwar years, disillusioned black veterans—who had fought for Democracy abroad— became active participants in the Civil Rights movement, demanding equality and full citizenship rights.

21Christine Vogt-William expends the study of Diasporic consciousness in WWII with a focus on black veterans based in postwar Germany. Her essay ’ “If it’s a game of colors you want to play”: Contemporary Literary Representations of African American GIs in Germany’ concentrates on two literary texts: Michael Dorris’s novel Cloud Chamber (1997) and the autobiography Color My World (2011) by Donald Vaughn, a former African American GI living in Frankfurt. Vogt-William examines how the protagonists are led to (re) negotiate their racial identities away from home.

22The theme of relocation and rediasporization is further developed in the third part, ‘Ex-Patriations, Diasporic Motions’. In ‘South by Southwest: James Baldwin in Provence’, Quentin Miller discusses the power of place and how the well-known Southern village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Baldwin’s last home, became a safe and inspiring environment for the writer in exile. Through the study of Baldwin’s works written in Saint-Paul, Miller shows that living in Provence helped the novelist and essayist gain some distance and a renewed vision of the American South.

23Malin Pereira’s essay ‘Branda Marie Osbey’s Black Internationalism’ also evaluates the passage from the South (Louisiana and New Orleans as a multiethnic, international space) to the broader Atlantic world by focusing on Osbey’s artistic and intellectual itinerary, her transnationalism and her representation of black Diasporic experience of home. Pereira examines the writer’s aesthetic changes by comparing her regional poem ‘Geography’ (1986) to Rita Dove’s ‘Ars Poetica’, and then to Osbey’s long poem ‘History’ (2008) that retraces the painful transatlantic history of the African Diaspora. She then analyzes Osbey’s recent essays written in France with a focus on the artist’s black internationalist discourse.

24In the same way, Delphine Gras’s ’In the Steps of the Griots: Traveling Bards in Shay Youngblood’s Black Girl in Paris examines how the novelist retraces the geographical and psychological journeys of young African American expatriates living in the cosmopolitan city. Gras uses the figure of the ‘griot’ to study the novel’s central female character Eden as a traveling storyteller and historian who looks back on the past and keeps her legacy alive by taking the same route that her predecessors, such as Hughes and Baldwin, did.

25The concluding part of our volume focuses on ‘Re-Presentations of the Black Subject’ in the fields of contemporary art and literature. Alan Rice’s ‘Guerilla Memorialisation in the Wake of Slavery’s Legacy: African Atlantic Art in the 1990s’ makes a comparative study of three female artists—Kara Walker, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Lubaina Himid—and their representations of the slave past. The essay sheds light on the confluences and divergences of their radical works that aim to give rise to a Diasporic consciousness by facing the abject through the memory of the Black Atlantic.

26Focusing on the Black Pacific, Heather Smyth’s ‘African Diaspora and Coalition: Multiracial Writing and Arts Activism in Canada’ expands the exploration of fluid Diasporic identities and affiliations along new theoretical lines by introducing the concept of coalition. Smyth thus presents a new approach for constructing innovative ‘relational models of community’ in multiracial societies through a study of Canadian writers and artists involved in antiracist arts activism.

27Alix Pierre’s contribution on visual art by and about women of the African Diaspora takes us on a tour of an exhibition entitled Material Girls and hosted by the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (Sept. 6-Dec 1, 2012). His study ‘Appropriating African Belief Systems: Renée Stout Re-Writes Her Self’ gives close attention to the artist’s installation piece ‘The Thinking Room’ that evokes a healer’s parlor and questions the representation of African-based spirituality.

28The issues of race and gender, the (de-/re-) construction of black masculinity in Percival Everett’s disturbing works are the main subject matters under discussion in Jennifer Wilks’s essay ’ “As real as the unreal”: Identity and Iconography in the Fiction of Percival Everett’. The African American novelist is a prolific writer whose complex innovative œuvre is often misread by critics. Through a re-appraisal of his works, Wilks shows that Everett does not reject race but redefines racial identity by debunking in a provocative way iconic black male figures.

29The point of this volume is to engage in transdisciplinary dialogue on race and Diaspora, to offer fresh perspectives on difficult timely subjects, and highlight the rich African American heritage and culture. Besides the fourteen essays it includes, this collective work is interspersed with five poems by Melba Joyce Boyd, a scholar of African American literature and film, as well as a writer, producer and film director. She took part in the 2013 Montpellier conference where she read some pieces of her poetry. Placed at the end of each main section, her poems illustrate the central topics of the volume.


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1 The term ’racial stalemate’ is taken from Barack Obama’s speech ‘A More Perfect Union’ (March 18, 2008). Accessed August 29th, 2014.

2 These selected essays initiated as presentations at the conference ‘African Americans, “Race”, Diaspora’ that took place at the University Paul-Valéry, Montpellier on June 13-15, 2013, the third event in the ‘Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, “Race”’ conference series, organized by the research center EMMA (University Paul-Valéry, Montpellier) in partnership with CAAR, CRLHOI (Université de La Réunion), MIGRINTER (Université de Poitiers), Department of Continuing Education (Oxford University, UK), Wake Forest University (NC, USA). In addition to the scholarly papers and keynote addresses by Michael Gomez and Tiffany Patterson, African American poetess and critic Melba Joyce Boyd read a selection of her poems from her collection Death Dance of a Butterfly (2012) and Percival Everett introduced his latest book, the detective novel Assumption (2012), translated into French as La Montée aux enfers, at a public reading sponsored by the local bookstore Sauramps.

3 In the 60s, George Shepperson emphatically stated: ‘The Middle Passage and the experience of slavery is central to the definition of the African Diaspora: the period of almost four hundred years of the European enslavement of Africans remains the heart of the African diaspora’ (1968: 156–57). Yet Africans ended up in Asia and the Mediterranean and the internal slave trade of the 7th and 8th century during the Islamic hegemony must not be overlooked.

4 Manning, for instance, signals that Gilroy leaves out Africa’s contribution to modernism and writes a ‘history of Blacks in the West’ (2003: 494).

5 At the University of Michigan, for instance, CAAS (Center for African American and African Studies), now DAAS (Department of Afroamerican and African Studies), funded in 1970, regroups Africanists and scholars in African American Studies.

6 Cohen labels Brah a social constructivist and bemoans a loss of precision among postmodern scholars of the diaspora. He critiques her attack on the foundational idea of homeland (2008: 9–10).

7 The division of Africa between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa is still used in an opposition between the Arab countries and ‘black’ Africa.

8 ‘Let us use some other terminology. Let us speak of the African dispersion, or uprooted Africa as somebody suggested, or scattered Africa’ (Martin 1993: 441).

9 One must note the implication of Caribbean leaders alongside African Americans.

10 Golden defines ‘post-black’ as ‘a clarifying term that had ideological and chronological dimensions and repercussions’, [...] the new genre was ‘characterized by artists who were adamant about not being labelled as “black” artists, though their work was steeped, in fact deeply interested, in redefining complex notions of blackness’ (2001: 14).

11 See the bibliography at the end of this volume.

12 Other names could be added to this list, such as Teju Cole, Uzodinma Iweala, and Chris Abani.

13 The others are West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and North Africa. It is the focus of increased attention on the part of African governments and institutions, as well as development programs and organizations.

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