- Black Nationalism in the New World: Reading the African-American and West Indian Experience
Robert Carr's introduction to Black Nationalism in the New World opens with a quote from George Lamming: "How you come to think of where you are, and how you come to think of your relation to where you are: this is very dependent on the character and the location of power as it exists where you are." The epigraph is apt for it captures two of the central themes of Carr's work—how geographical relationships of power have shaped the politics and the history of the New World and how black subjects have located themselves within those geographies of power. In his unearthing of texts that cross both disciplinary and territorial boundaries—from African American Martin Delany's novel Blake to the dramatic performances of the Caribbean theatre collective Sistren—Carr's transnational, comparative study offers new models of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural analysis for both African American and Caribbean studies.
The epistemological stakes of Black Nationalism in the New World run deeper than interdisciplinarity, however. Carr's scholarship can be located within an intellectual formation recently identified by the Latin Americanist theorist Walter Mignolo as the site of "an other thinking." In his description of the peculiar condition of the intellectual in the once-colonial world, Mignolo points out, "parallel to 'underdeveloped societies' there are 'silenced societies' . . . in which talking and writing take place but which are not heard in the planetary production of knowledge." This intellectual colonial world is limited by the lack of global recognition that it too has the capacity to "theorize" power, with insights unique to geographical location. Lamming's opening quote is doubly fitting, then, because it also provides a commentary on Carr's own subject position as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. A scholar of black nationalisms located geographically and politically in (what was once [End Page 481] known as) the Caribbean "periphery," one of Carr's strongest interventions is to theorize and thereby place Caribbean and New World black nationalisms at the center of the global study of nationalism.
In this respect, Black Nationalism can be seen as a response to two intellectual formations based very much in the "First World." One is the study of nationalism as shaped by Benedict Anderson's well-known formulation of the nation as an "imagined community." In his attempt to define Caribbean and black nationalisms in relationship to this scholarly discourse, Carr asks very different questions, for example, notonly how nationalism constructs the nation, but also how (black) nationalisms construct the world. His study traces the ways in which black subjects have been forced to construct and reconstruct their world, both locally and globally, in order to locate themselves as cultural and (geo)political actors. Carr's work suggests that by paying closer attention to these scarcely studied national formations, we may be forced to revise some of our most basic theoretical assumptions about the path, progress, and development of nationalism as a global phenomenon.
Carr's work also responds to the even more recent turn in African American studies toward notions of diaspora. In this latter instance, a figure such as Paul Gilroy becomes Carr's central interlocutor, as he asserts, "I differ from Gilroy's project of offering a black Atlantic paradigm. . . . Before [the African diaspora] can begin to talk about our commonalities we first have to understand the nature of our differences." Here Carr adopts too polarized a stance in relationship to Gilroy's work, almost seeming to position Black Nationalism in opposition to a text such as The Black Atlantic, as its Caribbean shadow. Instead, the central value of Carr's text remains precisely in what is implied in his subtitle: that by "reading African American and West Indian experiences" together, we are listening to a dialogue among a new generation of Caribbean and African-descended intellectuals, who form part of a larger formation of New World black intellectuals. In spite of...