- Afro(Americo)centricity in Black (American) Nova Scotia
A few families rose to prominence [in Baptist churches in Nova Scotia], created an aristocracy of the faith, and often held the church to more than ordinarily frozen and conservative theological and social positions.Winks 346
Winks's reading of African-Canadian history exhibits, purely, a small-l liberal, American bias. I would need an entire book to amend—one by one—his false precepts... African-Canadian 'progress' must be read against Canadian cultural norms, not American ones.Clarke, Odysseys Home 63–4n9
In formulating a vision of The Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy makes sorties against anti-essentialists who ignore the appeal of a "powerful, populist affirmation of black culture," "racial conservationists who veer between a volkish, proto-fascist sensibility and the misty-eyed sentimentality of those who would shroud themselves in the supposed moral superiority that goes with victim status" (100, 101). Canadian scholars have found Gilroy's work instructive. In Odysseys Home, George Elliott Clarke insists upon the "necessary attractiveness of cultural nationalism for any minority that feels itself downtrodden and disrespected" while warning of the "hazards of nationalism—its tendency to decay into fallacious myths, misty romanticisms, and blood-rite fascism" (183, 184). Yet Clarke does not only condemn the "liberal lies" of Robin Winks—the "American" (30, 124n9, 189) or "US" (155) author of The Blacks in Canada—and "those wanna-be black nationalists who suspect mixed-race or light-skinned blacks of being congenital [End Page 57] traitors."(183). He also reminds his readers of "the resistive workings of [Black British] cultural nationalism" in Gilroy's work and, more pointedly, the "blunt irrelevance" of Canada to The Black Atlantic(8).
Clarke's Canada-centric mission is to map "a persuasive cultural nationalist scholarship ... [which] can only arise from a basis of enlightened X-ray-exact, critical self-scrutiny" (Odysseys 202; emphasis added). He seeks to recuperate, "for progressive political use," the masculine, "chivalric" heroes of his youth, such as Malcolm X and Miles Davis ("Cool Politics"), as well as the spirit of Africville, a largely Black community whose land was appropriated by the Halifax city council in the 1960s in the name of integration, slum clearance, and prime waterfront land. Furthermore, Clarke adamantly moves beyond (without forgetting!) his Black (American) Nova Scotian, or "Africadian," childhood. Odysseys Home includes extensive analyses of "zebra" poets who reside on the West Coast, along with Black Canadians who re-imagine younger days spent outside of Canada.
My own dreams were shaped by a childhood in Merseyside, not the Maritimes; the eighties and nineties, rather than the sixties and seventies. There are similarities between the two regions on opposite sides of the North Atlantic Ocean—both are home to the oldest indigenous Black communities in their respective nations and are ignored in many diasporic and national studies focusing on connections among culturally chic centres.1 Contemporary dance acts of the Black Atlantic also encourage my attempts to seek connections to Clarke's youth, as Orange Muse gleefully announces (echoing Wavy Gravy), "The 90s are just the 60s turned upside down." Nonetheless, I was not raised in a community in which writers privileged the Black (Baptist) church as the institution "at the centre of the Black community" (Rocky Jones, TS 93), identifying or preserving and transmitting Black culture (Taylor 62; Walker 135).
While I remain wary of the ways my analysis might stray towards those historians (Canadian or otherwise) wishing to propagate stereotypes of a Maritime region consumed by aristocracies (Negro, religious, or otherwise),2 the following paper will chart how some Black Nova Scotian religious leaders responded to activists committed to ideas drawn from mythic, revolutionary sources. I will document the ways Rev. W.P. Oliver attacked Rocky Jones in the 1960s as an outside agitator "importing [End Page 58] violence" from militant Black Panthers; yet incorporated American ideas as his own in order appear as a "true race man" (Boyd, "Politics" 11). After outlining the question of leadership and of the "politics of the minority game" in Nova Scotia in the 1960s, I will turn to my conversations with Blacks in Nova Scotia in the summer of...