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  • Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic:The Experience of the African Diaspora
  • Christine Chivallon (bio)
    Translated by Karen E. Fields, Visiting scholar
Christine Chivallon
Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Pessac
Karen E. Fields, Visiting scholar
Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Pessac
Christine Chivallon

Christine Chivallon is a geographer and currently a researcher in the CNRS's Maison des Sciences de l'Homme d'Aquitaine near Bordeaux, France. She is the author of Espace et Identité à la Martinique: Paysannerie des mornes et reconquête collective, 1840-1960 (Éditions CNRS, 1998) and of numerous articles, including "Images of Creole Diversity and Spatiality: A Reading of Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco" (Ecumene 1997); "Bristol and the Eruption of Memory: Making the Slave-Trading Past Visible" (Social and Cultural Geography 2001); "Du territoire au réseau : comment penser l'identité antillaise" (Cahiers d'études africaines 1997); and, on a topic also covered in her essay in this issue of Diaspora, "La diaspora noire des Amériques : réflexions sur le modèle de l'hybridité de Paul Gilroy" (l'Homme : revue française d'anthropologie 2002).


1. That difference between the two models of the diaspora—one "classic" and the other "hybrid"—and between the corresponding human experiences—those of Jewish and of Black people—emerges especially well from Hall's contribution. In the last chapter of The Black Atlantic, Gilroy's purpose is more to find resemblances between the experiences of the two peoples than to make them reveal the different content of different diaspora experiences.

2. Paul Gilroy was born in the United Kingdom to a Guyanese mother and an English father. A sociologist, he taught at the University of London (Goldsmiths' College) before being recruited to Yale University. Among British intellectuals, he is regarded as one of the most influential on the renewed field of sociology in Britain. One of his first contributions dates from 1982, when he was a co-author of the famous collective work of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain. Located in Birmingham and led by Stuart Hall, a native of Jamaica and recognized as one of the "founding fathers" of cultural studies (Mattelard and Neveu; Bonnet), the CCCS helped to launch a generation of very politically engaged Black intellectuals. Paul Gilroy seems to have taken up the baton. He dedicated a collective work in honor of Stuart Hall (Gilroy, Grossberg, and McRobbie).

3. Afrocentrism embraces a very wide spectrum, and its variants should be distinguished. Claims of an African heritage linked with a more or less racialized notion of culture represent one sort of position; quite another is the racist ideology that proclaims the genetic superiority of Black people and the degeneracy of white people. The latter ideology is most often associated with the writings of the Black American psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing (Van Deburg 295). In any case, the term "afrocentrism" seems to be reserved to designate the "Afrocentric school." Developed in the United States by Molefi Asante, its project is to affirm a single, unified African civilization (cradled in ancient Egypt) as prior to, and the necessary condition of, Western civilization (see the account of Van Deburg). S. Howe, a British political scientist, devoted a polemical book to the denunciation of its errors. His method is to examine the scientific validity of the afrocentrists' historical arguments. His discipline notwithstanding, Howe proceeds without giving even a moment's attention to the sociological scientific question of what adherence to afrocentrism might mean. What is more, he does not distinguish adequately among the various afrocentrisms and other conceptions oriented to recovering the African heritage and racial dignity. In his hands, all Black nationalist discourses collapse into one, different as they might be from one another (those of Edward Wilmot Blyden, Aimé Césaire, Marcus Garvey, Jean Price-Mars, Frantz Fanon, Cheikh Anta Diop, Walter Rodney, and many others)—as though all tend "naturally" toward a single path, the restricted sense of afrocentrism as a cult of origin.

4. Kwanzaa is a December holiday in the United States, invented by Karenga as an alternative to the materialism of the Western Christmas. It is meant to restore...