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Diaspora 4:2 1995 Is the Transr Is the United States Postcolonial? Transnationalism, Immigration, and Race and Rc Jenny Sharpe University of California at Irvine When I completed my doctorate in 1987, postcolonial studies was not a clearly defined field. I (like other diasporic Third World academics of my generation) applied for jobs in literature, to which we introduced the critical frame of Empire. And, like them, I began to shift my research and teaching away from European literature and toward the cultures of the ex-colonies. This shift occurred in response to the limitations of identifying colonial structures of power and knowledge without providing alternative frames of reference.1 But even as I say that my turn toward Third World literatures was in response to the demands ofthe classroom, I must also admit that I cannot disentangle mypersonal decision from the institutional demand for diasporic Third World intellectuals to teach what has come to be known as "postcolonial literature." A glance at any English curriculum will reveal that the Anglophone writings of former British colonies are now an essential offering. This inclusion represents the effort to reshape British literature in the same way that the canon of American literature had been transformed by the introduction of minority literatures and cultures. Recent hiring practices also suggest a resemblance between postcolonial and black/ethnic studies; affirmative action policies of United States minority programs have been extended to postcolonial studies, and diasporic Third World academics are increasingly identified with their place oforigin.2 What began around 1978 as the analysis of colonial discourse, and of institutions of power and domination, is being reshaped as a minority discourse. One indication of this reshaping is a turning of the critical gaze of postcolonial studies away from the ex-colonies and toward the United States. Given its history of imported slave and contract labor , continental expansion, and overseas imperialism, an implication ofAmerican culture in the postcolonial study of empires is perhaps long overdue. Yet, when used as a descriptive term for the United States, postcolonial does not name its past as a white settler colony or its emergence as a neocolonial power; rather, it designates the presence of racial minorities and Third World immigrants. For example, a recent reader on postcolonial theory includes writings by Diaspora 4:2 1995 African Americans under the rubric of the "postcolonial," defined as a category that "includes diasporic communities [and] 'ethnic minority ' communities within the overdeveloped world as well as formerly colonised national cultures" (Williams and Chrisman 373). The designation of "postcolonial" as an umbrella term for diasporic and minority communities is derived, in part, from an understanding of decolonization as the beginning of an unprecedented migration of peoples from the ex-colonies to advanced industrial centers. In Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha describes the presence of diasporic ex-colonials in Britain as the return of a repressed past that splits its national identity. By contrast, Member ofParliament Enoch Powell's perception ofBlack Britain as "detachments of communities in the West Indies, or India and Pakistan, encamped in certain areas of England" (236) understands Britain's postcolonial identity according to a nineteenth-century logic of nation and empire. This logic underpins the regulations that in Britain, Germany , France, and a nonimperial state like Switzerland, have served de facto to redefine the status of not from the European Economic Community immigrants as guest-workers. The term immigrant , in Western Europe, expresses a racist policy that excludes Third World peoples from the "imagined community" ofNation. The naming of Britain as postcolonial, then, is a recognition of the colonial history that precedes emigration from the empire and the racism that appears to have originated with the arrival of "immigrants ." The condition of the Third World migrant in Europe, however, has become a theoretical model within postcolonial studies, for explaining all colonized cultures, past and present. When Bhabha offers Toni Morrison's Beloved as an instance of the "transnational histories of migrants, the colonized, or political refugees" (12), he brings the diasporic experience ofAfrican slaves into a narrative of postwar urban migration. Such a formulation fails to distinguish between the presence of racial minorities in Europe, which is a condition of its imperial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 181-199
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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