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Diaspora 8:1 1999 An American Studies Dilemma Tim Watson Montclair State University Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America. Winston James. London and New York: Verso, 1998. Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957. Penny M. Von Eschen. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. Although these two important books deal with different periods in twentieth-century history, their motivation and strength come from strikingly similar analyses of the same moment in the postwar period, namely the rise of the US civil rights movement. Both authors argue that the gains of the 1950s and 1960s were made at the expense of an earlier American politics rooted in transnational solidarities (of both race and class), which was destroyed by the exclusive attention paid to the "American dilemma" of internal racism. James's and Von Eschen's revisionary works demonstrate the necessity for, and the potential of, a new post-Cold War, post-civil rights dialogue between US ethnic studies, especially African-American studies, and the more internationally oriented discourses of postcolonial studies and diaspora studies—and it is in the interests of furthering this dialogue that I am reviewing these books here. Penny Von Eschen argues that a vibrant and fruitful international collaboration between African-American radicals and anticolonial movements in Africa and Asia was broken up by the Truman administration's rhetoric about US civil rights and by Cold War anti-Communism, so that "African American liberals began to craft a dominant civil rights argument of the Cold War era, [which said] that discrimination at home must be fought because it undermined the legitimate U.S. leadership of the 'free world'" (3). After that, black internationalism ceased to be a major force in US political culture, according to Von Eschen's powerful account. Likewise, in an appendix to Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia that represents a sustained critique of Harold Cruse's classic Crisis 95 Diaspora 8:1 1999 of the Negro Intellectual, Winston James claims that the unparalleled influence of Cruse's work is partly due to his book's "remarkably strong, anti-foreign, nativist streak" (267). This baleful influence in African-American studies, James argues, has caused a powerful historical amnesia about the importance of Caribbean migrant intellectuals and activists in the radical political milieu of the United States in the interwar period. This unfortunate forgetting is a result of Cruse—and by extension the 1960s civil rights movement as a whole—"calling for a black nationalism that is homegrown, profoundly aware of its peculiar American environment , coming out of the American soil" (267). Von Eschen and James both claim, therefore, that earlier internationalist and diaspora-based politics have received short shrift from post-civil rights era historians of the United States because of that era's emphasis on American exceptionalism, a discourse that came to be shared by most black liberals and radicals. James's and Von Eschen's books, in other words, can be usefully situated at the unstable but potentially productive intersection of American ethnic studies and postcolonial studies. For the most part, postcolonial studies has drawn the line at including the United States, and even US minority cultures, within its rubrics—the problem of the US as simultaneously post-colony, colonizer, and neo-colonial power is one that has been frankly too difficult for postcolonial studies to resolve, and which it has tended therefore to ignore.1 And although US ethnic studies scholars, especially those in Chicano/a and Native American studies, have worked on many of the same political and cultural fronts as postcolonial studies— settler cultures versus indigenous cultures, border crossings, memories of underdevelopment, the politics of language, resistance literatures, and so on—actual contacts and debate between the two disciplines have, until recently, been minimal and inconclusive.2 Thus Ruth Frankenberg and Lata Mani, in their influential discussion of postcoloniality in Britain, South Asia, and North America, tentatively adopt the term "post-Civil Rights" to define the contemporary United States, in preference to "postcolonial" (292-4), acknowledging the difficulty of applying the terms of postcolonial studies to the US context: "We use the term 'post-Civil Rights' broadly, to refer to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 95-115
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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