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  • Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora by Karen Flynn
  • Alana Butler
Karen Flynn. Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 301 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $27.95. sc.

The title of Karen Flynn’s Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora only alludes to some of its rich content. At the time of writing, it is the only historical account of Black Canadian and Black Caribbean nurses in Canada. These Black female nurses were all trained in hospital-based nursing schools and spent their professional lives in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Caribbean. In Canada, these migrant nurses played an integral role in relieving the nursing shortage in Canada following World War II.

Flynn draws on post-colonial feminist and diasporic Black studies for her theoretical analysis of the narratives of the Black female nurses. Flynn examines how Black women’s identities and subjectivities were constituted through early experiences of school, church, and family, and reconstituted post-migration through professional training and their lives as wives, mothers, single women, and community activists. Subjectivity is a term that appears multiple times throughout the book. Flynn defines subjectivity as the “conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself and her ways of understanding her relation to the world” (4). Flynn also presents a critical interrogation of dominant discourses that position Canada as a benevolent nation while obfuscating the lived experiences of Black Canadians. [End Page 159]

Flynn’s research methodology is a narrative analysis of in-depth interviews conducted with 35 Black female nurses (13 Black Canadian and 22 Black Caribbean) from 1995-2001. Twenty-five of the interviews were completed as part of Flynn’s doctoral dissertation. Key to Flynn’s nuanced analysis is the intersectionality of race, gender, class, and sexuality as forms of oppression, identity, and resistance.

The book is divided into two main sections that present chronological narratives organized around eight main themes. The first section focuses on the role of family, church, and school as early agents of socialization. Flynn’s account shows that early family socialization was pivotal for each of these women. The family served as a foundation of their early identity formation and also as a source of resistance against colonial oppression and inequality. The experiences of Black Caribbean women contrasted with those of Black Canadian women because of the different historical and social contexts of colonialism from the 1930s to 1950s. The Black Caribbean women experienced social class status that was mediated by skin color and race. For the Black Canadian-born women, social class was demarcated more saliently along racial lines, regardless of skin tone. Since the women would all later become professional nurses, school was critical to their cognitive and social development. Access was also mediated by class and race in both the Canadian and Caribbean contexts. Racism and classism in school were factors in both contexts as the Black women encountered low teacher expectations and a British-influenced curriculum. Outside of school, the church provided moral education and a sense of community for these Black women.

The second part of the book examines the experiences of migration, professional training, and work. The second part also addresses how these experiences have shaped their identities and subjectivities in relation to post-migration family and community life. For many of the Black Caribbean women, migration to Britain was their first step in becoming professional nurses. Throughout their nursing training, the Black women’s mere presence challenged the prevailing gender construction of nursing as the embodiment of white womanhood. Flynn analyzes their experiences by addressing questions of identity, liminality, hybridity, and alienation. An examination of their professional lives as nurses throughout the diaspora illuminates the ways in which these Black women integrated their professional identities with their multiple subject positions. Lastly, Flynn’s analysis reconciles migration with notions of home and belonging in the women’s narratives.

Flynn’s contribution to the scholarship in this area is significant. Most studies of Black Canadian working women...


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pp. 159-161
Launched on MUSE
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