- “All O’ We Is One”1?Migration, Citizenship, and Black Nativism in the Postcolonial Era
As a result of the new migration patterns created by the new global economy, politicians and experts around the world have had to revise the concept of citizenship, the process of naturalization, and the relevance of national borders: Who belongs to a nation and who doesn’t? What criteria do individuals need to meet in order to become citizens of a nation? What is the purpose of national borders in a globalized society? How and when is a sense of community developed when people are in constant movement? What aspects of our identity help create bonds among individuals in the popular imagination? Many critics have addressed these issues from legal, economic, and sociological standpoints. However, instead of offering a general, worldwide perspective of migration and citizenship, in this essay I would like to narrow my scope and focus only on the African diaspora as a case study. Specifically, I will explore how the movement of Black peoples between the United States and the Caribbean has affected concepts of citizenship and diasporic identity in the popular imagination. Moreover, I want to fill in the gap that exists in the new globalization studies and look at these issues from a literary viewpoint.
The African diaspora is often perceived as a unifying force for peoples of African descent, underscoring the value of racial identity as a link that can surpass national differences. Nevertheless, the diversity of national cultures and material conditions that comprise it lead to major intra-racial differences. The new patterns of migration caused by globalization and immigration laws have made these disparities even more acute and inescapable. Caribbean people in financial and political distress, for example, now tend to migrate more towards the United States in search of economic opportunities and social stability, instead of looking toward their European “motherlands.” This is especially the case with Afro-Caribbeans from former British colonies, who were prevented from entering Great Britain in 1962 due to a series of racist immigration laws, and consequently began to migrate to the United States, taking advantage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, as Winston James explains in his “History of Afro-Caribbean Migration to the United States.”2
The movement of peoples across the African diaspora in the Americas has in turn led African Americans to reevaluate their status in the diaspora and their attitudes towards the new wave of Black migrants. In this sense, Orlando Patterson talks about a new type of Black nativism3 emerging in recent years, which permeates middle-class African Americans’ attitudes toward Black immigration:
To be black American … one’s ancestors must have been not simply slaves but American slaves. Furthermore, directly mirroring the [End Page 89] traditional definition of whiteness as not being black is the growing tendency to define blackness in negative terms—it is to be not white in upbringing, kinship or manner, to be too not at ease in the intimate ways of white Americans.
Far from supporting the idea of a monolithic Black community in which national boundaries become blurred, peoples of African descent challenge the notion of the diaspora through nationalist and social discourses that undermine the idealized cosmopolitan community that a globalized world without borders is supposed to create.
In this essay I will explore nineteenth- and twentieth-century Black nativism patterns, paying particular attention to those emerging in the postcolonial/globalization era. I am especially interested in how attitudes toward foreign-born Blacks shape notions of cultural citizenship in the United States and the Caribbean in the neocolonial era. I will examine the various criteria used to determine a person’s sense of belonging to a national and cultural community, now that state borders are theoretically blurred and constantly crossed and that cosmopolitanism and world travel are on the rise. Thousands of Black migrants are in geographic and symbolic migration not only because they have had to move away from their motherland, but also because they are at odds with the communities in which they live, branded as outsiders and forced to live permanently between cultures, without a clear sense of belonging. I...