- Black Mosaic: The Politics of Black Pan-Ethnic Diversity by Candis Watts Smith
The 2010 United States Census featured the racial category of "Black or African American" and talk of the "Black vote" is a regular feature of American election coverage. Like any socially constructed, instrumental racial category, "Black" has its limitations as globalization and migration flows from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean continue to complicate what "Blackness" means in the United States. Political scientist Candis Watts Smith's Black Mosaic takes on the necessary and considerable task of examining the nuances within this sweeping racial category by posing these core questions:
"Considering the fact that ethnicity continues to be a salient identity within a racialized context, how do African Americans and Black immigrants conceptualize who is Black? Do Black Immigrants embrace or reject a Black racial identity that is inclusive of Blacks native to the U.S.? Similarly, do African Americans embrace an identity that is inclusive of Black immigrants? Do Black immigrants share a sense of group consciousness similar to what has long been documented for African Americans? To what extent are the political and policy attitudes of Black immigrants and African Americans similar or different? Finally, what are the prospects for intraracial coalitions of African American and Black immigrants across the country (Smith, 3)?"
After a considerable survey of existing literature exploring differences between Black groups, Smith utilizes results from the National Survey of American Life (2001–2003) and dozens of poignant interviews with subjects with backgrounds that span the full spectrum of recent immigrant, 2nd generation, racially mixed, and African American experiences. The combination of data analysis and ethnography is effective at showing how large trends play out at the individual level. Non-specialists might have some trouble with the more specific political science jargon featured in the discussion of the data sections, but the ethnography portions are universally accessible and revealing. The context provided in the author's interviews with subjects from diverse backgrounds alone make this a valuable contribution to a few academic fields.
As a historian, I would only contend that we should consider the major role geopolitical events such as the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, onset of African independence movements, and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa have played in inspiring Smith's framework of "diasporic consciousness" throughout American history. The author makes important distinctions between traditional notions of pan-Africanism and "diasporic consciousness," but there is certainly important overlap between each concept.
Overall, Black Mosaic represents an important contribution and necessary shift in political science, American, African American, and Black studies. It goes beyond the sweeping and all too often naturalized category of "Black" presented in the U.S. Census, [End Page 127] to give readers a much more sophisticated understanding of the evolving face of American "Blackness," the key differences within it and the forces that compel group consciouses/action. I await with anticipation academic studies of these dynamics as they relate to an increasingly global Black Lives Matter movement.