“He Who Sows Colonization Will Reap Immigration”—Some Insights from the New Migritude
Friday, July 12, 2019. I am writing this piece from France. In the background, the television is broadcasting the occupation of the Panthéon by the Gilets Noirs, a collective of undocumented migrants who contest their legal and social invisibilization and stake their claim to space and home in France. The occupation of the Panthéon is happening on the heels of a dramatic standoff between the Italian border police and a humanitarian rescue ship with forty migrants on board. These now-commonplace developments in Europe are also unfolding against the background of a state-sanctioned racist xenophobia in a would-be fortress United States. I am also following, via Twitter and Facebook, a heated discussion about East Asian Africans’ entitlement to a sense of home and belonging in East Africa, after a Kenyan Asian journalist wrote about Kikuyu privilege in Kenya.
Together, these stories tell of untenable borders and fortified borders. They tell of anxieties, both warranted and misguided, toward borders. They most certainly tell of the increasing global precariousness of home as we once normatively understood and experienced it, meaning home as a natural if not biological filiation and henceforth a place of comforting and reassuring sameness. The frenetic reinforcement of borders and the refusal to be contained by borders indicate that the precariousness of home is a shared global condition, spreading from a plundered global South to a panicky global North whose demographics are irreversibly changing in the face of immigration from the global South. The statement, often heard in France among second-generation immigrants, that “he who sows colonization will reap immigration” maps the violent entanglement of histories that have informed the unraveling of home on a global scale. In turn, the concept of migritude, as aptly remobilized by Shailja Patel and put to work in this special focus section of the minnesota review, makes for a firm theoretical grip and lucid political read on contemporary movements of people. The reworked concept of migritude productively stands clear of the topoi [End Page 169] of euphoric homelessness and ludic sabotage of borders that marred the original conceptualizations of migritude.
Having previously dismissed migritude as a theoretical fad and taken to task francophone African literary criticism for its blind adoption of the concept (Coly 2010), I am enthused by its new critical edge and theoretical purchase. Probably the best development that could have happened to migritude was its inclusion of literary traditions beyond francophone Africa (see Patel 2010; Foster 2019). Patel’s seminal gesture of opening up the routes of migritude to include East African Asians puts the concept to work in the service of new geographies of movements, histories, and entanglements, beyond the Africa-Europe and South-North unilateral trajectory of the early concept of migritude. The new migritude also encompasses a demographic of underprivileged migrants and therefore makes up for the elitism of the original migritude. Overall, the new migritude offers three major theoretical overtures toward rethinking the mechanisms and stakes of contemporary movements of people.
First, in foregrounding South-South movements and encounters, the new migritude decenters the global North as the orbit of the world’s processes, futures, and history. For instance, there is much at stake, epistemologically, in attending to the routes of migritude into Africa. Africa becomes a site of arrival and not the traditional site of departure or diasporic return, as discourses on migration and diaspora have characterized the continent. Such reconfiguration in our thinking about Africa is rife with new theoretical possibilities. Africa, as a category of thought, is hereby remobilized as diaspora, a site of entanglements, a laboratory for all sorts of encounters and crossings, an incubator of cosmopolitanisms and modernities, and a ferment of migritude avant la lettre. At the core of this migritude is an ethos of circulation of bodies, cultures, and worldviews. This migritude fits into Achille Mbembe’s (2010: 228) defense of a “precolonial African modernity” interrupted by colonialism and erased by colonial discourses. One indeed finds a description of migritude, as an ethos of circulation and as advocated in this special focus section, in Mbembe’s...