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PAUL GILROY’S BLACK ATLANTIC AND THE CONCEPT OF AFRICAN DIASPORA
The word ‘Diaspora’ alone is simple to define; a large group of people with similar heritage or homeland who have since moved out to settle at a different place. The complexity thus arises with adding “Africa” to the word. ." What is "Africa" and who are "Africans" that constitute, when dispersed and reconstituted, "African diaspora?” Another complexity is the issue with the way in which “Africans” moved from their ancestral homes into the diaspora. Paul Gilroy and some early scholars on the topic concentrated on the “Atlantic”, focused on dispersal of African people through enslavement and the survival of cultural traits from Africa in the New World. This basically looks at the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade (TAST) and life of “Africans” in the New World and Americas, as well as the kind of culture these people exhibited. Contemporary studies on the concept of the African Diaspora however have brought to bear the need to “de-Atlanticize and de-Americanize the histories of African diasporas” This is to say that, the Atlantic and the America World are just a portion of a more broader and complex concept, hence, the need to expand the scope to include additional subjects on geography, racial pre-occupation and the context of neo-diaspora. In doing so, there will be the realization that the concept of the “African Diaspora” is not necessarily synonymous with Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic”.
To begin with, there is the need to move away from the 'Black Atlantic' and look at more complex geographies of the African diaspora. In this sense, we can also talk about the 'Black Mediterranean', 'Black Indian Ocean' and even the 'Black Pacific'. Though the Atlantic slave trade from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century involved a very large number of Africans being transferred to Europe and America, (estimated around 12 million slaves) interactions also involved the Mediterranean-Red Sea corridor linking northern Africa with western Asia), the Red Sea-Indian Ocean corridor (linking, and the Indian Ocean corridor linking eastern Africa with Indian Ocean islands and Asia. Therefore, there is the need to study these societies on their own terms, and not generalize the experiences and paradigms of the Atlantic for the other societies. Each of these diasporas has its own histories and differences though they share some similarities. It is even believed that African Diaspora is as old as the history of humankind. “African peoples have been in constant motion for over 100,000 years, traveling all over the globe, transforming it in many ways and being transformed themselves.”
There is also the concept of the ‘new diaspora’ or 'neo-diaspora' pertaining to voluntary migration, over the last two decades, more African migrants have been arriving in the United States than during the Atlantic slave trade. Such reasons for migration include human agency; a rational response to unfavorable situations including economic hardships, political turmoil and refugees fleeing from persecution and conflicts. In this case, the Atlantic model is inaccurate in decrypting the full scope and complexities of African diaspora.
Nevertheless, even before colonization, people who resided on the Africa continent did not consider themselves Africans. These people saw themselves as belonging to their own ethnic groups such as Ibo, Asante, Yoruba, Malinke among others. 'Whatever Africans share, we did not have a common traditional culture, common language, common religious or conceptual vocabulary'. The boarders were imposed on them, breaking apart these ethnic groups during the Scramble. The concept of the Black Atlantic is therefore dubious because, it is even evident that, “the white slave traders and purchasers alike were sensitive to this fact”: Ibo Diaspora, Asante Diaspora, Malinke Diaspora and the likes would be more appropriate in the concept of the Black Atlantic instead of the universal “African Diaspora”.
The Atlantic model also concentrates on only Sub-Saharan Africa and presents it as if it is the whole of Africa. Thus, there is a “premised on a conception of "Africa" as "sub-Saharan Africa”. There are also complexities of color and race. In Asian societies for instance, there are many Asians who are as dark as sub-Saharan Africans, whereas there are also very light skinned people from North Africa, and in some cases Africans with European descent. Color, in this case "blackness” therefore, is not always a reliable indicator of Africa. African Diaspora therefore is not synonymous with sub- Saharan Africa and racial blackness as it is not all Africans who are Black, and not all Blacks are Africans.
In conclusion, the concept of the “African Diaspora” as depicted by the Black Atlantic only captures a small section of a more holistic scope. In this sense, the work cannot be relegated from studies, but certain additions should be applied in the quest of shifting African Diaspora from a narrow perspective to look at a broader dimension.
1. Appiah, K. 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?', Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, (2001).
2. Bayfield, J., “Rethinking the African Diaspora”, African Studies Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, (2000), pp. 1-9.
3. Fayer, J., “African Intepreters in the Atlantic Slave Trade”, Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 45, No. 3, (2003)
4. Gilroy, P., The Black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA: 1993).
5. Mohan, G., and Zack-Williams, A. B., “Conceptualizing the Role of African Diaspora in Africa’s Development”, Review of Africa Political Economy, Vol. 29, No. 92, (2002).
6. Palmer, C, “The African Diaspora”, The Black Scholar, Vol. 30, No. ¾ (2000), pp. 56-59.
7. Zeleza, P T.., “African Diasporas: Toward a Global History”, African Studies Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, (April 2010), pp. 1-19.
 Paul Zeleza, “African Diasporas: Toward a Global History”, African Studies Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, (April 2010), pp.6
 Ibid., pp.5
 Joan Fayer, “African Interpreters in the Atlantic Slave Trade”, Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 45, No. 3, (2003), pp. 281
 Colin Palmer, “The African Diaspora”, The Black Scholar, Vol. 30, No. ¾, (2000), pp. 56.
 Giles Mohan et al., “Conceptualizing the Role of African Diaspora in Africa’s Development ”, Review of Africa Political Economy, Vol. 29, No. 92, (2002), pp.5
 Kwame Appiah, 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?' , Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, (2001), pp. 9
 Ibid., pp.57
 Paul Zeleza, “African Diasporas: Toward a Global History”, African Studies Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, (April 2010), pp. 6