International Summer Graduate Seminar
African Diaspora Identities
This seminar will address the fundamental issues that have engaged thinkers through the periods of slavery, colonization, emancipation(s), and modernity. It will suggest and reflect upon genealogies of discourses of individual and group identities, both self-identities and interpellations. Discourses of "race" and hybridity, "material" and metaphorical realities that invoked biological and cultural legitimacy, dominated the social, economic, and legal classifications of Diaspora subjects, providing them with-or imposing upon them-frames within which to work, or against which to rebel. Diaspora subjects developed and continually adapted strategies of conditional conformity, subversion, and open confrontation, especially in societies that circulated egalitarian, enlightenment, and emancipatory principles as the foundations of the civic order. Whether as "racial," ethnic, linguistic, sexual, national, or transnational subjects, they negotiated the obstacles and opportunities to forge creative social positions that erupt in cultural productions.
"Esmeraldas Ambassadors (Ecuador),
by Andrés Sánchez Gallque, 1559, Museo de América, Madrid"
The seminar will focus closely on the identity politics of African diaspora subjects, examining critical perspectives that have shaped debates on the biosocial-spatial continuum of identity formation: "race," gender, sexuality, class, nation, and mobility. It will highlight discourses of shared and divergent diaspora identities.The problematics of a diasporic selfhood more or less derived and (usually violently) separated from already diverse originary African societies influenced different strategies of individuation and collective agency, shaped by variables of time, distance, and language. Central to African diaspora experiences has been the social construction of the black and the "interracial" body in Western societies that ambivalently valued and devalued those bodies for economic and political reasons. The invention of racial, gender, and sexual norms in colonial and metropolitan societies that developed around the challenge to manage evolving power relations provided both obstacles and opportunities for the formation of self-ideation and socialization practices.
Week One: "Deconstructing Racial Knowledge: Questioning Methodologies"
This module will investigate the interventional strategies of African diaspora studies in the production of racial knowledge, projects that distinguish what "race" does from what "race" purportedly is. It will address the methodological approaches to the social construction of racial classifications. The production of racial knowledge has created environing conditions for the formation of diaspora subjectivities since the classical period in the West. A genealogy of traditional methods derived from anthropological, psychological, and other social science approaches to "race" serves as a platform for the interrogation of successful and problematic analytical postures on the issue of race.
"Negro Boy and Apes. On the left side of the figure there is a young
Chimpanzee, and on the right a young Orangutan. This is a wonderfully interesting comparison." Taken from Shufeldt, R.W.'s America's Greatest Problem: The Negro (1915).
Week Two: "The African Diaspora: Contesting the Heteronormative"
This module will engage current scholarship on sexuality in African diaspora communities and its relationship to genderized discourses of difference and notions of sexualized normativity. The role of reproduction and its relationship to nationalist discourse, imbricated in the construction of modernity, and produced and reproduced in legal and social classification schemas will be examined for their centrality in the production of gender and in notions of sexualized normativity. The module will examine the relationships between heteronormativity and racialized discourses of difference. It will interrogate heteronormativity as reproduced and contested in representations and practices of black subjectivity. These function as a basis of reinforcement and contestation of statist manifestations of modernity.
"In the 1920s and '30s, an active Lesbian community of Blues singers flourished in Harlem. Some were discreet, like Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith, while others were flamboyantly out, like Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, and Gladys Bentley (above)--who performed in a white tuxedo.
(From Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerilla Girls'
Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes, by the Guerilla Girls, Penguin
Week Three: "Mapping the African Diaspora: Fragmented Geographies and Positionalities"
This module will investigate the way that geography and social status shape the processes of individual and collective identity formation. Migration and social mobility provide dynamic disruptions of concepts of "national" identity and character. These processes have represented the most consistent disruptions to discourses of national identity through legal and extra-legal interventions for the management of African diasporic populations as undesirable racial subjects. Diasporic subjects have with varying degrees of success employed assimilative and separatist strategies (with the attendant "recovery" and invention of traditions as authorizing gestures) in response to exclusion from the national body politic. In addition, economic conditions as well as greater opportunity for civic participation have motivated individual and large-scale migrations that have eventuated in political movements, cultural practices, and extended communities that have transgressed and generally disrupted the prevailing definitions of nation. How African diasporic subjects perceive themselves as provisionally national and/or transnational will be investigated.
"Vanley Burke, Untitled, 1977. (From Kobena Mercer's Welcome to the Jungle, Routledge, 1994: 68)"
Week Four: "African Diaspora: Hybridities Against Race?"
Paul Gilroy's book Against Race has re-opened important discussions about the usefulness of race as an organizing principle among African diasporic subjects. His critique invokes analysis of hybridity, mestizaje, métissage, créolité or creoleness, and creolization, which blur the boundaries of traditional racial classification and complicate the construction and maintenance of socially cohesive diasporic communities. This module will investigate "race" as a viable social and political category opening the consideration of alternative methods of self-identification and collective agency.
"Alessandro dei Medici, Duke of Florence,
and son-in-law of the Emperor Charles V. Alessandro's father was a pope and his mother was a Negro servant of such great beauty that she is called 'The Italian Cleopatra. [Medici Palace] (From J. A. Rogers' Sex and Race: Negro - Caucasian Mixing in all Ages and all Lands, Ninth Edition, 1967: 163)"
This seminar is made possible thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation.