Recently, I’ve been thinking of my position and identity within a forcible Diaspora. In February, I wrote a post entitled, “Akátá- or how I realized that Afrocentrism was not for me” and in March, I wrote, “Dear One, What Have You Lost?” In the former post, I wrote of my sense of alienation as an African-American descendant of enslaved Africans visiting West-Central Africa. In the latter post, I explored the sense of loss and rootlessness I feel as a product of a forcible Diaspora. In a more historical and political theoretical turn, I wrote “Thoughts on Slave Ships, Refugee Camps and Mass Graves,” employing a biopolitical analysis of slave ships, refugee camps and mass graves as Total Institutions to conceptualize the unearthing of mass graves with the remains of trafficked and enslaved Africans on the island of St. Helena, 150 miles off of the southern shore of Africa.
This morning, I was reading Gayatri Gopinath’s Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures, and her analysis of the biogenetic, and biodeterminist roots of the term “Diaspora,” and consequently, its patriarchal and heteronormative underpinnings astounded me. In Stefan Helmreich’s etymological analysis of the term “Diaspora,” he links it to the “generative substance or seed of animals” or- in other words- sperm. (Gopinath, 5)
In Boellstorff’s article entitled, “Dubbing Culture: Indonesian Gay and Lesbi Subjectivities and Ethnography in an Already Globalized World,” he problematizes analyses of internationalized queer subjectivities which rely on biogenetic terms such as “Diaspora” “Hybridity” and “Creolization.” These terms, Boellstorff states, “imply prior unities and originary points of dispersal,” (Boellstorff, 226) and thus tend to produce West-centric analyses of queerness, which are predicated on the notion that queerness is a Western import, when it is the globalized categories of queer identities that are imported, not queer subjectivities themselves. (This, of course, implies that identity is not the same as subjectivity. Many people can identify as [label], but that self-identification can be borne of many differing subjectivities. It is dangerous to conflate labels with referents.)
In Gopinath and Boellstorff’s analyses of biogenetic, patriarchal and heteronormative concepts such as “diaspora” “hybridity” and “creolization”, kinship and belonging is traced not through the mother, but through the father. Paternity mediates belonging. This mirrors nationalistic tendencies to trace belonging and kinship through patrilineal bloodlines, wherein citizenship conferred on a jus sanguinis basis leaves children borne of unions between citizen women and non-citizen partners, and children born outside of state-sanctioned marital unions as stateless persons.
In my own experience, I have been marked as an “outsider” and dismissed as “akátá” by African immigrants in the United States. The sharp syllables of the word “akátá” assaulted my unaccustomed senses, contesting my own tenuous formulations of Blackness as transnational, transversal. In one sense, it was an abrupt, but timely, reminder of the fact that for many African immigrants, Blackness is not an expedient identity or category until they are marked as “Black – Other” in places where African-descended people are not the (political or popular) majority.)
In another sense, “Akátá” reminded me that as a product of a forcible Diaspora, I am the ever-outsider/in-between. In diasporic terms, Akátá- the wild cat that escaped the pin- is the “scattered seed.” And that seed can fall in the in-between, liminal spaces, surviving and reproducing in spaces that are otherwise unnamed, unmarked and unrecognized. It is for this reason that “struggle” is so often used to categorize stories of resistance and radical survival across the forcible African Diaspora.
Now my next task is to think of a way to conceptualize my position in forcibly dispersed community without using terms with patriarchical, heterosexist and biogenetic underpinnings.
- Hartman, Saidiya. (2007). Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Gopinath, Gayarti. (2005) Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Perverse Modernities). Duke University Press
- Boellestoff, Tom. (2003). Dubbing Culture: Indonesian Gay and Lesbi Subjectivities and Ethnography in an Already Globalized World. American Ethnologist 30(2): 225-242