Black Atlantic Visions: History, Race, and Transnationalism in Ghana

Abstract

This paper explores Ghanaians’ contemporary understandings of blackness and, in particular, of their connection to African Americans. In it, I argue that while Ghana’s diaspora tourism industry directs attention toward the legacy of slavery in order to create ties between African Americans and Ghana, many Ghanaians are interested in constructing a different version of a shared black cultural citizenship that does not rely on this history. Slavery in fact represents a problematic history for Ghanaians, many of whom seek to avoid conversations about it. Instead, they celebrate blackness as a form of cosmopolitanism devoid of historical roots. Through this example, I urge black Atlantic scholars to pay attention not only to the presence or absence of cultural memories of slavery in various societies, but to the problem that slavery may represent within many of them. [Ghana, blackness, African Americans, cultural citizenship, slavery, Afro-cosmopolitanism] 

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on performance in Africa, including Susan Cook and Rebecca Hardin’s "Performing Royalty in Contemporary Africa," Jesse Shipley’s "Comedians, Pastors, and the Miraculous Agency of Charisma in Ghana," and Brad Weiss’s "Thug Realism: Inhabiting Fantasy in Urban Tanzania."

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of articles on race and the diaspora, including Jacqueline Nassy Brown’s "Black Liverpool, Black America, and the Gendering of Diasporic Space" and Damani James Partridge's "We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe."

About the Author

Bayo Holsey is an Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. Her research focuses on public history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in West Africa and the African diaspora. Her book, Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana, was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology and the Association for Third World Studies’ Toyin Falola Africa Book Award.  She earned her Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from Columbia University in 2003.

Additional Works by the Author 

Bayo Holsey. "'Watch the Waves of the Sea': Literacy, Oral History, and the European Encounter in Elmina." History in Africa: A Journal of Method 38 (2011): 79–101.

Bayo Holsey. "Owning Up to the Past: African Slave Traders and the Hazards of Discourse." Transition 105 (2011): 74–87.

Bayo Holsey. "Rituel et Memoire au Ghana: Les Usages Politique de la Diaspora." Critique Internationale 47 (April–June 2010): 19–36.

Bayo Holsey. "In Place of Slavery: Fashioning Coastal Identity." In Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation, edited by Richard Grinkler, Stephen C. Lubkemann, and Richard B. Steiner, 372–387. 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. Consider the current historical moment in Ghana. What aspects of this historical moment affect the notion of black cultural citizenship held by citizens in Ghana? What aspects of this historical moment affect the state’s construction of cultural citizenship based on the slave trade?

2. Holsey’s article describes how the goal in Ghana is “not to overcome the notion of black difference but to reclaim it,” and that the fact that “a black good life exists is itself a radical challenge to common understandings of blackness as simply a negative category.” Consider the way that blackness is viewed globally today. Discuss the ways in which a cosmopolitan blackness can challenge common understandings of blackness. 

Related Readings

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.  

Apter, Andrew, and Lauren Derby, eds. Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.  

Bruner, Edward. "Tourism in Ghana: The Representation of Slavery and the Return of the Black Diaspora." American Anthropologist 98, no. 2 (1996): 290–304.  

Ferguson, James. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.  

Gilroy, Paul. There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. London: Hutchinson, 1987.

———. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Gordon, Edmund T., and Mark Anderson. "The African Diaspora: Toward an Ethnography of Diasporic Identification." Journal of American Folklore 112, no. 445 (1999): 282–296.  

Ong, Aihwa. Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.  

Pierre, Jemima. The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.  

Piot, Charles. "Atlantic Aporias: Africa and Gilroy’s Black Atlantic." South Atlantic Quarterly 100, no. 1 (2001): 155–170.  

Richards, Sandra L.  "What is to be Remembered?: Tourism to Ghana’s Slave Castle-Dungeons." Theater Journal 57 (2005): 617–637.  

Schramm, Katharina. African Homecoming: Pan-African Ideology and Contested Heritage. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2010.  

Scott, David. "That Event, This Memory: Notes on the Anthropology of the African Diasporas in the New World." Diasporas 1, no. 3 (1991): 261–284.  

Shaw, Rosalind. Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.  

Shipley, Jesse. "Aesthetic of the Entrepreneur: Afro-Cosmopolitan Rap and Moral Circulation." Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 3 (2009): 631–668.

Post a Comment

Please log in or register to comment