Daily Archives: October 10, 2012

The Black Atlantic (220/303)

Here is some background to our discussion about Afrofuturism, taken from a lecture I gave a couple of years ago.

Maritime Culture, America, and the Black Atlantic

“The Oceanic Revolution”: the opening of the Western Hemisphere to exploration and colonization was a world historical event. The central figures of this revolution were sailors and the enslaved.

Deep water exploration had a profound impact on different forms of knowledge. New peoples, unfamiliar cultural formations and ways of organizing society, led to a new typologies of human difference, new methods of categorization, the rise of Race as a term describing not simply national/cultural differences, but variations that were seen to be somatic (in/of the body) and ineradicable. Theories of monogenism/polygenism. In other words, the oceanic revolution resulted in a kind of proto-anthropology.

In Spanish America the confluence of people of different backgrounds led to the what came to be known as the Casta System. Out 4 main racio-cultural groups– Peninsular (European born in Spain); Criollo (European descent, born in America); Indio (indigenous); and Negro (African descent)– came a plurality of “mixed” possibilities.


This, in distinction to British North America, where the racial divide tended to be simplified to a Black/White binary according to the “one drop rule” (principle of hypodescent). Of course, as time passed, new groups came to the Americas, especially people from China and the Philippines. See, for example, this chronology of Asians in America



The Black Atlantic

With the key concept Black Atlantic Paul Gilroy to a space of cultural and social flows, one produced by motion and encounter. The Atlantic Ocean, conceived of as a kind of “negative continent,” is the site of tremendously productive socio-cultural ferment: new identities, musics, idioms, gestures, cuisines, spiritual practices, etc. emerge from the Black Atlantic. The traditions and dispositions of Africans, Europeans, and Americans converge and syncretize, producing new possibilities.

A corollary of the Black Atlantic might be the Columbian Exchange.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, a key figure of the Black Atlantic.

From The Black Jacobins (pdf) by CLR James:

The writer believes, and is confident the narrative will prove, that between 1789 and 1815, with the single exception of Bonaparte himself, no single figure appeared on the historical stage more greatly gifted than this Negro, a slave till he was 45- Yet Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint and even that is not the whole truth.

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