Collaborative keyword essay

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Brent Hayes notes that diaspora is more than what many believe the concept to be as just "limited to the translation of terms describing literal or figurative process of scattering, separation, branching off, departure, banishment, winnowing" (Diaspora, 82) but instead gives the idea that the definition of diaspora changes with the way the term is being structured. In this way diaspora comes to have a very broad definition which allows room for many different interpretations.


"Especially in historical and sociological work on diaspora, much scholarship continues to take what Kim Butler (2001,193) has termed the "checklist" approach, testing a given history of dispersal against a set of typological characteristics: to be "authentic," a diaspora must involve, for instance the forced migrations of a people to two or more locations; a collective memory narrative of the homeland; the maintenance of autonomous group identity against the backdrop of the host environment; and in some versions, a persistent network of ties to the homeland, or ongoing agitation for its redemption." (Diaspora, Brent Hayes Edwards, 84)

The Slave Trade

The African slave trade triangle.

Basic ideas of diaspora are shown in the way that the Africans forced into Haiti through the slave trade revolted to turn Haiti into an "alternative" place of assimilation, dissension, and exchange. In slavery, the Africans refused to adapt to the new laws of the land and tried to escape and revolt whenever possible. In a twelve-year struggle, that ultimately led to the creation of Haiti, was possible through the ideas of diaspora; show in the movement of a group identity in order to fight and become the first independent republic outside of Africa.

Not only was being forced out of their homeland to work on plantations demeaning and demoralizing, but it separated them from who they were, who their ancestors were. In The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James, L'Ouverture states, "We are Africans, and Africans believe in a King. We were slaves and we believe in liberty and equality" (75). Even though Toussaint L'Ouverture lives in the Caribbean he does not refer to himself as one. Instead he refers to himself as an African; which he truly was even though he had been forced out of his homeland to live and work as a slave on an island far from his home. As a product of diaspora the Africans brought to Haiti eventually felt the strain of being slaves, being far from home, and being under the rule of cruel masters. However, the option of escape to a different country, such as America, did not insure that they would not become enslaved there too. Their only option for freedom was to fight their oppressors in order to earn their freedom along the unbeaten path.

The Black Jacobins

One basic problem with connecting diaspora to "The Black Jacobins" is the inconsistency of the definition of diaspora. In Diaspora by Brent Hayes Edwards, Kim Butler believes that for diaspora "[t]o be "authentic," a diaspora must involve, for instance, the forced migration of a people to two or more locations" (84). However, diaspora is more often referred to "indicate a state of dispersal resulting from voluntary migration" (82). The easiest place to see the relevance of diaspora in The Black Jacobins is through the idea of forced migration; the Africans were brought, by force, to Haiti to be slaves. L'Ouverture explains to Marquis in The Black Jacobins, that his "[f]ather was a chief in Africa . Before he was captured and brought here he owned slaves. He told me that some Africans--not all, but some and know and accepted slavery for hundreds of years"(C. L. R. James, 77). The word 'forced' satisfies the definitions brought about by Kim Butler, allowing diaspora as a definition to explain concepts in The Black Jacobins.

Migration vs. Immigration

Slaves being transported across the ocean.

One main topic discussed in defining diaspora is the difference in migration vs immigration. To look at the simple definition of the words migration is generally defined as a of body of persons or animals moving from one place to another. Migration, in a sense, lacks direction and focus. Migrating people can be seen as nomads, people who move from place to place without a classified "home" or area of occupation. Immigration however, is when people settle into a country or region they are not native to. This would then satisfy the claim, to a certain extent, that in The Black Jacobins the slaves were a product of immigration. Brent Hays Edwards writes that, "[o]ften "diaspora" is used to indicate a state of dispersal resulting from voluntary migration, as with the far-flung Jewish communities of the Hellenic period" (Diaspora, 82). However, diaspora is also seen as, "[a] lose equivalent for a range of other words, conflating with exile, migration, immigration, expatriation, transnationalism, minority or refugee status, and racial or ethnic differences" (Diaspora, 82).

Both migration and immigration can decisions of person will, immigration can also be out of necessity to preserve ones life. This can be supported when considering the number of Irish immigrants who began coming in from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine that began in 1845. Both immigration and migration have valid arguments for if the slaves who were forced to Haiti were immigrants or if they migrated. Kim Butler, who Brent Hayes Edwards quotes, says, "To be "authentic" a diaspora must involve, for instance, the forced migration of a people...: a collective memory or narrative of the homeland; the maintenance of autonomous group identity against the backdrop of the host environment" (Diaspora, 84). Brent Hays Edwards, in conclusion, believes that, "[c]learly diaspora had been theorized in relation to the scattering of populations from sub-Saharan African in particular, as a result of the slave trade and European colonialism" (Diaspora, 83). Today diaspora tends to be used in American studies as the fixed notion of not belonging. Immigration entails people "resetting" into a new place where they can never truly belong and thus ever call home. Clearly then the assessment can be made that slavery is the process of forced immigration as slaves cannot identify with their new surrounding culture.


Movement was very limited outside of Haiti. To gain their freedom they needed to fight for it because Haiti was the only place they could make secure. If they tried to move anywhere else they ran the risk of being forced back into slavery. Haiti offered a sense of security but also was limiting to their movement and expansion. In The Black Jacobins the idea is presented that even after gaining their freedom they still were restricted and it felt like they had had more freedom while in slavery. This can be seen when L'Ouverture, in The Black Jacobins, describes how while in slavery he could still have certain freedoms like being able to be with his family while now he is restricted with what he must do for his country. This then ties together the ideas of movement and freedom; both were now limited as a result of gaining their independence.

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