Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I was worried that I messed up. I agreed to speak this June at a conference at St. Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, that will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, Britain’s official decision to suppress the slave trade. [See http://www.commemoration2007.ca/]. I was beginning to think I had done the wrong thing. Sure, I wanted to be part of a commemoration of this landmark move. But I was beginning to worry about the quality of this particular conference. Then I discovered the work of one of the other keynote speakers, George Elliot Carke, and I decided that just getting to know about his work is worth my being associated with the conference. And I now have higher hopes for the quality of the entire conference.

My pleasant surprise came when I ‘googled’ Clarke, a poet and academic of African and Mi’kmaq Amerindian heritage from Nova Scotia who now teaches at the University of Toronto. Besides reading his biography at http://www.athabascau.ca/writers/geclarke.html, I read his essay, “Must all Blackness Be American?: Locating Canada in Borden’s ‘Tightrope Time,’ or Nationalizing Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic” at http://www.athabascau.ca/writers/geclarke_essay.html. It was extremely helpful to read a take on the African diaspora from a Canadian. He critiques African Americans for just assuming that African Canadians, whom he calls Africadians, are just like us. Ironically, Euro-Canadians—to maintain a mythological self-image of themselves as the ‘real’ Canadians—also viewed Africandians as Americans before the major migrations from the Caribbean disrupted that view. Clarke calls this tendency to ignore the reality and specificity of Afro-Canadians, “the denial of African Canadianité.”

He tells us,

Given the gravitational attractiveness of Black America and the repellent force of a frequently racist, Anglo-Canadian (and Québécois de souche) nationalism, African-Canadian writers feel themselves caught between the Scylla of an essentially U.S.-tincted cultural nationalism and the Charybdis of their marginalization within Canadian cultural discourses that perceive them as 'alien'. Hence, African-Canadian writers are forced to question the extent and relevance of their Canadianness (that notoriously inexpressible quality).

“Yet,” he reminds us, “African-Canadians cannot avoid assimilating African-American influences, for both African Canada and African America were forged in the crucible of the slave trade, an enterprise the British aided, abetted, and affirmed, then suppressed, then finally abolished in 1833.”

While I've written on the 18th century roots of the black community in Nova Scotia in my first book, it’s certainly helpful for me to get an informed contemporary view from the African diaspora in Canada before I go there to talk.

More later on how the slave trade still flourishes despite this bicentennial.

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