Nettleford on Africa In New World Identity

From Rex Nettleford's 1972 "Preface to the American Edition" in his: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. The book was published in England as Mirror, Mirror. Clearly, this piece is directed to an audience in the U.S. I fear its central message has yet to be fully appreciated.

    ...For as Sidney Mintz, the Yale professor, rightly asserts, the major difference between the so-called "new peoples" of islands like Jamaica and the "transplanted peoples" of North America "is a difference in power not in cultural fidelity." In any case, the Africans were never totally uprooted as the Negro subculture, so-called, amply asserts; and though the brown people could in a biological sense be regarded as "new" (as against "transplanted") peoples, they have been reared for the most part more as their Black mothers' offsprings and less as their White fathers' children. What is most important here, however, is the need to remind ourselves that none of the groups that were transplanted to the New World really escaped the "traumas of deculturation."

    The effects of the trauma on the descendents of the transplanted Blacks are said to be evident in the phenomenon of the inaudible Negro, the invisible man, the nameless one, and these poetic images of powerlessness are to be found in the realities of all Plantation America. The Caribbean sometimes feigns ignorance of these types....

    Certain effects of the traumas on the transplanted Europeans of Mayflower and later vintage are something else. Inherent in the deculturation of the Europeans, as of the Blacks, has been a process of fusion --organic, irreversible and therefore frightening. For if the African became Europeanized in many particulars, the European became Africanized in others. The process of Creolization --i.e., the evolution of a native born-and-bred culture pattern different from the feeder sources-- is seemingly not accepted by White Americans. For they fear and refuse to admit the negrification of themselves, though they expect the Blacks to accept their own Europeanization. But such Eurocentric attitudes were never totally accepted by Black communities in the New World. In the Caribbean we have known for some time that the process was never one-sided, that the cultural configurations of African societies from which slaves came were never so weak as to result in their total subjugation and disappearance in the New World. The seeming absorption of Blacks by the White world though requiring adjustment, defensiveness and shifting adaptation could also be creative.

    ... For [New World Blacks] were in fact among the first to arrive and among the first to give the modern world its shape and purpose as well as to lay its foundations. The conspiracy of omitting the Blacks from the ethos is therefore not only unjust but unrealistic. This has been propped up by White America's continued attachment to European roots in the pretense that White Americans constitute a transplanted rather than a new people. The paradox is then is that the person who seems least to want to be American --i.e., a culturally fused, "indigenous" New-World person -- is he who comes from the American White segment....

    ... Plantation America has yet to take a deep hold on the potentials of its history in terms of building a just society. In both the accidental and willful attempts of doing this the experience of Jamaica and the Caribbean cannot fail to inform efforts [in the US]. More generally, the Black revolution may be said to offer opportunities for the refounding of America in terms of itself. And the liberation, when it comes, must be the liberation not only of Blacks but of all who inhabit American lands which now indulge a philosophy that in effect still makes one set of humankind out to be less than the animals.

@back to list of readings