Feminist Networks and Diasporic Practices: Eslanda Robeson African Journeys

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Annette Joseph-Gabriel, University of Michigan
In 1946, African American anthropologist and civil rights activist Eslanda Robeson undertook her second journey to Africa and her first to Central Africa. She sought to document the stories and experiences of Africans in order to counter the dominant discourse on black inferiority that she had encountered growing up in a segregated United States. Robeson’s travels came at a time when women in the African diaspora employed physical mobility as a key strategy of anticolonial resistance. Women’s political activism involved transgressing colonial borders through exile, migration and correspondence. Charting her movements over time reveals that for black women, the seemingly simple act of travelling was always an act of subversion. This paper examines both Robeson’s published writings and her unpublished correspondence during her seven-month journey through Central Africa. These documents reveal her engagement with the politics of race and gender in the European colonial context, often refracted through the prism of her American experience. They also allow us to trace the arc of her anticolonial resistance and show her important contributions to black transnationalism and the articulation of diaspora. A close reading of her works reveals that Robeson posits a concept of diaspora that displaces subjection to imperial rule as the imagined connection among African-descended peoples. She imagines the African diaspora as defined by concerted acts of resistance that would not only end colonialism but also bring about s new post-colonial future.
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