3 minute read

Black Atlantic


Although widely applauded for his intellectual innovations, Gilroy is not without his critics. Some African-Americanists have accused Gilroy of failing to understand the complexities of the African-American experience and, thus, of having underplayed the unique and enduring historical connections between Africans and African-Americans in his effort to highlight flows, indeterminacy, and contingency. The work of feminist scholars has also highlighted the androcentric nature of Gilroy's inquiry; men exemplify the Atlantic experience. Yet, the work of scholars like Vron Ware and Catherine Hall indicates that the women within the abolitionist movement, such as Ida B. Wells Barnett and Charlotte Grimke, were equally important exemplars of precisely those processes of exchange that Gilroy highlights in his text. Gilroy talks about the abolitionist movement as an example of the counterculture of modernity as well as a transnational movement organized around race struggle. Although Gilroy provides many insightful observations about how gender was implicated in the production of both blackness and modernity, these insights are not central to his thesis and oftentimes remain unexplored. Robert Reid-Pharr notes, for example, that Gilroy fails to examine the ways in which thinkers like W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Delaney, and Frederick Douglass conflated the regeneration of the black nation with the regeneration of the patriarchal black family.

Yet another criticism of Gilroy's work has been that the concept of the Black Atlantic is too narrowly focused on the experiences of blacks as minorities in the United States and Great Britain. Thus, the Black Atlantic proceeds from the assumption that diasporic black communities are necessarily minority communities. This assumption does not, however, hold true for people in the Caribbean. Furthermore, as Nadi Edwards points out, the ways in which Gilroy makes Afrocentric nationalism (which he opposes) the polar opposite of cultural syncretism (which he celebrates) ignores cultural developments such as negritude, which, although essentialist, also celebrated syncretism and hybridity.

Other scholars have pointed out that a narrow focus on the traffic that occurred across the Atlantic Ocean makes it impossible to understand the totality of the black experience. Françoise Vergès has pointed out that the islands of the Indian Ocean also offer important insights for understanding intercontinental trade and migration, as well as for understanding processes of conquest, conversion, and creolization. The Indian Ocean, like the Atlantic, offers a space for exploring various types of seaborne transactions and exchanges and opens up a space for thinking about the ways in which Africa interfaced not only with the Americas and Europe but also with India and South and East Asia. It also provides an opening for exploring how Africa interacted not only with the Christian, but also with the Islamic, world.


Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Morrow, 1963.

Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. Of Revelation and Revolution. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Edwards, Nadi. "Roots, and Some Routes Not Taken." Found Object 4 (1994): 27–34.

Goldberg, David T. Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Hall, Catherine. White, Male, and Middle-Class: Explorations in Feminism and History. London: Routledge, 1992.

Lipsitz, George. Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place. London: Verso, 1994.

Reid-Pharr, Robert. "Engendering The Black Atlantic." Found Object 4 (1994): 11–16.

Vergès, Françoise. Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

Ware, Vron. Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History. London: Verso, 1992.

Zine Magubane

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Bilateral symmetry to Boolean algebraBlack Atlantic - Intellectual Antecedents, Intellectual Impact, Critiques, Bibliography