The Black Atlantic

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The Black Atlantic
The Black Atlantic.jpg
AuthorPaul Gilroy
SubjectSociology, social science, African American studies

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness is a 1993 history book about a distinct black Atlantic culture that incorporated elements from African, American, British, and Caribbean cultures. It was written by Paul Gilroy and was published by Harvard University Press and Verso Books.

Chapter titles[edit]

  1. The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity
  2. Masters, Mistresses, Slaves, and the Antinomies of Modernity
  3. “Jewels Brought from Bondage”: Black Music and the Politics of Authenticity
  4. “Cheer the Weary Traveller”: W. E. B. Du Bois, Germany, and the Politics of (Dis)placement
  5. “Without the Consolation of Tears”: Richard Wright, France, and the Ambivalence of Community
  6. “Not a Story to Pass On”: Living Memory and the Slave Sublime

Chapter 1[edit]

The first chapter of the Black Atlantic describes the double-consciousness maintained by Africans in the diaspora.[1] The chapter asserts that Black identity is multifaceted and difficult to define due to the multinational position of Blackness. Gilroy utilizes the imagery of the slave ship to demonstrate the position of Black bodies between two (or more) lands, identities, cultures, etc. which is unable to be defined by borders.[2] Additionally, Gilroy discusses how western nationalism results from a narrative created by whites that ties western nationalism to whiteness.[3] This narrative inherently others Black folk who often partly belong to the same national identity. He highlights artistic expression (particularly through music from Black diasporic communities) as a means of exploring the transient nature of Blackness.[4] Pointedly, he speaks of the song “Keep on Moving” which he asserts expresses "the restlessness of spirit which makes that diaspora culture vital".[5] In many ways, the song exemplifies the state of the diaspora as Black bodies have existed in numerous spaces and cannot be defined solely by where they have been, where they are, or where they are going. Black diasporic music remains of great importance to Gilroy's narrative as it is demonstrative of the manner in which Black individuals are able to embrace a communal identity despite many individuals in the diaspora's original cultures being stolen from them. Ultimately, Gilroy asserts that the Black experience is coupled with the varied narratives relating to belonging and history, still, in many ways, the narratives are mitigated by music which allows for Black expression and community to be shared beyond borders.[6]

Nation-states and nationalism[edit]

All nation-states have determining characteristics, which include (but are not limited to): a central government, borders that are policed and/or secured by the military or government, defined citizenship, a cultural or ethnic component to determine who is included and excluded from the nation-state, and a common history, economy, language, religion(s), etc. that are uniting and differentiating factors. In “The Black Atlantic”, Gilroy counterposes the nation-state with the idea of diaspora, which is transnational and hybrid. According to Gilroy, the Black Diaspora is the result of involuntary or voluntary dispersal of a people from a point, country, or continent of origin. Gilroy highlights that for Black people, this displacement is largely due to the transatlantic slave trade. Gilroy notes that Black culture(s), particularly in the West, are either opposed or at the margins of the nation-state. Thus, the nation-state becomes the universal political form of managing the relationship between people and territory in modernity. Gilroy argues that the nation-state also exerts constitutive anti-Black violence, either externally via borders, military, and killing, or internally via policing, surveillance, incarceration, and killing. Gilroy notes that this anti-Blackness does not always present itself in the same ways across different nation-states, but that anti-Blackness is present among them all. This all serves as reasons why Gilroy argues the importance of moving away from the idea of the nation-state in “The Black Atlantic”. He emphasizes that the Black diaspora and the nation state are in constant tension with one another and alludes to the double consciousness Black people experiences as members of the diaspora and occupants of the nation state.

Black Europeanness[edit]

Gilroy's attention to "Black Europeanness" in The Black Atlantic brings up themes of double consciousness and its presence in Black Europeans. He expresses how the existence of racist and nationalist discourse have interacted in a manner that portrays them as separate identities and opinions. They contrive political relationships in a way that isolates each identity, making them seem mutually exclusive. The effect of this is that there exists no blending or interweaving of these identities and any effort in forming connections or walking the middle ground between them is politically provocative and insubordinate.[7] Gilroy connects this to the black Atlantic, which he defines as a "modern political and cultural formation", by expressing his desire for it to break free from the structures and nation states that facilitate racist and nationalist politics.[8]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  2. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  3. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  4. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  5. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  6. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–40.
  7. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–15.
  8. ^ Gilroy, Paul (1993). The Black Atlantic. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–19.

External links[edit]