Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

African American Studies

Advisor(s)

Micere M. Githae Mugo

Keywords

Africana Existentialism, African American Travel Writing, Cultural Geography, Ghana, James Baldwin, Richard Wright

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

This thesis project is a series of meditations, thoughts, reflections, lingering and fleeting, that move between three geopolitical locations: Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam; Kasoa, Ghana; and Detroit, Michigan. These locations are principally connected by virtue of my travels and work in all three in the summer of 2013. On a deeper level, one that this thesis elucidates, these three locations represent three different, yet connected, modalities of Black movement and existence. A modality is a mode, a single aspect or condition of a larger phenomenon. I begin in the mid-20th century, in Europe, with James Baldwin, Vincent Carter, and Richard Wright with a focus on their non-fiction writing composed while traveling abroad in the late 1950s. Through these three authors I consider

the narrative and conceptual techniques employed as each undertakes reflection on the `self', the

`other', and one's national home. This chapter is grounded in (Black) existentialism and employs the works of Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon as analytical frameworks. The latter three chapters each focus on a specific modality of movement. Migration: Amsterdam picks up on the discordant notes played when Black American travelers, seeking to escape the conditions of Blackness in the United States, meet Dutch Caribbean migrants who are dealing with experiences of post-coloniality in a

xenophobic European metropole. The principal literature engaged includes Heather Neff's novel

Haarlem; Stew's musical Passing Strange; Anton de Kom's We Slaves of Suriname; and the performance art of Musa Okwonga. Voluntourism: Ghana is composed entirely of my own literary travel writing that is based on notes and observations from my time volunteering in Kasoa, Ghana addressing child labor issues in three fishing communities. This chapter reflects on a variety of concerns ranging from post-coloniality and race, neoliberalism and NGO work, and the ironic dimensions of Western travelers seeking to find a mode of existence beyond capitalistic relations. Automobilty: the last chapter on Detroit is based around my return home at the end of the summer and offers reflections on the relationship between the automobile and the material conditions of Detroit (and of Blackness). In this chapter I argue that analytical work on Black social life, in this instance automobility and hip-hop culture, requires one to think beyond dominant representations and frameworks of understanding Blackness so that one does not reify status-quo, denigrating ideas of Black life used to justify social death. The conclusion ends with a concise yet poignant statement that for the Black subject moving through the aftereffects and afterlives of enslavement, apartheid, and colonialism: the process of traveling is about healing, about escape into togetherness, and into thinking and living beyond and beneath.

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Open Access

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