Tubman Talks: “Irrelevant No More? Wrestling with Diasporic Thought in the Great White North,” – 23 November 2017

Dr. Daniel McNeil will present a paper entitled, Irrelevant No More? Wrestling with Diasporic Thought in the Great White North,” on November 23, 2017 at the Harriet Tubman Institute from 2:30 – 4:30.


This talk places Richard Iton’s In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era in conversation with Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness to think through unity and differentiation in Black Canada and the Black diaspora. It contends that both Gilroy and Iton drew on their extra-academic experiences as musicians and DJs to map the life and work of Black intellectuals who were able to: remain in contact with the “insinuating rhythms of everyday life” and “read the signs in the street in defiance of contemporary pressures to retreat into a contemplative state;”[1] translate sacred discussions about the soul into the profane and secular realms of Black vernacular cultures; contribute to our understanding of deliberative democracy in the call and response between responsible troubadours and their audiences; and carefully deposit clues in their writing that not only smuggled moments of dissidence into liberal, bourgeois public spheres but also slapped and embraced audiences accustomed to commodified forms of corporate multiculturalism.

I have two main goals in revisiting the suggestive, provocative and explorative work of Gilroy and Iton. Firstly, I wish to read their contributions as a means to conceptualise the debates between George Elliott Clarke and Rinaldo Walcott in the late 1990s and early 2000s in a manner that avoids the pitfalls of a polarity between Native and Immigrant, African Canadians versus Caribbeans, or Liberals versus Radicals. More specifically, I am proposing that methodology, interpretation and tone need to be considered more fully if we are to address better the creative tensions between Clarke’s decision to contest the exclusion of Canada from Gilroy’s gestures of diasporic inclusivity, and Walcott’s attempts to use Gilroy’s heuristic work to think through the desire to speak comprehensively about Black Canada. Secondly, I argue that the magisterial work of the Montreal-born Iton helps us to address the shape and contours of what Gilroy has called his transitional, translocal and diasporic generation – a cohort that came of age by listening carefully to Black musicians who paraded through London in the 1960s and 70s. That is to say, both Iton and Gilroy are sensitive to the circulation of terms such as “civil rights and post-civil rights generations” (rather than, for example, “Bandung and post-Bandung cohorts”) that reflect the increasing predominance of the nation-state as a frame for the making of black politics in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia – and the corresponding disengagement from diasporic channels – over the course of the last half century.


Daniel McNeil is a scholar of movement and mobility who joined Carleton in 2014 as the university’s strategic hire in Migration and Diaspora Studies. He currently chairs Carleton’s Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative, which brings together faculty, students and practitioners from the arts, social sciences and public affairs to examine the social, cultural, political and economic implications of the movement and transnational settlement of people.

McNeil has previously served as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Visiting Professorship in African and Black Diaspora Studies at DePaul University in Chicago (2012-14), and lectured in Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University and the University of Hull. His publications include Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs, the first volume in Routledge’s series on the African and Black Diaspora and the first monograph to analyse the history of mixed-race self-fashioning using a transatlantic lens. His forthcoming monograph, A Tale of Two Critics: Resistance, Dissidence and Transatlantic Exchange, provides us with a general history of a transatlantic generation that came of age in the 1960s and 70s as well as a specific analysis of writers who have been hailed as the most influential intellectuals writing in the United Kingdom and the United States over the past half century.

[1] Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993), 47.

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