Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, MA


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Reina Prado

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Marlene Daut

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Joshua Goode

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2012 Jamella N. Gow


Black Atlantic, Diaspora, Double-Consciousness, Empty Signifier, Hybridity, Transnationalism

Subject Categories

Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


Blacks who have descended from the nineteenth century Atlantic slave trade have historically debated and worked to claim a sense of cultural identity that reflects their African heritage and their identity as diasporic. I am particularly interested in how people of the black Atlantic claim their multiple identities since, for people of a diaspora, one main factor is the fact that they inhabit multiple spaces but cannot call any home. How does transnationalism become a better way to describe the cultural identity of those in the "black Atlantic" since these people have to create new or adapted identities as they move from place to place?

For Paul Gilroy, the "black Atlantic" applies to people who descended from slaves forced to come to New World (19). In a sense, slavery is a major part of African diasporic history, but I would claim that as time has progressed and people of this lineage came to find homes in the Caribbean, America, and Europe and they have not lost their heritage. Instead, they have retained these identities in a transnational sense. Multiple cultural identities become integrated into each transnational individual, making each person unique to his or her culture without losing sight of his or her common heritage.

I explore these identity formations through a close reading of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora (sic) in the United States (2001), a collection of short stories, poetry, and personal accounts from Haitian diaspora in the United States, whose stories delve into the issue of transnational identity. The idea of diaspora as read in the text of The Butterfly's Way emphasizes that the more fluid and encompassing terms of hybridity and transnationalism more accurately describe the geographical movements and consequential amassing of black identification within Paul Gilroy's concept of the "black Atlantic."

My analysis is supported by a survey of theoretical discourses, particularly those related to black identity. I utilize post-colonial theory while focusing particularly on transnationalism and diasporic studies through Stuart Hall, as well as W.E.B. Du Bois's conception of "double consciousness" to support and develop my argument on how blacks negotiate multiple identities (11). To discuss the formation of a people, I use the work of political theorist Ernesto Laclau, in particular, his arguments in On Populist Reason (2007) on group identity and demand. Gilroy's concept of the "black Atlantic" has many similarities to Laclau’s notion of the "empty signifier" as a way for people to form groups for collective action.

I conclude that transnationalism works as better way to describe the black diaspora since black descendants of slaves have retained multiple identities as Africans as well as citizens of their current nations. My paper argues that transnationalism and hybridity function as better terms to describe people who have the Atlantic slave trade in their history.