Throughout my time at Bard College, I have read a diverse collection of scholarly books, essays, and narratives, primarily centered on the diasporic experience of many ethnic populations. One of the diasporic populations’ included within the collection is the African Diaspora. This group deals directly with a population who has migrated and/or has been forcefully taken from its homeland and must face the ambiguity of its host society’s upon attempting to integrate into that society and reconstruct their identities. Each of the author’s terse yet evocative statements reflect a change from earlier modes of defining diaspora, highlighting and responding to how definitions and characterizations have become insufficient or problematized for defining diaspora for the African diaspora. Rather than focus overtly on the inner workings of thought or the analysis of these diasporic populations, the author’s root their findings predominantly in the space of the physical: artifacts and models, patterns, politics, practicality.
For my final film project, I was consumed with the desire to achieve straightforwardness and simplicity in defining diaspora for the African Diaspora; I decided to do this by interviewing Bard students who identified with being a part of the African Diaspora. To meet the requirements for my final project, I planned ahead of time to study a component of the African diaspora as a way to understand how people within the diaspora identify themselves. I also wanted to explore how the expression, “Africanness” is kept alive through the interconnectivity between a diasporic population and its host society. As a result, AfroPulse followed a group of young Afro American College and graduate students of varying personal, religious, educational and political beliefs, as they face the challenges of identifying with the African diaspora. In addition, my final project has served as a medium to help guide me in the direction of my senior project, which I plan on it being a full-length documentary.
A lesson I learned during the project is that it is important to know the background of your film topic. A few of the student’s I interviewed did not have a strong concept in understanding Diaspora, so it was up to me as the director of the film to define whatever terms my informants were unsure of. The students I am referring to got entangled in the separation between the terms minority and diaspora. The term diaspora seems to be straightforward, but it is not. Many populations of different ethnicities, nationalities, races and religions throughout the world have pushed to claim a diasporic identity for themselves, but the scholars I have studied limit the term only to specific populations without much analytical precision. The problematic aspect of this is how diaspora is defined and which population actually gets to be chosen to belong to a diasporic population, and not a minority.
With such a vast range of populations living outside of their homeland, almost any minority can be considered a diaspora based on the broadness of the term. For clarification, I used Robin Cohen’s definition of diaspora to define the African Diaspora. The characteristics of a diaspora according to Cohen are: “1) dispersal from an original homeland, often traumatically, to two or more foreign regions; 2) the expansion from a homeland in search of work; 3) a collective memory and myth about the homeland, including its location, history, suffering and achievements; 4) idealization of an ancestral home and collective commitment to its maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity; 5) the frequent development of a return movement; 6) a strong ethnic group consciousness sustained over a long time; 7) a trouble relationship with host societies; 8) a sense of empathy and co-responsibility with co-ethnic members in the host land; 9) enrichment of life in host countries”. The African diasporic group contains elements from most, if not all, of the nine characteristics of diaspora that Cohen suggests.
I should note, however, that the concept of diaspora is relative to the perspective of the individual or population who is experiencing it. And so, there is not one definition of the African Diaspora. I started this project with the goal of finding a concrete definition, but I did not. But that is ok. There is not one true definition of diaspora and in a way that makes sense.
Milan Alicia Miller
Here is the link to the documentary: AFROPULSE !
Robin Cohen, “Four Phases of Diaspora Studies.” Global Diasporas: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2008), 17.