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Back to Africa: a (re)introduction.


For centuries, African and African-descended people have returned to the continent of their origin. From early voyages to Sierra Leone and Liberia, to the more recent ventures of African American repatriates in Ghana and Ethiopia, the African Diaspora has a long and storied history of traversing time, space, culture, and circumstance to return to the continent. These attempts have developed varied and interesting perspectives over the years from the rise of Pan-Africanism to an assortment of other less-known initiatives.

In the 21st century, more people in the African Diaspora are returning to Africa than at any time prior. These returnees are no longer only characterized as descendants of victims of displacement through the slave trade but increasingly are African nationals abroad seeking to return to pursue economic opportunities and to create businesses that benefit the development of the continent. Collectively, these repatriates bring with them new identities and perspectives representing a variety of geographic regions, cultural practices, and technologies that have transformed concepts of homeland and belonging.

Considering the diversity of the repatriates, their locations of departure, and cultural orientation in Africa, how should we assess their impact? What role do women and gender issues play in migrations and resettlements in Africa? How does repatriation of the African Diaspora compare with other Diaspora populations? What makes the recent returns of expatriates, exiles, and asylees to the continent different from previous migrations? What are the cross-cultural connections between African Americans, Afro-Europeans, Afro-Caribbean's and Africans? This special issue on Back to Africa examines the idea of African repatriation and its legacy from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, focusing on gender, history, the arts, economics, science and technology, education, entrepreneurship, politics and policy, and development.

This Back to Africa issue of the journal is important because there is a renewed interest in this topic. However, there are few books that provide a well-rounded, interdisciplinary approach to the subject. Since the spattering of books published on this topic in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been an increased interest in histories of the African diaspora but few works have examine the new developing trajectory of return to the continent of Africa by the Diaspora in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas which is forming the next chapter in the history of the continent. This interdisciplinary issue will engage historical and contemporary themes of repatriation. The story of repatriation has often been exclusively left the domain of historians. While numerous narrative treatments of the repatriation have left us with a good understanding of the changes over time, few scholars have engaged broader issues of how these movements relate to a variety of other concerns. When an individual makes a decision to return to the continent we often assume that this is a one-way process. This volume explores how repatriation not only impacts the communities that depart but also those left behind on either side of the Atlantic.

Selena Sanderfer's article examines the manifestation of Black Nationalism in the form of territorial separatism, in the nineteenth century. She distinguishes Southern Black Nationalism from other forms and explores its radical form as opposed to cultural and religious forms. She demonstrates how the majority of southern black nationalists did not belong to the upper class but rather how southern black nationalists belonged to the lower working class and were primarily comprised of ex-slaves or poor free blacks, employed in various skilled and unskilled occupations such as farming, carpentry, or coopering. As related to repatriation, the class composition of southern Black Nationalists is reflected in goals emphasizing practical economic and political questions regarding land ownership and governmental rights over cultural considerations of Christian proselytization, civilizing missions.

Michael Boakye-Yiadom's article explores the perceptions of the work by deans of students at Ghanaian universities to further understand how culture, past experiences, changing values and evolving philosophies influence their roles on campus. His work illustrates how the transnational character of student culture confronts traditional and somewhat paternalistic mentalities of higher educational leadership. He highlights the relationship between traditional Ghanaian leadership, often referred to as chieftaincy, and the leadership styles of the deans of students to explore how the traditional leadership mindset of many Ghanaian university staff members conflicted with the more liberal orientation of many students, leading to student-staff tension on the university campuses.

Seneca Vaught's article explores the theoretical and pedagogical framework used in the repatriation of African Americans to West Africa in a historical and transnational context. Historically, through the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Black and White educators alike have realized the potential of Africa as a site of redemption for repatriated Afro-Americans. Innovative approaches to educational reform have characterized some of the century's most daring projects in the continent. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Pan-Africanists developed new ways of integrating Africa into broader educational and intellectual goals. He argues that the long-term narrative of repatriating and educating African Americans in Africa provides stern lessons and replicable templates for contemporary projects and policies.

Serrano's article explores concepts of identity, nomenclature, and civilization by examining how blacks have adopted and returned to Africa in intellectual endeavors. Serrano explores examples in various literary forms that demonstrate a complex, transnational, and evolving understanding of what refers to as a 'civilizational potentiality.' African American intellectuals made use of biblical and secular ideals of Africa to meet a variety of political and social goals. Serrano demonstrates how the theme of Back to Africa can considered as an intellectual repatriation as modern scholars revisited and reinvented themselves through ancient history.

Many disciplinary approaches, academic concerns, and ideological stances are included within this volume that we hope will deepen the readers' understanding of the complexity of the African continent and the diverse paths and connections that characterize repatriation. African history has long been a complex subject that requires both a critical and creative mindset, one that challenges disciplinary conventions, ideas about race, class, and gender. The Back to Africa special edition journal speaks to the cornucopia of knowledge that overflows into a variety of intellectual concerns that are every bit as relevant today as they were centuries ago.

Tara Jabbaar-Gyambrah

Guest Editor
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Author:Jabbaar-Gyambrah, Tara
Publication:Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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