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Mapping Conceptual Paradigms for the Memories of Black Europeans

Angela M. Leonard

What constitutes the locus of the memory of mixed-nationals, of Black European Diasporans? As part of a larger research project, this paper is primarily attentive to the memories and history of Blacks who have resided in late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain. Not unlike today, this black population was a mixture of Africans, West Indians (African-Caribbeans), East Indians (African-East Indians, sometimes referred to as Lascars), African-Australians, Afro-Europeans, etc. This paper begs a number of questions:

Does a diasporic perspective supercede or replace a domestic/national one; moreover, do we quality Black European memories as one or the other? Based on black testimony found in contemporaneous national and legal documents, were the Blacks’s domestic perspectives—consciously--both international and multi-racial?

Because of their circumscribed occupations, Blacks perceived the world from the margins. Although witnesses from the borders of a nation, did their “historical consciousness” define the boundaries of national memories? Do these black memories reveal who held the nation together, who built the nation, who forced the nation to test its values, its legitimacy, its integrity? If so, do these ‘marginalized’ memories actually constitute a Black European Memory, that is what I suspect is a memory/history of imperialism, of subjugation of subalterns, as well as a history of black resistance?

This paper will aim to advance a conceptual paradigm of Black Memory as an intellectual, interdisciplinary terrain of its own. To do so I will emphasize the centrality of critical cultural theories within the field of Africana Studies and connect with my own research to re-theorize black memory as multi/trans-national, and thereby begin to contribute to the process of mapping the global, intellectual and theoretical boundaries of Black European Studies. In the words of Toni Morrison:

Canon building is Empire Building.
Canon defense is national defense.
Canon the clash of cultures.
And all of the interests are vested.

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