Putnam’s book is quite interesting as I believe that it presents the most truly transnational concept that we have encountered so far in all of the readings this semester. I say this because not only does it not focus on a group of people that are defined by a specific nation state per se, it focuses on a varied group of people forming a common identity. In addition, we also have a network of nodes (Venezuela, Trinidad, Harlem, etc.) As I was reading this book, I found it interesting that the social and cultural contributions and aspects of this particular group (religion, music) was again not defined or limited to one nation state like Nicaragua or the US. That is not to say that the policies of several nation states did not affect the black Caribbean experience, but again, I got the impression that this group(s) of people were truly identified not by their nationalities, but rather their experiences. What do you guys think? I look forward to discussing this in class.
There’s a lot going on in Putnam’s Radical Moves. I expected to read all about Jazz from the beginning, but realized after the first chapter or so that that wasn’t the plan. There are many things to discuss, but a few things that stuck out most to me were:
– The true transnationalism of her approach. She was discussing the world of black people in almost every nation/colony in the Western Hemisphere. While she did focus on the black people of the West Indies, she did explore the way those individuals lived and were treated in the US, Central and South America.
– The clear presence and impact of networks. I think it was present throughout the book, but was most visible in the first chapter and then again in the fourth chapter. The first chapter discussed how the migrants found work in various countries: “Transnational networks of kith and kin determined which opportunities would-be migrants heard about, what resources they could mobilize to get there, and who they could fall back on if plans when awry” (page 22). The fourth chapter focused on the media and how news articles from black populations in one country or colony were shared/transmitted to others.
The one piece that I am not sure I made the connection on was the piece about migrants having an impact on state policies. In the introduction she states that “If migrants had not made the choices they did, state policies would not have evolved as the did either” (page11). I may have missed it or maybe I’m misinterpreting the statement, but I wasn’t sure about how she made this argument. I felt that the states’ policies against immigration from the British West Indies stemmed from economic and racist reasoning. I didn’t see how anything the immigrants were doing would have encouraged the anti-black immigration sentiment.
I think the answer you may be looking for regarding how migrants impacted state policies might be in chapter three, “Alien Everywhere.” Check out the chapter’s conclusion; I think where their influence lied first was how exclusionary the laws were without quite mentioning race.
I’m inclined to agree with you Emily. It seems to me that the policies affected the identity and development of black public spheres more than vice versa. I may have to go back and verify, but other than say economic choices made by people of the Caribbean as to where to work, nativist sentiments and legislation influenced their experience.
What I enjoyed most about the text is how Putnam uses the experiences of everyday working-class migrants (as she notes in her introduction- “experiences of not-very-powerful-people in not very-prominent places”) to show how they were able to form one common black identity across different nationality origins and countries they ‘adopted’ as well. Especially in chapters four and five, she proves the point that common people with a shared experience can become a powerful political tool. Black-run newspapers created a black public-sphere, while Jazz created a common safe space for them. I think what is interesting is that it seems like racial oppression was the bond that created this identity; regardless of national origins they were treated as “black.”
So I tried to comment once already, but it doesn’t look like it showed up and I’m not sure why. I’m going to try and put all my thoughts back in though for you guys.
I agreed with Alan that this book is the most obviously transnational that we have read up until now. The way she talks about the flow of transnational ideas and the interactions between communities of multiple nations makes that very clear. I also greatly appreciated her approach to music and the news as vessels for the transfer of information and the eventual cultural ideologies that would form. In the past we’ve looked at news as a way for transnational flow to occur but I think this might be the first time we’ve seen an approach that looks at how transnational interaction can literally create an identity.
Putnam started her book off by giving some context to the focus of her work. She acknowledged the independence of the Spanish colonies and the opportunities the British took in order to expand their own empire. However, I tied together Black identity and culture, with important political ongoings in the region very well. I have not often seen historians looking at the foundation of cultural identities as a way of, perhaps unintentionally, providing opportunity to combat the colonial empires. Like Emily, I had originally thought this book was going to focus mostly on Jazz and how it was used as a medium of transnational transfers, but it went much more in depth in that which I appreciated.
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