THE BLACK DIASPORA: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa by Ronald Segal

THE BLACK DIASPORA: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa

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Segal tries to cram a thousand books' worth of history into this overly wide-ranging survey. Segal (a South African--born Jew and author of The Americans, 1969) intends to describe the entire experience of the African diaspora, pulling into his purview the massive history of blacks in Europe, South America, the West Indies, and the US. Straining toward so vast a goal, the text almost inevitably lacks the substance to fulfill its aspirations; indeed, it often has the feel of water when what you need is steak. The author discusses rebellions in Saint Domingue, tensions between blacks and Indians in Brazil, slave songs in the US, intraracial politics in Jamaica, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, neo-Nazis in Britain, George Bush, David Duke, quotas, and Leonard Jeffries, alighting on nearly every social, political, and economic subject that even vaguely falls under the rubric of race. The book is full of vexingly unsophisticated or overly mannered sentences: for example, in ill-advised imitation of Cornel West's vernacular, ""If black folk cannot free themselves, there will be no black love."" Segal's attempt to move through the centuries of black history is made more problematic by its lack of a theoretical vision. The most provocative thesis in the book is no thesis at all: that there is continuity in the history of the black diaspora. All manner of cultural practices are trotted out as proof that the history of Africans is robust, a fact that surely all but the most ignorant readers will know already. Suffers from an author too enamored with his subject's vastness and sheer irreducibility.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"