African diaspora

The Facts

Total population
c. 140 million
Regions with significant populations
Brazil55,900,000, including multiracial people
United States46,350,467
Haiti9,925,365
Colombia4,944,400
FranceApproximately 5.5 million (8% of the French population)
Venezuela3,156,817
Jamaica2,731,419
United Kingdom2,497,373
Mexico1,386,556
Peru1,200,000
Canada1,198,540
Dominican Republic1,138,471 (10.9% of the Dominican population)
Cuba1,126,894
Italy1,100,000
Spain1,045,120
Puerto Rico979,842
Germany817,150
Ecuador680,000
Trinidad and Tobago452,536
Barbados270,853
Guyana225,860
Suriname200,406
Romania145,600
Grenada101,309
Languages
Lingua franca: English (American and Caribbean), French (Canadian and Haitian), Haitian Creole, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch
Religion
Christianity, Islam, Traditional African religions, Afro-American religions

The African diaspora consists of the worldwide collection of communities descended from Africa’s peoples, predominantly in the Americas. Historically, ethnographers, historians, politicians, and writers have used the term particularly to refer to the descendants of the West and Central Africans who were enslaved and shipped to the Americas via the Atlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries, with their largest populations in Brazil, the United States, and Haiti. Some scholars identify “four circulatory phases” of migration out of Africa.

The phrase African diaspora was coined during the 1990s and gradually entered common usage at the turn of the 21st century. The term diaspora originates from the Greek διασπορά (diaspora, literally “scattering”) which gained popularity in English about the Jewish diaspora before being more broadly applied to other populations.

Less commonly, the term has been used in scholarship to refer to more recent emigration from Africa. The African Union (AU) defines the African diaspora as consisting: “of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union”. Its constitutive act declares that it shall “invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union”. For prehistoric and recent migration from Africa, see recent African origin of modern humans and emigration from Africa respectively.

History

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History
18th-century Peruvian painting showing a family of free Africans.

Dispersal through slave trade

Much of the African diaspora was dispersed throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia during the Atlantic and Arab slave trades. Beginning in the 8th century, Arabs took African slaves from the central and eastern portions of the continent (where they were known as the Zanj) and sold them into markets in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Far East. Beginning in the 15th century, Europeans captured or bought African slaves from West Africa and brought them to the Americas and Europe. The Atlantic Slave Trade ended in the 19th century, and the Arab Slave Trade ended in the middle of the 20th century (although pockets of slavery still exist into the 21st century, such as the Haratin in Mauritania). The dispersal through slave trading represents the largest forced migrations in human history. The economic effect on the African continent was devastating, as generations of young people were taken from their communities and societies were disrupted. Some communities created by descendants of African slaves in the Americas, Europe, and Asia have survived to the modern-day. In other cases, blacks intermarried with non-blacks, and their descendants are blended into the local population.

In the Americas, the confluence of multiple ethnic groups from around the world created multi-ethnic societies. In Central and South America, most people are descended from European, indigenous American, and African ancestry. In Brazil, wherein 1888 nearly half the population was descended from African slaves, the variation of physical characteristics extends across a broad range. In the United States, there was historically a greater European colonial population in relation to African slaves, especially in the Northern Tier. There was considerable racial intermarriage in colonial Virginia and other forms of racial mixing during the slavery and post-Civil War years. Racist Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws passed after the Reconstruction era in the South in the late nineteenth century, plus waves of vastly increased immigration from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries maintained some distinction between racial groups. In the early 20th century, to institutionalize racial segregation, most southern states adopted the “one-drop rule”, which defined and recorded anyone with any discernible African ancestry as black, even of obvious majority white or Native American ancestry. One of the results of this implementation was the loss of records of Native-identified groups, who were classified only as black because of being mixed race.

Dispersal through voluntary migration

From the very onset of Spanish exploration and colonial activities in the Americas, Africans participated both as voluntary expeditionaries and as involuntary laborers. Juan Garrido was such an African conquistador. He crossed the Atlantic as a freedman in the 1510s and participated in the siege of Tenochtitlan. Africans had been present in Asia and Europe long before Columbus’s travels. Beginning in the late 20th century, Africans began to emigrate to Europe and the Americas in increasing numbers, constituting new African diaspora communities not directly connected with the slave trade.

Concepts and definitions

The African Union defined the African diaspora as “[consisting] of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” Its constitutive act declares that it shall “invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union.”

The AU considers the African diaspora as its sixth region.

Between 1500 and 1900, approximately four million enslaved Africans were transported to island plantations in the Indian Ocean, about eight million were shipped to Mediterranean-area countries, and about eleven million survived the Middle Passage to the New World. Their descendants are now found around the globe, but because of intermarriage, they are not necessarily readily identifiable.

Social and political

Many scholars have challenged conventional views of the African diaspora as a mere dispersion of black people. For them, it is a movement of liberation that opposes the implications of racialization. Their position assumes that Africans and their descendants abroad struggle to reclaim power over their lives through voluntary migration, cultural production and political conceptions and practices. It also implies the presence of cultures of resistance with similar objectives throughout the global diaspora. Thinkers like W. E. B. Dubois and more recently Robin Kelley, for example, have argued that black politics of survival reveal more about the meaning of the African diaspora than labels of ethnicity and race, and degrees of skin hue. From this view, the daily struggle against what they call the “world-historical processes” of racial colonization, capitalism, and Western domination defines blacks’ links to Africa.

African diaspora and modernity

In the last decades, studies on the African diaspora have shown an interest in the roles that blacks played in bringing about modernity. This trend also opposes the traditional eurocentric perspective that has dominated history books showing Africans and its diasporans as primitive victims of slavery, and without historical agency. According to historian Patrick Manning, blacks toiled at the center of forces that created the modern world. Paul Gilroy describes the suppression of blackness due to imagined and created ideals of nations as “cultural insiderism.” Cultural insiderism is used by nations to separate deserving and undeserving groups and requires a “sense of ethnic difference” as mentioned in his book The Black Atlantic. Recognizing their contributions offers a comprehensive appreciation of global history.

Richard Iton's view of diaspora

The late cultural and political theorist Richard Iton suggested that diaspora be understood as a “culture of dislocation.” For Iton, the traditional approach to the African diaspora focuses on the ruptures associated with the Atlantic slave trade and Middle Passage, notions of dispersal, and “the cycle of retaining, redeeming, refusing, and retrieving ‘Africa.'”:199 This conventional framework for analyzing the diaspora is dangerous, according to Iton, because it presumes that diaspora exists outside of Africa, thus simultaneously disowning and desiring Africa. Further, Iton suggests a new starting principle for the use of diaspora: “the impossibility of settlement that correlates throughout the modern period with the cluster of disturbances that trouble not only the physically dispersed but those moved without traveling.”:199–200 Iton adds that this impossibility of settlement—this “modern matrix of strange spaces—outside the state but within the empire,”—renders notions of black citizenship fanciful, and in fact, “undesirable.” Iton argues that we citizenship, a state of statelessness thereby deconstructing colonial sites and narratives in an effort to “de-link geography and power,” putting “all space into play” (emphasis added):199–200 For Iton, diaspora’s potential is represented by a “rediscursive albeit agonistic field of play that might denaturalize the hegemonic representations of modernity as unencumbered and self-generating and bring into clear view its repressed, colonial subscript”.:201

Largest African diaspora populations

The Americas

  • African Americans – There are an estimated 43 million people of black African descent in the United States.
  • Afro-South American – There are an estimated 100 million people of African descent living in Latin America, including 67 million in South America, making up 28% of Brazil’s population, if including multiracial mulatto pardo Brazilians. Many also have European and Native American ancestry and are also known as pardo, or mixed race. (Brazilian “blacks” are mixed to a significant degree). There are also sizeable African-descended populations in Cuba, Haiti, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, often with the ancestry of other major ethnic groups.
  • The population in the Caribbean is approximately 23 million. Significant numbers of African-descended people include Haiti – 8 million, Dominican Republic – 7.9 million, and Jamaica – 2.7 million.

Caribbean

The archipelagos and islands of the Caribbean were the first sites of African dispersal in the western Atlantic during the post-Columbian era. Specifically, in 1492, Pedro Alonso Niño, a black Spanish seafarer, piloted one of Columbus’s ships. He returned in 1499 but did not settle. In the early 16th century, more Africans began to enter the population of the Spanish Caribbean colonies, sometimes as freedmen, but most often as enslaved servants and workers. Demand for African labour increased in the Caribbean because of the massive deaths among the Taíno and other indigenous populations, resulting primarily from Eurasian infectious diseases to which they had no immunity, as well as conflict with the Spanish, and harsh working conditions. By the mid-16th century, the slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean was so profitable that the Englishmen Francis Drake and John Hawkins engaged in piracy and violated Spanish colonial laws, in order to forcibly transport approximately 1500 enslaved people from Sierra Leone to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

During the 17th and 18th centuries, European colonialism in the Caribbean became increasingly reliant on plantation slavery, so that, by the end of the 18th century, on many islands, enslaved Afro-Caribbeans far outnumbered their European masters. A total of 1,840,000 slaves arrived at other British colonies, chiefly the West Indies in the Caribbean.

Beginning in the late 18th century, harsh conditions, constant inter-imperial warfare, and growing human rights goals resulted in the Haitian Revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines. In 1804, Haiti, with what had been an overwhelmingly black slave population and leadership, became the second nation in the Americas to win independence from a European state and create a republic. Continuous waves of rebellion, such as the Baptist War led by Sam Sharpe in Jamaica, created the conditions for the incremental abolition of slavery in the region, with Great Britain abolishing it in 1838. Cuba (under the Spanish Crown) was the last island to emancipate its slaves.

During the 20th century, Afro-Caribbean people began to assert their cultural, economic and political rights on the world stage. The Jamaican Marcus Garvey formed the UNIA movement in the U.S., continuing with Aimé Césaire’s négritude movement, which was intended to create a pan-African movement across national lines. From the 1960s, the former slave populations in the Caribbean began to win their independence from British colonial rule. They were pre-eminent in creating new cultural forms such as calypso, reggae music, and Rastafarianism within the Caribbean. Beyond the region, a new Afro-Caribbean diaspora, including such figures as Stokely Carmichael and DJ Kool Herc in the United States, was influential in the creation of the black power and Hip Hop movements. Influential political theorists such as Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon and Stuart Hall contributed to anti-colonial theory and movements in Africa, as well as cultural developments in Europe.

North America

United States

Several migration waves to the Americas, as well as relocations within the Americas, have brought people of African descent to North America. According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the first African populations came to North America in the 16th century via Mexico and the Caribbean to the Spanish colonies of Florida, Texas and other parts of the South. Out of the 12 million people from Africa who were shipped to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, 645,000 were shipped to the British colonies on the North American mainland and the United States. In 2000, African Americans comprised 12.1 percent of the total population in the United States, constituting the largest racial minority group. The African-American population is concentrated in the southern states and urban areas.

In the establishment of the African diaspora, the transatlantic slave trade is often considered the defining element, but people of African descent have engaged in eleven other migration movements involving North America since the 16th century, many being voluntary migrations, although undertaken in exploitative and hostile environments.

In the 1860s, people from sub-Saharan Africa, mainly from West Africa and the Cape Verde Islands, started to arrive in a voluntary immigration wave to seek employment as whalers in Massachusetts. This migration continued until restrictive laws were enacted in 1921 that in effect closed the door on non-Europeans. By that time, men of African ancestry were already a majority in New England’s whaling industry, with African Americans working as sailors, blacksmiths, shipbuilders, officers, and owners. The internationalism of whaling crews, including the character Daggoo, an African harpooneer, is recorded in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick. They eventually took their trade to California.

Today 1.7 million people in the United States are descended from voluntary immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom arrived in the late twentieth century. African immigrants represent 6 percent of all immigrants to the United States and almost 5 percent of the African-American community nationwide. About 57 percent immigrated between 1990 and 2000. Immigrants born in Africa constitute 1.6 percent of the black population. People of the African immigrant diaspora are the most educated population group in the United States—50 percent have bachelor’s or advanced degrees, compared to 23 percent of native-born Americans. The largest African immigrant communities in the United States are in New York, followed by California, Texas, and Maryland.

The states with the highest percentages of people of African descent are Mississippi (36%), and Louisiana (33%). While not a state, the population of the District of Columbia is more than 50% black. Recent African immigrants represent a minority of blacks nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of the Census categorizes the population by race based on self-identification. The census surveys have no provision for a “multiracial” or “biracial” self-identity, but since 2000, respondents may check off more than one box and claim multiple ethnicities that way.

Canada

Much of the earliest black presence in Canada came from the newly independent United States after the American Revolution; the British resettled African Americans (known as Black Loyalists) primarily in Nova Scotia. These were primarily former slaves who had escaped to British lines for promised freedom during the Revolution.

Later during the antebellum years, other individual African Americans escaped to Canada, mostly to locations in Southwestern Ontario, via the Underground Railroad, a system supported by both blacks and whites to assist fugitive slaves. After achieving independence, northern states in the U.S. had begun to abolish slavery as early as 1793, but slavery was not abolished in the South until 1865, following the American Civil War.

Black immigration to Canada in the twentieth century consisted mostly of Caribbean descent. As a result of the prominence of Caribbean immigration, the term “African Canadian”, while sometimes used to refer to the minority of Canadian blacks who have direct African or African-American heritage, is not normally used to denote black Canadians. Blacks of Caribbean origin are usually denoted as “West Indian Canadian”, “Caribbean Canadian” or more rarely “Afro-Caribbean Canadian”, but there remains no widely used alternative to “Black Canadian” which is considered inclusive of the African, Afro-Caribbean, and African-American black communities in Canada.

Central America and South America

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Dominican merengue dancing
The racial make-up of the Dominican Republic includes many Afro-Caribbeans, mestizos, Taíno-descended persons, and whites.

At an intermediate level, in South America and in the former plantations in and around the Indian Ocean, descendants of enslaved people are a bit harder to define because many people are mixed in demographic proportion to the original slave population. In places that imported relatively few slaves (like Chile), few if any are considered “black” today. In places that imported many enslaved people (like Brazil or the Dominican Republic), the number is larger, though most identify themselves as being of mixed, rather than strictly African, ancestry. Behind America, Brazil has the largest population of black diasporic people outside of Africa. However, in places like Brazil and the Dominican Republic, blackness is performed in more taboo ways than it is in, say, the United States. The idea behind Trey Ellis Cultural Mulatto comes into play as there are blurred lines between what is considered black.

In Peru, the African population was very mixed with the other white, Indian and mestizo population; so someone is identified as negro if he or she has visible African features. Some mestizos and whites have a degree of African admixture.

In Colombia, the African slaves were first brought to work in the gold mines of the Department of Antioquia. After this was no longer a profitable business, these slaves slowly moved to the Pacific coast, where they have remained unmixed with the white or Indian population until today. The whole Department of Chocó remains a black area. Mixture with white population happened mainly on the Caribbean coast, which is a mestizo area until today. There was also a greater mixture in the south-western departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca. In these mestizo areas, African culture has had a great influence.

Europe

Some European countries make it illegal to collect demographic census information based on ethnicity or ancestry (e.g. France), but some others do query along racial lines (e.g. the UK). Of 42 countries surveyed by a European Commission against Racism and Intolerance study in 2007, it was found that 29 collected official statistics on country of birth, 37 on citizenship, 24 on religion, 26 on language, 6 on the country of birth of parents, and 22 on nationality or ethnicity.

United Kingdom

2 million (not including British Mixed), among which are Afro-Caribbeans.

France

Estimates of 2 to 3 million of African descent, although one-quarter of the Afro-French population lives in overseas territories. This number is difficult to estimate because the French census does not use race as a category for ideological reasons.

Netherlands

There are an estimated 500,000 black people in the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles. They mainly live in the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and Saint Martin, the latter of which is also partly French-controlled. Many Afro-Dutch people reside in the Netherlands.

Germany

As of 2005, there were approximately 500,000 Afro-Germans (not including those of mixed ethnicity). This number is difficult to estimate because the German census does not use race as a category.

Spain

As of 2016, there were 1,045,120 Afro-Spaniards. They mainly live in the regions of Andalusia, Catalonia, Madrid and the Canaries

Abkhazia

Some blacks of unknown origin once inhabited southern Abkhazia; today, they have been assimilated into the Abkhaz population.

Eurasia

Russia

The first blacks in Russia were the result of the slave trade of the Ottoman Empire and their descendants still live on the coasts of the Black Sea. Czar Peter the Great was advised by his friend Lefort to bring in Africans to Russia for hard labour. Alexander Pushkin’s great grandfather was the African princeling Abram Petrovich Gannibal, who became Peter’s protégé, was educated as a military engineer in France, and eventually became general-en-chef, responsible for the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.

During the 1930s fifteen Black American families moved to the Soviet Union as agricultural experts. As African states became independent in the 1960s, the Soviet Union offered their citizens the chance to study in Russia; over 40 years, 400,000 African students came, and some settled there.

Turkey

Beginning several centuries ago, a number of Africans, usually via Zanzibar as Zanj and from places such as Niger, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kenya and Sudan, came to the Ottoman Empire settled by the Dalaman, Menderes and Gediz valleys, Manavgat, and Çukurova. African quarters of 19th-century İzmir, including Sabırtaşı, Dolapkuyu, Tamaşalık, İkiçeşmelik, and Ballıkuyu, are mentioned in contemporary records.

Indian and Pacific Oceans

There are a number of communities in South Asia that are descended from African slaves, traders or soldiers. These communities are the Siddi, Sheedi, Makrani and Sri Lanka Kaffirs. In some cases, they became very prominent, such as Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, Hoshu Sheedi or the rulers of Janjira State. The Mauritian creole people are the descendants of African slaves similar to those in the Americas.

Some Pan-Africanists also consider other peoples as diasporic African peoples. These groups include, among others, Negritos, such as in the case of the peoples of the Malay Peninsula (Orang Asli); New Guinea (Papuans); Andamanese; certain peoples of the Indian subcontinent, and the aboriginal peoples of Melanesia and Micronesia. Most of these claims are rejected by mainstream ethnologists as pseudoscience and pseudo-anthropology, as part of ideologically motivated Afrocentrist irredentism, touted primarily among some extremist elements in the United States who do not reflect on the mainstream African-American community. Mainstream anthropologists determine that the Andamanese and others are part of a network of autochthonous ethnic groups present in South Asia that trace their genetic ancestry to a migratory sequence that culminated in the Australian Aboriginals rather than from Africa directly.

Music and the African diaspora

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Jamaica's Earl "Chinna" Smith is a reggae performer
African-descended peoples have rich musical and dance traditions in the diaspora.

Although fragmented and separated by land and water, the African Diaspora maintains a connection through the use of music. This link between the various sects of the African Diaspora is termed by Paul Gilroy as The Black Atlantic. The Black Atlantic is possible because black people have a shared history rooted in oppression that is displayed in Black genres such as rap and reggae. The linkages within the black diaspora formulated through music allow consumers of music and artists to pull from different cultures to combine and create a conglomerate of experiences that reaches across the world.

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