Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2010—2011 Forum on Virtuality
Africana Studies, Anthropology
(Re)politicizing August First: Diaspora, Neoliberalism, and the Commodification of Emancipation Day
Upon reinstituting Emancipation Day as a national holiday in 1985, Trinidad & Tobago marked a shift from a pluralistic national rhetoric of “creolization” toward one of “modern blackness,” resurrecting the explicitly diasporic sensibility of the annual commemoration of abolition. Featuring prominent speakers and performers from Afro-descended populations across the Americas, Emancipation Day exists as a site of diasporic intimacy, where latent solidarities may be reactualized, and “blackness” reconstituted through intradiasporic exchange. Furthermore, however, as cultural heritage tourism emerges as a national industry, “diaspora” is likewise deployed as an economic commodity, aimed explicitly to attract the capital interests of African-descended peoples abroad. Thus, I explore how Emancipation Day reconfigures traditionalist conceptions of “culture” in Trinidad vis-à-vis the contemporary neoliberal economic milieu.