I’m so glad I rescued my notebook from sitting in my dorm room for months! As I flip through the pages, I can see how this course worked up to painting a fuller picture of the Black & Green Atlantic. We began on the very first day with the hybridity of the Atlantic and moved throughout the semester to texts that dealt with memory, origin, race, movement, identity, perception, belonging, conflict, trauma, language, and representation. Each week added new layers to the parallel between the Irish and African American experiences, including both shortfalls and aha moments.
I struggled (and still continue to struggle) with the topic of my final paper. I wanted to create an argument for a succinct definition of what the Black & Green Atlantic is and means, and what the gestures drawn between the two conclude. I got really hung up on formulating this definition for our second to last day of class because I didn’t have an answer, and all of the thoughts that were flashing through my mind couldn’t find their way into a sentence or two. I think my shortfall is in the word definition, because to me there isn’t one when it comes to the Atlantic world we are looking at. This calls me back to Gilroy and our first day – I have written in the first few lines of my notes: ‘once we get to modernity languages and cultures are constantly changing/everything is hybrid/ nationality, ethnicity, and race are not stable concepts.’ The Black and Green Atlantic – the parallels drawn between Irish and African Americans – is not stable. A full conclusion cannot be formed because the identities continue to transform and the journeys across the Atlantic continue. For example, the piece we read for this week was written within the last few years. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon turned a melodrama about slavery into a melodrama about race in America, and added new dimensions to what we learned about The Octoroon along with minstrelsy, drama, and the meaning of art. If we had looked at the Black & Green Atlantic before 2014, Jacob-Jenkins voice would not have been included. The conversation is still continuing as the gestures ebb and flow between fitting together and falling apart.
I saw the ebb and flow between the transatlantic gestures working as we progressed through the course. Some weeks, the parallel between the two seemed to really fit – specifically Gulliver and belonging, Synge and Hurston in the telling of stories, and Walcott and the hybrid identity. Other weeks, the parallel seemed to ebb and really didn’t work for me – Heaney and the Black Panthers, The Informer and Uptight!. In other words looking at some texts gestures made me really see the transatlantic world come together, while others made me skeptical of the parallel that was being drawn between the two.
When I look at the Black and Green Atlantic as a whole, I see how connected the world is. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in light of the pandemic because I have never felt more connected to the rest of the world than I do right now. Traversing the Atlantic comes with cultural exchange. It comes with building bridges and connections. It comes with drawing parallels and gesturing to the experiences of others because you feel connected – modernity allows us to feel connected to the broader world – even if the comparisons drawn aren’t the same at all.