In the last twenty years, the geographic and conceptual space that Paul Gilroy dubbed the Black Atlantic—a network of transnational, transoceanic histories linking people of African descent in West Africa, the Caribbean, North America, and Europe—has emerged as the subject of deepening scholarly and creative reflections in England and the United States. But the Atlantic is by no means the only or most important body of water whose currents have moved African diaspora history. If Africans' forced Atlantic passage ushered in a colonial era that violently connected Africa and the Americas to Europe, Africans' travel to and on the Pacific as sailors, soldiers, dockworkers, and curious voyagers traced other kinds of crossings: linkages between black Atlantic subjects and Mexico, Native America, Polynesia, Micronesia, the Philippines, and other sites of flow through the global South. “Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific” looks to innovate discussions of the African diaspora by tracing one possible route of this less-explored oceanography. Where does the black Atlantic meet the black Pacific? What would it mean to chart a story of the African diaspora not through the triangle trade crisscrossing that first ocean but as a continual navigation of many bodies of water—Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi, Pacific—and many waves of migration? These are some of the questions explored in this work of historical fiction, which draws from oral histories to imagine intersections of migration, work, and desire experienced by African/Haitian American women who came from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Richmond, California, to work in Kaiser's shipyards during World War II. Narrating erotic encounters between black female shipbuilders, the piece meditates on the changing and repeating meanings of shipmate relationships between African diasporics, and choosing fiction as the space to explore these relationships, experiments with how imaginative work can destabilize and “queer” received stories of race, nationality, gender, and sexuality.
Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley; Extract from “Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific”. GLQ 1 June 2012; 18 (2-3): 263–276. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-1472890
Download citation file: