For some Marxists, issues of culture, identity and representation are secondary. In this research note, I analytically reflect on Stuart Hall’s (1996) canonical essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” which stresses that these are significant concerns for anyone struggling for liberation. In his essay, Hall explicates two definitions of "cultural identity." The first is an essentialist identity, which emphasizes the similarities amongst a group of people. Hall argues that this definition can and does inspire feminist, anti-colonial and anti-racist art and activism, but cannot help us comprehend the trauma of colonialism. The second definition emphasizes the similarities and the differences amongst an imagined cultural group. Hall asserts that this definition is useful for understanding the trauma of colonialism because it emphasizes the historical and social contingency of identity. By using this definition in our analysis of power and normalization, we are better able to scrutinize historical and contemporary colonial relations and to struggle against them.
cultural identity; representation; essentialism; colonialism; race
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Stuart Hall beings his discussion on Cultural Identity and Diaspora with a discussion on the emerging new cinema in the Caribbean which is known as Third Cinema. This new form of cinema is considered as the visual representation of the Afro-Caribbean subjects- “blacks” of the diasporas of the west- the new post colonial subjects. Using this discussion as a starting point Hall addresses the issues of identity, cultural practices, and cultural production.
There is a new cinema emerging in the Caribbean known as the Third Cinema. It is considered as the visual representation of the Afro-Caribbean in the post colonial context. In this visual medium “Blacks” are represented as the new postcolonial subjects. In the context of cultural identity hall questions regarding the identity of this emerging new subjects. From where does he speak? Very often identity is represented as a finished product. Hall argues that instead of considering cultural identity as a finished product we should think of it a production which is never complete and is always in process.
He discusses two ways of reflecting on cultural identity. Firstly, identity understood as a collective, shared history among individuals affiliated by race or ethnicity that is considered to be fixed or stable. According to this understanding our cultural identity reflects the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provide us as “one people.” This is known as the oneness of cultural identity, beneath the shifting divisions and changes of our actual history. From the perspective of the Caribbean’s this would be the Caribbeanness of the black experience. This is the identity the Black diaspora must discover. This understanding did play a crucial role in the Negritude movements. It was a creative mode of representing the true identity of the marginalised people. Indeed this act of rediscovery has played crucial role in the emergence of many of the important social movements of our time like feminist, ani-colonial and anti-racist.
Stuart Hall also explores a second form of cultural identity that exist among the Caribbean, this is an identity understood as unstable, metamorphic, and even contradictory which signifies an identity marked by multiple points of similarities as well as differences. This cultural identity refers to “what they really are”, or rather “what they have become.” Without understanding this new identity one cannot speak of Caribbean identity as “one identity or on experience.” There are ruptures and discontinuities that constitute the Caribbean’s uniqueness.Based on this second understanding of identity as an unstable Hall discusses Caribbean cultural identity as one of heterogeneous composites. It is this second notion of identity that offers a proper understanding of the traumatic character of the colonial experience of the Caribbean people.
To explain the process of identity formation, Hall uses Derrida's theory ‘differance’ as support, and Hall sees the temporary positioning of identity as "strategic" and arbitrary. He then uses the three presences--African, European, and American--in the Caribbean to illustrate the idea of "traces" in our identity. A Caribbean experiences three kinds of cultural identities. Firstly, the cultural identity of the Africans which is considered as site of the repressed, secondly, the cultural identity of the Europeans which is the site of the colonialist, and thirdly, the cultural identity of the Americans which is a new world- a site of cultural confrontation. Thus the presence of these three cultural identities offers the possibility of creolization and points of new becoming. Finally, he defines the Caribbean identity as diaspora identity.