Reviewed by: Association of Black Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Race
Secondary Theme: Borders
This roundtable will take the form of an Author Meets Critics session where scholars with diverse geographic and topical specializations within anthropology will use their expertise to offer critical commentary on Bianca Williams’ recently published book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2018). The Pursuit of Happiness is an innovative and compelling ethnography that explores the affective dimensions of African American women’s lived experiences in their transnational pursuits of happiness. Based on four years of multi-sited ethnographic research in Jamaica and the U.S., as well as “virtual ethnography” in an online community, Williams centers the often overlooked experiences of happiness, pleasure, and leisure in the lives of African American women in their forties and fifties. The self-proclaimed “Jamaicaholics” who participate in Girlfriend Tours travel to Jamaica to escape from the racism and sexism that they experience in the U.S., in search of the diasporic belonging of being in a majority Black place with people who they perceive as diasporic kin. Williams explores Girlfriends’ dreams of diasporic kinship and imagined communities that are disrupted by the reality of cross-class tensions, respectability politics, and their American privilege. She interrogates the transnational strategies that these women employ in their pursuit of happiness, and highlights connections between affect, race, gender, power and privilege. Furthermore, Williams investigates questions of sexual agency and autonomy in the ways in which Girlfriends are implicated in discourses of sex and romance tourism, foregrounding the complicated emotional entanglements that some of them develop with Jamaican men in their repeat visits to the island. Central to Williams’ discussion of these issues is the argument that pursuing happiness is a political project for Black women.
Williams offers cutting-edge theorizations of race and affect, emotional transnationalism, and diasporic contact zones that make important contributions to the fields of anthropology, women and gender studies, and African Diaspora studies. Some inquiries the book challenges anthropologists to take up are: (1) If we understand affect as social and political, how must we also recognize it as racialized and gendered? (2) What are the transnational dimensions of affective lives? Who is required/encouraged to live their emotional lives transnationally, and why? (3) What do we learn about race and gender if we examine diasporic diversity and difference ethnographically? Roundtable presenters will bring their expertise on gender and globalization, critical race theory, race and place, black families, black career women, feminist anthropology, tourism studies, and sexual economies within the African Diaspora to bear on their reflections on this groundbreaking ethnography.