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Michelle D. Commander’s Afro-Atlantic Flight

In Afro-Atlantic Flight Michelle D. Commander traces how post-civil rights Black American artists, intellectuals, and travelers envision literal and figurative flight back to Africa as a means by which to heal the dispossession caused by the slave trade. Through ethnographic, historical, literary, and filmic analyses, Commander shows the ways that cultural producers such as Octavia Butler, Thomas Allen Harris, and Saidiya Hartman engage with speculative thought about slavery, the spiritual realm, and Africa, thereby structuring the imaginary that propels future return flights.  She goes on to examine Black Americans’ cultural heritage tourism in and migration to Ghana; Bahia, Brazil; and various sites of slavery in the US South to interrogate the ways that a cadre of actors produces “Africa” and contests master narratives. Compellingly, these material flights do not always satisfy Black Americans’ individualistic desires for homecoming and liberation, leading Commander to focus on the revolutionary possibilities inherent in psychic speculative returns and to argue for the development of a Pan-Africanist stance that works to more effectively address the contemporary resonances of slavery that exist across the Afro-Atlantic.

“Michelle D. Commander’s tremendously illuminating work will be a seminal study on the psychological, political, and quite literal flights experienced by African Americans and their kin in the post-civil rights United States and postcolonial African Diaspora. Wonderfully executed, creative, and comprehensive, Afro-Atlantic Flight deeply enhances our understanding of how signifiers like heritage, diaspora, and Africa have functioned over the last several decades.” Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination
Afro-Atlantic Flight enters at a point at which there have been so many critiques of the mythmaking involved in imagining ‘Africa’ that the beauty, the justified yearning, and the revolutionary potential of such imagining have been lost. Michelle D. Commander escapes this trap, countering it with empathy for her objects of analysis, even as she subjects them to a critical gaze. Employing beautiful logic, a powerful argument, and writing that is both graceful and capacious, Commander brings together contemporary currents of thought in new ways to create this truly original piece of scholarship.”  Micol Seigel, author of Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States

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