In This Review

The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa
The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa
By Ronald Segal
Farrar, 1995, 477 pp

A Tocquevillesque wandering through the history and contemporary life experiences of communities of African origin, this book focuses on the world bordering the Atlantic. A well-known writer with several excellent books to his credit, Segal is South African. He was born, he says, "into a Diaspora myself, the Jewish Diaspora, in a country, South Africa, where Jews occupied both a privileged and a perilous position." An outspoken critic of apartheid, he fled to England with Oliver Tambo in 1960.

His account of the history of the slave trade is lucid if not particularly original, though slavery is central to the black diaspora and provides the central organizing principle for Segal's explorations. The strength of his book lies in the accounts of his own travels and observations from Brazil to Michigan and from Martinique to Cuba. Faced with the current gloomy avalanche of books about African-Americans, consisting largely of politically correct Afrocentric diatribes on one side and thinly disguised racism masquerading as pop sociology on the other, Segal's book is a welcome antidote. Infused preeminently, Segal argues, with "a love of freedom that is its creative impulse," the diaspora has immeasurably enriched the world of culture in music and sports, language and literature, painting and architecture.