First Caribbean Days in Canada
I play cricket for de telephone company in Barbados. It was June of 1975. I went to dis one game up in St. Andrews village and everyt’ing set for me to leave for Canada de following day. And I remember, like it yesterday, as I walkin’ off de fiel’ one of de guys on my team come runnin’ and literally dive at my feet. I had a pair of Gary Sobers boots dat my father brought me from Englan’, see? Dey had de autograph on de side, you know? Dey were pretty new and it hadn’t really occurred to me what I would do wit’ dem when I was leaving, but dis fella, boy, he knew! He dive at me and tek me off me feet. He strip dose boots off me quick fas’ and say “You’re not going to need these where you’re going!” and run away. Well, dat’s what I thought too. I thought, well you know, it’s not likely I play cricket in Canada and I’m not going for life, anyway. I plan to come here for five years and further my education, make some money and den head back. I thought, I’ll get dose boots back soon enough. So I walk de rest of de way home in my bare feet.
Den, t’ree weeks later I in my sister’s front room. De doorbell ring an’ I look out de window an’ see dis man dress all in white. I thought, wow, in Canada de bakers deliver de bread! Den I see he don’t have no bread. When my sister get de door dat man come in like he familiar wit’ de place. “Hello an’ good afternoon,” he said. I recognise his Jamaican accent straight away. We lived next to a Jamaican woman growing up an’ she always say dat. “Hello an’ good afternoon.” It end up dat he was my brother-in-law Trevor’s buddy, and it wasn’t a baker’s uniform but cricket clothes he wearing. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I say “You play cricket?”, stunned. I thought he’d say, “You know, just a few West Indians get together every once in a while,” but he tell me he play in de Toronto and District League every weekend and I should come. A league! Well, I went wit’ him and Trevor, and I joined de team dat Sunday afternoon. Dat was a very bright spot in my first days in this country because dere was a hope of continuing playing cricket.
We get to de groun’ and I see dey rolling out dis t’ing looks like carpet. I hear dem calling, “Where’s the spikes? Where’s the hammer?” And dey nail it down right on de grass. Dat shock me. I ask, “What’s dat?” and Trevor explain to me dat in Canada we play on dis stuff called matting ’cause de pitch don’t have turf. I was used to playing on turf so dat was strange, but other than dat, it was basically like walking onto e fiel’ at home. There was women selling all sweet bread, and fish cakes, and black pudding, and what you call souse. And de people dem sell beer, and pop, and stuff from their cars. But Trevor tell me not to drink beer straight from de bottle in case de cops come around, since it illegal here. Luckily, everyone have dem plastic cups ready! You would see de whole fiel’ pack wit’ people and their kids. On a Saturday or Sunday everybody come out to watch de game. I ran into guys here at de cricket grounds who were cousins or brothers of my friends from back home. Before I got here I never expec’ fe see so many black people.
De next week at cricket a guy tell me dey hiring at de phone company in Scarborough. So I go to dis job fair, get hired on de spot by Bell Canada, and end up doing an easier job than I did home. Even though lots of West Indians worked dere, you know, I don’t know if I could have survived without cricket. Some of us guys been playing together at dese grounds over t’irty years. You know, we had some good times just being outside on a nice sunny day. Seeing de blue sky, green pastures, white cricket clothes, a bright red ball. Being able to score some runs and have my friends give me de accolades I deserve. You know, dat’s something I would give almost anything for. During de summer I give up picnics, parties, whatever, just to be in a cricket game. My wife is of de opinion dat cricket is my mistress. I say, “Well, of course!”
The above narrative, “First Caribbean Days in Canada,” weaves together the experiences that four Afro-Caribbean-Canadian men shared with me to depict the common story of hundreds of migrants to Canada.1 In the 1960s and 1970s, Canada was the location of choice for thousands of Caribbean men and women. The majority ended up in the “Golden Horseshoe” area of southern Ontario, predominantly in the Greater Toronto Area (hereafter, Toronto).2 My father, a black man native to the island of Antigua, who migrated to Canada in 1975, played cricket when he arrived. For him, this was an expression of his race and masculinity, a source of friendship, fitness and, ultimately, bodily disrepair. Many Caribbean men’s stories about their migration experiences, settling in Toronto’s urban and suburban neighbourhoods, finding jobs, returning home for visits and travelling to other diasporic locations, involved some contact with a cricket and social club. These clubs provided family, social and professional networks that were essential for black men’s survival in a city rife with interpersonal and systemic racism. Talking with men of my fathers’ generation made me appreciate C. L. R. James’ sage comments made in the introduction to a collection of his writings: cricket is not “some specific unit that one adds to what really constitutes the history of a period. Cricket is as much part of the history as books written are part of the history” (1986, p. xi). Given that, according to James (1963) cricket is not only the central, but also the most ideologically loaded Caribbean cultural practice, any documentation of the history and culture of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora must include an examination of cricket.
At the same time, cricket is an integral part of Canadian history. Canada comprises many diasporas and its history is composed of migrants’ experiences. Cricket in Canada, once the exclusive pastime of dominant English migrants, has been a popular culture of minority ethnic groups since the middle of the twentieth century. As is the case for African-American blues music, which “was once unrecognized by America’s Anglophone establishment … [and] characterized by its informality, its nontraditional grammatical structures, its discursive hybridity and its proclivity for drawing on and incorporating other cultural formations, even other languages” (Farred, 2003, p. 18), cricket is often dismissed from the canon of Canadiana. The fact that many cricket players in Canada have dark skin and incorporate cultures and languages other than English as they play has resulted in their experiences being obfuscated from Canadian sport history. Though the nation is no main player on the international cricket stage, there are thousands of Canadians playing the game recreationally, including a group of Afro-Caribbean-Canadian men that are referred to here as the Mavericks Cricket and Social Club (MCSC).
When the Mavericks left their nations of origin, most believed it would be temporary. Most played at a high level, but gave up hopes of playing professional cricket, finding competitive recreational leagues instead. Through the leagues they found a sporting outlet as well as the social capital necessary for employment, many in government-sponsored fields such as education, policing and postal services. Many developed middle-class status, friendships and a permanent life in Canada. At the cricket ground, they were immediately introduced to a uniquely Canadian environment. For example, they needed to use matting (a canvas carpet) on the pitch because the soil was too hard, but they found it easy to carve out a space in which to celebrate their heritage in a multicultural milieu, and therefore to be Canadian men.3 Through playing and watching cricket, they enacted many characteristics of Canadian masculine identity, including athletic prowess and diasporic pride. One of the defining characteristics of diasporas, according to Cohen (1995) and Safran (1991; 1999) is a desire to “return to origins.” For the Mavericks, this required neither a trip to Africa nor a flight to the Caribbean. They only needed to travel across the Peace Bridge for a 11-7hour drive to New York City, or merely to Ross Lord Park, 30 minutes north of the City of Toronto, in order to forge close bonds with other black people, enjoy Caribbean sport, food, drink and music, and share nostalgic stories in their native languages. Afro-Caribbean migrants used sport and travel within the Black Atlantic as vehicles to recreate their homeland cultures, resist and promote integration in Canada, overcome racism and therefore to be black and Caribbean and Canadian men. The use of sport to create their gender and tripartite racial, ethnic and national identities is the focus of this text.
This is not a book about the sport of cricket per se. Rather, it is a narrative of what I call black plurilocal homespaces, created in Canada and the Caribbean diaspora through cricket, cricket-related travel and imaginative rediscoveries of communities. Of the diaspora experience, Salman Rushdie (1991, p. 9) writes that we “are haunted by some sense of loss … our physical alienation from [the homeland] almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands.” Homelands come alive through our activities and the stories we tell about them. These are what Stuart Hall (2003, p. 235) calls “imaginative rediscoveries” that help to define diasporic identities and make sense of the discontinuous and seamless connections to families, ancestors, others in the diaspora, others in the racial group and other Canadians.
Journalists, scholars and fans alike have noted that Caribbean cricket is a force for unifying communities throughout the entire Caribbean region and the diaspora, though they typically focus on the accomplishments in the elite ranks. It has been equally observed that cricket is a force for exclusions, hierarchies and chauvinisms and replicates social divisions in the broader society. This study examines both sides of what cricket offers to a sense of home for Afro-Caribbean migrants by exploring the processes of making and crossing boundaries.
Within the sport of cricket, making boundaries is one of the primary goals of the cricket players. That is, in cricket parlance, players attempt to score four or six runs by hitting the ball across the boundary rope that encircles the field of play. Making boundaries is a highly masculinised achievement that brings accolades to the individual, team, city of Toronto, province of Ontario, Canada, Barbados, Guyana or the entire West Indies, depending on the location of the game and the composition of the opposing teams. In a sociological sense, MCSC members also use sport to make boundaries around their community, defining who is inside and who is out through language, food and performances of ethnicity and gender.
Scholars and novelists within sociological and anthropological disciplines have long emphasised the importance of studying boundaries, the processes of boundary maintenance and the ways in which boundaries are crossed to understand the fluidity of ethnic and diaspora identity formations and expressions (Cohen, 2007; James, 1963; Lamming, 1953; Marshall, 1983; Mintz, 1996). The sense of difference that boundaries distinguish is created through human action, that is, ethnic or racial difference is a cognitive–social–cultural–historical phenomenon created and maintained by both inside and outside actors. Arguing that ethnic identity becomes meaningful only at its boundaries, Fredrik Barth notes that “it is clear that boundaries persist despite a flow of personnel across them” (1998, p. 9) and our attention should be drawn to the boundary, how it is maintained and who or what is allowed to pass through, rather than solely “the cultural stuff that it encloses” (1998, p. 15). Barth suggests it is the processes of exclusion and selective incorporation within a context of acculturation and inter-ethnic interdependence that allow immigrants to maintain their cultures. It is through the (near) crossing of boundaries drawn around Barbadians, men, Canadians, or other categories, that we come to understand where the limits of the community lie. For example, it was not until one team member suggested that the team save money and time by ordering and serving pizza for the game after-party that the boundaries of the community were clarified. That individual met a resounded “Noh man, we mus’ have curry goat an’ t’ing! Dat what dey serve us last game!” Although pizza is consumed throughout nearly every region of the Caribbean, and by some of the MCSC members in Canada, many club members felt that the opposing teams’ hospitality must be repaid only with traditional Caribbean dishes such as “curry goat” at game after-parties, thereby marking cricket spaces as Caribbean homespaces. At the same time, when they compete against their US “brothers,” there is a discussion of the journey across the border as travelling the Underground Railroad, marking the cricket field as a safe black space.
Whether they are framed as black or Caribbean, after attending just a few of the sport and social activities of the MCSC, I was immediately able to appreciate the ways in which unity was promoted in the production of their homespaces. There was a convivial atmosphere among a group of men that appeared to be relatively homogeneous. They used native, colloquial languages, and shared a joyful sense of connectedness with each other in a fun, celebratory, music-, food- and drink-filled environment. They turned to cricket spaces to celebrate, relax, travel and be with (fictive) kin; however, these celebratory events were also sometimes sad and nostalgic, especially for the eldest participants. They sometimes used the cricket grounds as spaces in which to come together to commemorate their loved ones. They marked the surgeries, retirements, and sadly, deaths of their friends and family members. The cricket ground brings black Canadians together as a unified community, not only to celebrate their homeland cultures or assuage the pain of what Gilroy calls the “racial terror” that unifies the Black Atlantic, but also to allay the pain of ageing in the diaspora. The ongoing efforts they put into their boundary-making mechanisms – that is, to mark their spaces as masculine, Caribbean, black, Canadian, or exclusively for cricket or socialising, depending on the setting – reveal that they share an understanding of common traditional values.
Diasporas, nations and sporting cultures that appear to be unified can, nevertheless, “act as repressive or normalising structures that, by virtue of an inability to tolerate discord, constantly attempt to produce conformity and sameness, and disavow difference and inequality” (Abdel-Shehid, 2005, p. 3). As they erect boundaries, for example, around cricket as a men’s sport, they promote unity among cis-gender men and exclusion for their Afro-Caribbean sisters. When they promote broader cricket spaces as family oriented, a closer examination of women’s peripheral roles, as scorekeeper, cook, or fundraiser, raises the question of who should participate in the regeneration of the Black Atlantic and in what way. The making of boundaries can result in the reinforcement of gender, class, nation and ethnic hierarchies. In the only other book-length examination of the black sporting diaspora in Canada, Abdel-Shehid (2005, p. 8) describes black masculinities in sporting contexts as “heterosexual at minimum, and misogynist and hypermacho at maximum.” Among the Mavericks, gay men were occasionally disparaged and positioned as inauthentic, improper, or unwelcome as players or spectators. Cricket was used by some men as a space for their mistresses and not their wives. Players attempted to maintain Afro-Caribbean communities and cultures to the exclusion of their cricket-playing Indo-Caribbean and South Asian peers, and spent hours discussing which nation’s cricketers, politics, foods, or carnivals were “the best.” This cricket and social club demonstrates the disunities that manifest within diasporas.
An examination of the making of boundaries, whether to include or exclude, must also be paired with an analysis of the crossing of boundaries. In the 1970s, when the field of anthropology turned its attention away from “traditional” sites and towards the relationships between core and periphery, the binary dissolved between the modern, metropolitan worker and the traditional, rural peasant. By following the realities of subjects who regularly (if not easily) flow back and forth across borders, the fieldwork of scholars such as Kearney (1996), who examined changing life in rural Oaxaca, southern Mexico, revealed that subjects end up inhabiting many diverse niches, or plurilocal homelands, simultaneously. The crossing of geopolitical boundaries, by car, bus, plane, or imagination is an essential component of diasporas. Club members’ initial migration created a home–away dyad that had to be negotiated. MCSC’s repeated cricket-related trips are, as Trotz (2011, p. 60, emphasis in original) describes of bus trips from Toronto to New York, “gendered and routinized modes of travel across sites that displace the home–away dyad … [V]isits to Caribbean people in places other than the Caribbean and to Caribbean places in North America” and the UK have much to “offer to discussions of Caribbean culture and identity”. Regular visits, compounded by their storytelling about those trips and sharing memories of their nations of origin, mean that cricket club members are multiply placed in plurilocal homelands at any one time.
Sociology, once primarily concerned with nations as societies, has recently been reshaped around notions of the border zone, global society, and post-national, international and transnational formations that cross, but certainly do not erase, boundaries. As Gilroy (1993) has pointed out through his conception of the Black Atlantic, the travelling black man is an iconic figure for understanding how embodied, personal understandings of new geographies, racial formations and cultural identities develop as boundaries are crossed. The Black Atlantic is what Nederveen Pieterse (2009) refers to as a hybridised community that comes into existence through the continued flux and reorganisation of culture that occurs when migrants have been living in a “new” land for longer than they lived in the “old” one. At the same time, Canadians (and Torontonians in particular) are embedded in a mixture of cultures that welcome and reject them, and although they may celebrate hybridity, they may also cling vigilantly to their boundary-making process and purity discourses.4 Rather than investigating whether migrants are either hybrid or pure, my attention is drawn to the ways and contexts in which they imagine themselves as both and I seek to deepen our understanding of diasporas by writing a history of boundary and border making and crossing. Examining the activities of an Afro-Caribbean-Canadian cricket and social club helps us learn about Caribbean and Canadian belonging, pure and hybrid racial identities, transnational social networks and performances of nation and masculinity, to name but a few themes covered in this text.
The Caribbean diaspora is a diverse, deterritorialised community. Not only in terms of their present locations (e.g., Ohio and Georgia in the United States, London and Birmingham in England, Toronto and Montreal in Canada), but also in terms of the diversity in languages, political perspectives, nations of origin and ethnic groups (see Harney, 1996). This study does not attempt to capture all the makings of the Caribbean diaspora. Rather, it focuses on a select group of men and women, primarily from the Anglo-Caribbean and predominantly of African descent. They are referred to here collectively as the Afro-diaspora, Afro-Caribbean-Canadians and the black diaspora. Other than occasional team newsletters and brochures arranged for 25- and 31-17year club anniversaries, there is little documentation of what these first-generation immigrants do with their recreational time. There is no in-depth analysis of the sporting practices and important associated social activities such as team banquets, fundraising dances and picnics of the Caribbean men and women who were among the first to arrive in Canada from that region. The stories of the Mavericks, black men born in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s, who migrated to Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, and now continue to play friendly cricket, have much to tell us about the history of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Their friends and female partners’ storied and performative productions of the spaces they visit, including national locations (St. Lucia or England), local sites (stadia or community parks) or specific sporting or social environments (award ceremonies or “Memorial Matches”), tell a history of racialised, gendered and diasporic identities.
This book demonstrates the ways in which first-generation Afro-Caribbean-Canadian immigrants’ culinary, musical, sporting, language and destination choices actively create plurilocal homelands throughout the diaspora. The aim is to broaden the understandings of intersectional analyses for those who study race, gender and/or globalisation in sport and it is therefore written from a discursive space where physical cultural studies, black diaspora studies and Caribbean studies overlap. A thorough understanding of the concept of diaspora is necessary in order to comprehend how these disciplinary boundaries are crossed.
Diaspora is conceptualised in a variety of ways depending on the region, case study and actors involved. Its overuse and increasingly imprecise application makes it difficult to use as a heuristic device (Edwards, 2001). The word “diaspora” comes from the Greek verb speiro, meaning “to sow” and the preposition dia, meaning “over” (Cohen, 1995), and is most often used to refer to real or imagined communities scattered from a homeland over multiple sites. In this study, diaspora is theorised broadly, using a cultural studies approach that draws from black and Caribbean diaspora as well as transnationality literatures, to study the racial, ethnic, local and national (imagined) communities and cultures that span borders as a result of historic and contemporary migrations.
The notion of diaspora depends on an understanding of flows, boundaries and hybrids, outlined as key terms of transnational anthropology by Hannerz (1997). He writes, “One fundamental fact about flows must be that they have directions. In the case of cultural flows, it is true, what is gained in one place need not be lost at the source. But there is a reorganization of culture in space” (p. 5). Just as cultures become reorganised in unpredictable ways, as migrants transplant from one place to another, their movements need be neither unidirectional, nor permanent, especially when technological, material and nostalgic connections to the homeland are considered. Flows suggest continuity and freedom and are typically contrasted with boundaries, which prevent passage and restrain. However, as Hannerz (1997) notes, drawing from Barth’s (1969) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, “‘boundaries’ have to do with discontinuity and obstacles … sharp line[s] of demarcation … across which contacts and interactions take place; they may have an impact on the form and extent of these contacts, but they do not contain natural isolates.” (p. 7, emphasis in original). When cultural and migrant flows cross boundaries, they create spaces that are neither culturally homogenous nor ethnically pure. The black diaspora, while it may hold onto certain heritage practices, is also a deeply creolised community. It features the histories of complex cultures that subverted and destabilised colonial authority, as well as the adoption of local traits based on the dominant customs and structures of the nations in which migrants have ended up. This text aims to show the human face of the flows, boundaries and hybridity of the Black Atlantic and specifically the Afro-Caribbean-Canadian community.
Blackness as a concept is not an African phenomenon, according to Manthia Diawara (1990); rather, blackness emerged in the Americas “by the performative acts of liberation by black people through Western arts, religion, literature, science, and revolution … [B]lackness is therefore a way of being human in the West or in areas under Western domination” (Diawara, 1990, p. 831). In studies of blackness, sometimes referred to as African diaspora studies or black diaspora studies, there is a long history of research on the maintenance of culture across the middle passage; the syncretism that results from the fusion of African and Western cultural forms; and the desire for origins that results from the present complex experiences of racism, hybridity and in-betweenness of postcolonial peoples. Anthropologist Melville Herskovits made it his life’s work to recount many of the repossessions of black heritage occurring in the Americas. His studies of the simultaneous survival and rupture of African cultural forms in the Americas remains foundational to black diaspora studies. Influenced by the respective Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian scholarship of Fernando Ortiz and Arthur Ramos, and also by Jean Price-Mars (1928), who traced the rich cultures of early African kingdoms in western Sudan, Ghana, Mali and Songhai to the rural voodoo cults of Haitian peasants, Herskovitz helped to elevate the rank of African heritage hitherto despised as semi-heathen. Sidney Mintz, known for his anthropological research with Richard Price on the cultural heterogeneity of enslaved Africans in the New World and the significant impact of their mixed cultures on the diversity of beliefs and practices of the Americas, notes that no single culture can be studied in isolation, because “the peoples we study are forever subject to influences from elsewhere” (1996, p. 292). I raise this history to show that Caribbean sites have been foundational to the study of the black diaspora since its founding as an academic discipline.
Building on this legacy, black diaspora scholars demonstrate the prevalence and transformations of Igbo, Kongo, Yoruba and other African art (Thompson, 1984), religion (Routon, 2006) and food (Houston, 2005) traditions in the Americas. For example, Afro-Caribbean cooking styles and cuisine also owe a debt to enslaved Africans and colonisers who brought their culinary habits to the region. Cornmeal, okra and root-crop dishes; use of hot peppers, salt, tripe and tail; one-pot stews; and the preference for cooking outside derive from African traditions (Houston, 2005), but these are also mixed with Indian and Chinese spices, foods and customs to create the cuisine that Afro-Caribbeans call their own today. These sophisticated analyses recognise the ongoing dialogue between Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas, and describe cultural forms as drawing on African roots, yet constantly evolving. While this work continues, the year 1993 signalled a significant shift in black diaspora studies with the publication of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993).
Gilroy’s concept of the Black Atlantic was revolutionary in its subordination of the study of emotional and cultural links to continental Africa, enslaved Africans and transplanted elements of African cultures, which he suggests essentialise blackness. Rather, he is in favour of research on contemporary individual and community travel and cultural productions that cross borders and allow black groups to form distinctive cultural and political identities by borrowing from elsewhere. Specifically, Gilroy (1993) outlines a complex genealogy of Afro-Caribbean/Afro-British/Afro-American cultural and political formations. He calls this triad the “Black Atlantic” and argues that it is the cultural flows through these three nodes, abiding racism and racialised conditions, political (dis)empowerment and resistance practices that form what he refers to as the “changing same” that keeps black people unified, striving “continually towards a state of self-realization that continually retreats beyond its grasp” (Gilroy, 1993, p. 122). An examination of the cultural interdependencies between peoples in the Caribbean, Britain, the United States (and Canada) helps in understanding how a borderless or deterritorialised identity forms for black people.
The notion of “movement” or “routes” has long been recognised as central to black diasporic consciousness. From the ships that began the journey of millions of enslaved Africans, to the sea and train porters who comprised a majority of North and South American and European black proletariat, to the contemporary refugees, fugitives and migrants that leave their homelands daily, the routes of black people have created a dispersed community on the move as an alternative to national allegiances. As Gilroy (1993, p. 16) writes:
The history of the Black Atlantic since 1942, continually crisscrossed by the movements of black people – not only as commodities but engaged in various struggles towards emancipation, autonomy, and citizenship – provides a means to reexamine the problems of nationality, location, identity and historical memory.
To examine Canada from the perspective of the Black Atlantic is to raise unique questions about the project of nation building. However, to speak of the Black Atlantic, with common cultures and ongoing desires for elsewhere, obscures the heterogeneity of the black diaspora.
More recently, several scholars have made important incursions into Gilroy’s Black Atlantic framework. Jacqueline Nassy Brown’s (1998) research on black seafarers and Brent Hayes Edwards (2003) study of literary and political figures in France and the United States in the early twentieth century reveal that power asymmetries within black communities make it difficult to locate common ground within these transnational communities; therefore, they highlight the importance of historical, local and gender specificity. These authors argue that Gilroy’s influential theory elides the specificity of nation-states and suggest that the assumption that black cultures and outer-national identifications arise solely as antidotes to racism is limited.
Gilroy, in Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, argues that the culture and politics of black America and the Caribbean have become the “raw materials for creative processes which redefine what it means to be black” in Britain (1987, p. 154). Nassy Brown builds upon Gilroy’s notion of “raw materials” and uses the term “diasporic resources” to describe the tools, images, events, organisations, artefacts and expressive cultures that operate beyond the anti-racism paradigm and allow membership in the black diasporic community. Her description of diasporic resources is worth quoting at length. Diasporic resources:
include not just cultural productions such as music, but also people and places, as well as iconography, ideas and ideologies associated with them. ‘Place’ is an especially important resource, for the practice and politics of travel serve to map diasporic space, helping to define its margins and centers, while also crucially determining who is empowered to go where, when, under what conditions and for what purposes … [resources are appropriated] to meet particular needs – but do so within limits, within and against power asymmetries, and with political consequences. (1998, p. 298)
Nassy Brown describes the Black Atlantic as both bound to and free from “place,” captured in a “racialized geography of the imagination” (1998, p. 291); though their ethnic roots, territories and customs are varied, black people’s imagined connections remain strong because they are able to access similar resources that link them to particular places. Cultural practices such as wearing kentia fabric or natural hairstyles, or listening to and creating hip hop music may all signify dissatisfaction with, and resistance to, dominant discourses and mainstream cultures. Notably, these diasporic resources are gendered and attention to making of masculinities and femininities via diasporic resources deepens our understanding of the Black Atlantic. Cultural expressions such as the philosophies of Muhammad Ali or the batting of Vivian Richards, to use two gendered sport examples, are anti-hegemonic cultural practices that permit the mapping of the black diaspora onto particular locales (such as the United States and Antigua) and broad regions (such as the Black Atlantic and the Caribbean) at the same time.
Another important challenge to Gilroy’s framework includes the general occlusion of Canada from black diaspora studies. Expanding the Black Atlantic to include Canada allows for greater understanding of the supra-national, transnational and multinational contexts and cross-border flows that create black diasporic cultures. Burman (2010), Campbell (2012), Joseph (2012), Trotz (2006), Walcott (2001; 2003) and others have shown black popular culture in Canada to be dependent on transnational relationships and movements to and from the Caribbean, North and South America and England. Abdel-Shehid, in his assessment of sporting black masculinities in Canada argues “that we need to eschew the nation as an interpretive framework for thinking through sport and nationalism” (2005, p. 6), particularly due to “the inability of Canadian state narratives to produce local versions of black masculinity” (p. 112). The Black Atlantic provides an appropriate alternative interpretive framework.
In Canada, black aspirations for belonging are activated by specific local debates about the exclusivity of Canadian national white belonging, and also by desires for membership in an inclusive community that happens to be dispersed across borders. Thus, expanding the Black Atlantic to include Canada and drawing from a mode of cultural production such as sport exposes how the Canadian nation-state intersects with local dynamics of the countries from which black Canadians have come and the nations to which their kin and kith have dispersed. Below is detailed the history of Canada’s black diaspora, focusing specifically on peoples and cultures from the Caribbean and research trends in (Afro-)Caribbean diasporas.
The Caribbean, arguably more than any other region, has felt the impact of international movements of people throughout its history. Transnational social and family networks, emotional connections to a homeland, and cultural formations that transcend borders can be regarded as fundamental aspects of Caribbeanness (Foner, 2001; Gmelch, 1992; Mintz, 1998; Nurse, 2004; Richardson, 1992). The Caribbean diaspora’s story begins with the story of slavery. As a result of the need for staples (such as sugar, molasses, rum, tobacco, cotton, indigo and coffee) for rapidly expanding metropolitan markets, European colonisers began the import of slaves from various African nations as early as the mid-sixteenth century; from the early 1500s to late 1800s, the Caribbean “received perhaps one-third of all enslaved Africans who reached the New World alive” (Mintz, 1996, p. 294). When the legal systems of slavery were reluctantly dismantled in 1838, the British colonies expressed a need for replacement labour and a need to depress wages where former slaves had begun to agitate for more income. Eventually a system was devised for recruiting labourers, from Portugal, China and especially the Indian subcontinent (Niranjana, 2001; Peake and Trotz, 1999; Williams, 1991). “The end of slavery did not put a halt to slavery’s habitual social and economic accompaniments,” Mintz (1996, p. 298) argues. Workers continued to be abused and exploited. For example, Munasinghe (2001) notes that working conditions on plantations were so poor that thousands of Africans and Indians after them were ill, punished for constant ill health and worked to death, and little was done to improve their circumstances or integrate them into society by way of education. Enslaved, indentured and free Africans and Indian labourers engaged in numerous forms of rebellious activity, ranging from feigning sickness, stealing and burning crops, to “maroonage” (running away and forming free communities) and ultimately migration.
Gmelch (1992) points out that for Caribbean peoples migration is not only a result of global economic push–pull factors. Migration is embedded in the social, cultural and mental fabric of Caribbean people and a predominant feature among men and women, including not only working class, but also skilled and highly educated groups, as the main means of upward social mobility and family reunification. For many Caribbean countries, more members of the population live in other areas of the Caribbean, North America and Europe than in their homelands: “In the eastern Caribbean, particularly where small, resource-poor islands predominate, migration is a way of life, a common household strategy for dealing with economic scarcity … On many islands migration is so pervasive that nearly every household has a relative living in Britain or North America” (Gmelch, 1992, p. 3). The first emigrants, beginning shortly after the formal end of slavery in the late 1830s until the 1880s, moved away from plantations to small landholdings on other islands with expanding sugarcane cultivation and high demands for labour. Afro-Caribbeans migrated within the region, going to Spanish and other non-British territories to work on sugar estates or banana plantations and for jobs such as the building of the Panama Canal (Gmelch, 1992). They also went to the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States after the Second World War to help with unskilled and semiskilled labour shortages in the 1940s and 1950s (Nurse, 2004; Thomas-Hope, n.d.).
Immigration to Britain was mainly from Commonwealth Caribbean regions, especially Jamaica, in the 1948–62 period, in part thanks to the 1948 British Nationality Act, which created shared rights (including the right to live and work in the United Kingdom) to all citizens of the Commonwealth. Nurses and students were the two biggest groups of those who gained entry from the Caribbean during this time. As Britain began to impose more stringent immigration requirements on Commonwealth Caribbean migrants, the systems of the United States and Canada became more liberal, and immigration shifted primarily to these countries in the early 1960s. Significantly, since the 1960s, more Caribbean migrants have left Britain than entered, with Canada, the United States and also their nations of origin as destinations. The ageing population combined with low immigration rates means that although the British-born, Caribbean ethnic population will remain, the stock of Afro-Caribbean immigrants in Britain will soon be diminutive, while the population in Canada continues to grow.
Ropero (2004, p. 156) explains that new regulations in Canada that de-emphasised nationality (and, indirectly, race) as a criterion for selection, and instead prioritised educational and occupational qualifications, led to a boom in migration from the Caribbean:
[A] points system was introduced in 1967, whereby immigrants were assessed in terms of their skills and employability, regardless of race or nationality … Thanks to the points system, Caribbean immigrants gained access to Canada, coming in large numbers during the late 1960s and 1970s. Canadian immigration offices were opened in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and other islands in order to recruit skilled immigrants. Thus, the Caribbean jumped from fourteenth place to third as a source of Canadian migration during these years.
During the period 1960–81, Canada received migrants mainly from the Anglophone Caribbean. Over one-tenth of these were female domestic workers and nurses who started on 1-year visas as a result of government-supported work schemes. The majority were able to become long-term migrants during the period between 1968 and 1973, when migration reached its peak and persons who had been admitted as visitors could apply for landed status. Females from the Caribbean have always outnumbered male migrants to Canada owing to the opportunities for work in the service, clerical, domestic help and nursing fields. The majority were from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti, although all Caribbean regions have supplied migrants to Canada. The population was generally younger than migrants to the United Kingdom and the United States, with a concentration in the 25–29-year-old age group, and a higher proportion of migrants to Canada entered as students (Thomas-Hope, n.d.).
With regard to geographic distribution, Henry (1999) notes that 84 per cent of Caribbean immigrants to Canada are from the former British colonies: Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinindad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and British Virgin Islands. However, only four of these countries – Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados – account for 93 per cent of the immigrants. Notably, Afro-Caribbeans responding to racism and declining work opportunities in Britain are listed as British in the Canadian census, but it is estimated that as many as 15,000 Afro-Caribbeans have migrated twice, first to Britain and then to Canada. In 2001, there were over 500,000 Caribbean peoples in Canada, representing 2 per cent of the total Canadian population, and this population continues to grow. The majority live in Quebec (22 per cent) and Ontario (69 per cent), primarily concentrated in Toronto (Lindsay, 2007a). Vibrant Afro-Caribbean communities were created in various neighbourhoods such as Eglinton-Oakwood and Jane-Finch. In the intervening decades, many middle-class Afro-Caribbean immigrants have dispersed into suburban areas including Scarborough, Markham, Pickering, Brampton and Mississauga, creating an Afro-Caribbean community that spans Toronto’s urban and suburban zones.
Despite Toronto’s celebrations of multiculturalism and a three-week-long summer festival dedicated to Caribbean culture, institutionalised racism remains part of the foundational moral and social climate of the city and nation. Canada’s ethnic minorities, Afro-Caribbeans in particular, are in a disadvantaged position with respect to the distribution of power, prestige and resources. For decades Afro-Caribbean-Canadians have waged a number of legal battles around improved working conditions, enhanced access to jobs and non-discriminatory education.
The crossing of borders and meeting of other Afro-Caribbeans in Canada, drawing from African-American and black British cultures, and being lumped together as one based on racial difference from the dominant white group, led to a pan-Caribbean, transnational, deterritorialised sense of black consciousness for many migrants in Canada. This diasporic identity, as Gilroy (2010) writes, seems “to have cultivated its own forms of blackness, which were not African, or more accurately, not just African” (p. 115, emphasis in original). A migrant from Barbados living in Toronto may have family in the United States, England, Jamaica and Barbados, and a reunion may take place in New York City, which is considered the “homeland” for many members (Foner, 2001; Sutton, 2008). Therefore the Afro-Caribbean diaspora is a deterritorialised community, connected to multiple geographies at once.
In his analysis of black diaspora “routes,” Edward (2001, p. 63) observes, Gilroy is “more concerned with individual stories of travel … and abstract notions of transnational circuits of culture than with specific ground-level histories.” This study draws from Gilroy’s (1993) theoretical framework of the Black Atlantic, but expands his geographical and theoretical purview in five important ways: (1) rather than exploring meanings created by individual sojourners such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard Wright, I specifically examine ground-level experiences of a group of Afro-Caribbeans; (2) I raise the importance of Canada to the Black Atlantic, instead of focusing on relations among the Caribbean, England and the United States; (3) rather than examining cultural forms such as music and literature, I investigate the activities associated with sport to illuminate the cultural ingenuity, resilience, heritage and creolisation of the black diaspora; (4) I highlight gender performances and relations and show how spaces come to be not only raced but also gendered, especially through women’s absences; and (5) I shift attention away from racial terror and exile as factors driving black consciousness to consider how the terror associated with ageing can bring older black men together.
Much of the writing about black Caribbean men in anthropology, cultural studies and sociology of the Caribbean draws from the gender analysis of Peter J. Wilson’s (1973) text, Crab Antics. In his study of the island of Providencia, the two separate value systems Wilson explicated, “respectability” and “reputation,” have been found to be characteristic of Afro-Caribbean cultures throughout the islands, territories and diaspora. The “respectability” value system is derived from the cultures of the upper classes (originally the British colonisers) and is adopted by black and creole middle-classes, the Church and women, primarily. These groups value the home, self-restraint, work, education, family and hierarchies. The opposite locations and characteristics (the street and rum shop, playful self-expression, idle pleasures, infidelity and egalitarianism) are the domain of men, especially the working classes.
Further elaborating on Wilson’s reputation thesis, Roger D. Abrahams made a crucial contribution to Caribbean studies in his studies comprising The Man-of-Words in the West Indies. He clarifies the acts of playful self-expression that are central to building reputation by distinguishing between broad talkers and sweet talkers. Broad talkers are predominantly working-class men who rely on wit, repetition and a local dialect. Working- and middle-class sweet talkers, in contrast, use elevated diction, elaborate syntax and received pronunciation to enhance their reputations. Both of these groups use a stylised performance of speech and verbal agility to perform masculinity in outdoor spaces. Abrahams’ (1983) analysis was not only limited to men. He highlights the verbal acuity of working-class women as part of their reputation building as well. Caribbean people appear to be talking all at the same time, with call and response, interruption, gestures (e.g., cut-eye) and noise (e.g., kiss-teeth) being more important at times than the content of the words used.5 Although reputation and respectability are not complete binaries divided along space and class lines, their value for understanding black diaspora cultures and gender, with the Caribbean case in particular, remains undeniable. Wilson (1973) espoused reputation as the autochthonous value system of Afro-Caribbeans. While I do not agree that the predominantly masculine activities of talking, drinking, storytelling and gaining respite from the workplace and homespace are any more “purely Caribbean” than the work, decorum, discipline and polite exchanges of some women’s spaces or workspaces, the case study presented below helps to illuminate the ways in which Afro-Caribbean men and women in the diaspora draw from both value systems to mark their home culture. Afro-Caribbean men and women generally inhabit distinct cultural spheres, and the cricket grounds and the club’s associated parties and picnics are primarily spaces of “reputation”; however, club members cannot escape some of their religious and middle-class principles that result in “respectable” behaviour. Club members are embedded in both reputation and respectability value systems, more or less, at different times, and both will be used as a hermeneutic thread in the pages that follow to show how gender, class and racialised performances reflect their (aspirations for) belonging to different communities.
Within Canada, there is a corpus of theatrical, literary, poetic and artistic works that examines the multiply-identified members of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. It would be remiss of me if I did not preface this study of race and gender in Toronto cricket communities, and if I did not specifically pay homage to Trey Anthony’s Da Kink in My Hair (2005), set in a Toronto hair salon. The play, which inspired a television series, highlights the emotional, financial and family-related struggles of Caribbean women and men in Canada. Member of the Order of Canada, novelist Austin Clarke, as well as poets, playwrights and novelists Althea Prince, Claire Harris, Dany Laferrière, Dionne Brand, Everard Palmer, Makeda Silvera and M. Nourbese Philip rewrite Canadian history from the perspectives of disarticulated Afro-Caribbean people who remain confronted with conflicts of idyllic multiculturalism embedded in a racist society. They demonstrate that differently positioned Afro-Caribbeans have real and imagined journeys and communities that are important to narratives of nation, (dis)location, loss, safety, horror, hope, (return to) home and belonging. These contributions highlight the ongoing importance of storytelling and demands for social justice among Afro-Caribbean-Canadians.
From a social science perspective, Katherine McKittrick’s (2002) study highlighted a creative tension between Canadian black diaspora “communities that are elsewhere (remembering, imagining, travelling) and here at the same time” (p. 33). Important in this dimension of diaspora is the critical role of the spatial production of race; of dwelling, settling and nostalgic memory in the diasporic experience; or as McKittrick puts it, “a politics of location – geographical, linguistic and imaginary – is importantly rooted in a politics of (un)belonging” (2002, p. 33). Diasporas do not necessarily travel regularly to feel connected to “home.” Turning attention to the national discourses, recollections and cultural resources of those who left their homes and then chose to make their new homes in Canada, broadens our understandings of Afro-Caribbean diasporas and the Black Atlantic. Alissa Trotz (2006; 2011) also provides a formidable analysis of space, race and transnational networks within the Guyanese diaspora in Toronto, Canada, that hosts school reunions and travels to New York on shopping trips. Ostensibly, the Guyanese community is brought together and the porosity of nation is demonstrated through links made between Canada, the United States, England and Guyana; however, class hierarchies and specifically gendered roles of the homeland are also reinforced revealing that diasporic communities are not homogenous. Although national borders are regularly crossed – and for some, essentially dissolved – the political and cultural salience of nation-states remain.
Hundreds of thousands of Afro-Caribbeans insist on making Canada their residence. They establish networks, raise children and embed themselves in local communities; yet, they remain out of place, as others assume that they are new, and they choose or are forced to refer to other locations as home. Afro-Caribbeans are aware of the limits of belonging and thus prefer not to place all their hopes and dreams in this nation. Rather, they turn to the black and/or Caribbean diaspora for a sense of belonging. Organised physical activity at a recreational level is largely overlooked as a diasporic resource that Afro-Caribbean people deploy (Walter et al., 1991 is one exception). Cultural or ethnic organisations and associations and their sporting clubs are important spaces for the formation of an Afro-Caribbean diaspora consciousness through what Clifford (1994) refers to as “roots” and “routes.” That is, diasporas develop (1) relationships with their “roots,” their ideas of ancestry and home that shift with changes across the lifespan, varying political (un)certainties in the states of origin/dwelling, and transformations in degrees of economic and social power, and (2) access to “routes”; that is, flows of kin and cultural resources and the ability to forge real and imagined transnational networks.
A recreational cricket field in Toronto operates as, in Gilroy’s (1993, p. 95) words, “an important junction point or crossroads on the webbed pathways of Black Atlantic political culture.” This text examines the many ways that cricket is a useful diasporic resource for Afro-Caribbean-Canadians. Cricket has many associated elements including travel, food, drink, socialising and fundraising, to name a few, which help Afro-Caribbean-Canadians to develop a sense of connection to a broader Afro-Caribbean and black community, restore their homelands, reproduce gendered cultures and class hierarchies, and create an anti-hegemonic space in their local neighbourhoods. At the same time, the black cricket club members demonstrate their status as Canadians and show ways in which they are locally embedded in and intertwined with the dominant culture. A closer analysis of what has been written about the sporting experiences of different diasporas helps to situate the research on the Mavericks Cricket and Social Club (MCSC).
Sport and diaspora
It is only in the past two decades that a few illuminating studies emerged to examine the intersections and experiences of diasporas in sport. Within multicultural societies, diasporic communities, consciousness and cultures come to life in professional sport stadia and on recreational fields. It should come as no surprise that much of this research is on cricket, given the importance of the sport in nearly every British colony and the high rates of postcolonial migration from those same sites.6 In England, national belonging was “tested” via sport in 1990, when conservative British politician Norman (now Lord) Tebbit’s infamous “cricket test” called on diasporic ethnic minorities to prove their loyalty and desire to integrate into Britain by showing support for the English cricket team (Werbner, 2005, p. 756). South Asian diasporic groups often show allegiance to Britain and investment in British teams and leagues, but they also gather to celebrate their homeland cricket team – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka – in international competitions to connect with other local and distant compatriots, thus forming an imagined community and symbolic link with the subcontinent. Their support is also an anti-colonial and anti-local act of resistance, a symbolic rejection of “Englishness” (Burdsey, 2006, p. 17). South Asian cricket fans now living in the diaspora subvert national identities through their sporting allegiances as they express their homeland cultures, including sometimes re-enacting political conflicts such as between India and Pakistan (Davis and Upson, 2004).
International Test cricket spectatorship offered the same openings for black Britons. In 1984, when the black West Indies (Windies) team executed a historic massacre of a white English team in England (5–0 in five matches), with the result being repeated at home in the Caribbean four years later, celebrations abounded in black inner-city areas from Bristol to Leeds. The wins were labelled by these supporters as a “blackwash” (as opposed to a whitewash): “[I]t was very clear that they were celebrating not just a cricket victory but a far wider one in the wake of the Notting Hill and Brixton riots, inquiries into which revealed the full social and political plight of West Indian communities in Britain” (Stoddart, 2006, p. 804).
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the reactions to the wins were similar in New York and Toronto. Afro-Caribbean immigrants were glued to their radios and televisions for the duration of the matches and they gathered at parks to celebrate, play their own cricket and rehash the victories of “their team.” In addition to watching professional cricket, playing recreational cricket offers an opportunity to cathect an explicit anti-racism platform, eschew exclusion from elite leagues, symbolically overturn hierarchies of dominance, subvert police harassment and destabilise class subordination in the diaspora (Carrington 1998; 1999; Williams, 2001). It is at their own games that Afro-Caribbean migrants related Windies victories and their own successes to vanquishing the colonisers, and played the calypsos “Cricket Lovely Cricket” by Lord Beginner and “Sir Garfield Sobers” by The Mighty Sparrow as soundtracks for their local celebrations. Although these types of celebrations do little to interrupt local and historical racial antagonisms, and mask internal divisions, it is clear that they are a necessary part of survival in the diaspora for some men. Athletes of Afro-Caribbean descent connect to their homeland, native language, ethnic pride, racial group, dispersed populations and local communities through sport.
The ethnographic research conducted by Ben Carrington in the mid-1990s with a black cricket team, “the Caribbean Cricket Club (CCC) one of the oldest black sporting institutions in Britain” (2008, p. 431), is instructive for the analysis being conducted here. The CCC plays in a league, “representing” an area of Leeds racialised as black, in a sport invested with the English habitus, in a county renowned for its chauvinism and racially exclusive form of identity (Carrington 2008, p. 431; see also Carrington 1998; 1999). He demonstrated that participation in the CCC and playing the sport of cricket itself could be read as a form of cultural resistance to white racism in this context. Though he acknowledges the diasporic dimension of racial formation, and even highlights regional differences in black Britishness (Carrington, 2008, p. 435), he pays less attention to the transnational connections of the CCC members. The “friendly” (non-league) games that the Mavericks played in England against teams like the CCC tell us something else about the “complex, relational, and dialogic nature of racial formation” (Carrington, 2008, p. 430). By situating their play in the context of the Black Atlantic, with itinerant, older, Canadian cricketers, I build on the cogent understanding of race provided through Carrington’s local study from two decades ago.
Gilroy’s concept of the Black Atlantic has been used in sport studies to understand the bonds across borders shared by racialised athletes with and without African origins. For example, black athletes in Norway have been shown to be bonded through their imagined connections to black people in other countries, and their exclusion from white privilege and power, rather than a link to a common, mythical African homeland (Andersson, 2007). Andersson’s examination of Norwegian football, basketball and track and field reveals that black athletes do not always feel included in Norwegian society. The local history of the sport, national origins of the athlete and individual desire to risk being seen as “too sensitive’ by openly resisting racist labels such as “negro” all influence black Norwegian athletes’ experiences of what Gilroy, drawing from W. E. B. DuBoiss calls a “double consciousness.” In his examination of the othering of Samoans (even those representing New Zealand’s preeminent national rugby side, the All Blacks), Grainger (2006) demonstrates the complicated questions of ethnicity and national belonging, cultural networks, deterritorialised identities and anti-colonial resistances that form within what he calls the “Black Pacific” – akin to Gilroy’s (1993) conception of the Black Atlantic. Samoan professional and recreational athletes’ emotional, economic and political relations to the “homeland” in conjunction with racist exclusions in the “hostland” often prevent them from aligning themselves as national subjects; Samoan rugby players “negotiate an identity simultaneously informed by colonial legacy, notions of ‘homeland,’ and the economic demands of global capitalism – they occupy, and identify with, more than one national space” (Grainger, 2006, p. 46). Samoan players’ blackness allows them to mobilise both national and diasporic consciousness, which may or may not be associated with the cultures, resistance efforts, sport figures or political icons of the Afro-diaspora.
The broad social significance of sport in the Black Atlantic has been clearly shown by Grant Farred (2003), who argues that sport figures may act as symbols for a borderless black community. His detailed treatise of Muhammad Ali describes the diasporic and political nature of this icon when he states: “It is no accident that Ali, more than [Bob] Marley was (at first) more readily accepted by the Third World and the black diaspora than he was by mainstream America” (p. 25). Farred continues:
The impact of his victories and his (rare) defeats resonated well beyond the United States, particularly (and surprisingly, in those pre-TV and -satellite days) in those places where previously – or still-colonised – people saw Ali as championing the same struggles in which they were engaged. (2003, p. 41)
Ali was sometimes commodified, unlearned in some aspects of postcolonial politics and a patriot (e.g., when he competed for America at the 1960 Olympics). Yet, when the boxer demanded to be recognised not as “Cassius Clay” (which he referred to as his “slave name”), but instead as “Muhammad Ali,” (which represented his conversion to the Nation of Islam and commitment to the liberation of black people), he registered political dissent in a public sport forum. As “the poet laureate of black global expression” (Farred, 2003, p. 54), Ali brought into public view the effects of slavery and colonialism and the struggle for anti-hegemonic and non-pejorative black identity in the United States and the postcolonial world.
There are only two book-length texts that purport to describe the intersections of sport and the black diaspora. Race and the Sporting Black Diaspora (Carrington, 2010) describes the roles of pugilists Jack Johnson, Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno and Joe Louis as transcending the sporting realm and becoming meaningful icons for black people in and outside the United States. Like Ali, these black athletes were commodified by a racist media as they used sport as an arena for public resistance to white racism. Carrington (2010) shows the uniqueness of sport in providing an international stage for black voices and the centrality of the athlete to crafting a specifically black and masculine global imaginary within the context of the twentieth century. However, Carrington reproduces Gilroy’s elision of ground-level group activities and the Canadian nation-state within the Black Atlantic. In Abdel-Shehid’s (2005) text, Who Da Man?, Gilroy’s seminal notion of the Black Atlantic “and its emphasis on black performance, movement and permanence both inside and outside national frameworks, helps us understand sport in Canada much more thoroughly” (p. 6) and “allow[s] us to hear the complexity of black voices here in Canada and their engagements with other parts of the world” (p. 7). Abdel-Shehid uses case studies of Afro-Caribbean track athlete, Ben Johnson and African-Americans in the Canadian Football League to show that crossing national borders is central to black sporting presences in Canada and that a Manichean response to colonialism still exists within dominant Canadian culture.
Yet, Carrington’s (2010) and Abdel-Shehid’s (2005) texts do not go far enough. They opine that much of the literature on sport and race leaves out the complexities of the diasporic condition, when much of their own texts focus on a capacious black category and theories of “invisibility,” “erasure” and “marginalisation.” One is left wondering, other than (overcoming) racism, what are the complexities of the diasporic condition? How do black groups interact with other diasporas? What are the black women doing while the black men are playing sport and how is gender produced relationally? How do the historical and contemporary manifestations of culture and politics in the nation of origin and the new home influence the production of racial categories? How do the heterogeneities of Caribbean diasporas manifest in specific national contexts outside the Caribbean and how do these influence Afro-Caribbean identity? If the Black Atlantic is produced through collective cultures and memories, how do these concepts come into play on and around sport playing fields?
This book owes a debt to the foundational sport and diaspora literature, building on it in order to decipher how borderless racial and ethnic communities are made. This research forces us to examine black diasporas in the context of specific nationalisms, transnational networks and physical cultural forms. Whereas Carrington (2010) and Abdel-Shehid (2005) concentrate on professional, celebrity, black male athletes as icons who represent power, strength and overcoming oppressions in mainstream sport, this text is interested in how itinerant, recreational athletes use a relatively marginal (in Canada) embodied activity to generate a black racial consciousness and ethnic community, for themselves and their families. This book also moves beyond their analyses to suggest that the gendering of Afro-Caribbean diasporic cultural forms leads to the occupation of different spaces and roles for men and women. I contribute to the feminist critique of black diaspora studies by showing women to be an integral part of the Black Atlantic. Women contribute to men’s gender performances in sport communities, even if they are relegated to the area outside the playing field. Also, a particular subset of the Black Atlantic, Afro-Caribbean-Canadians, is examined using a particular sport, namely cricket. This popular culture is as germane to the Caribbean region and a supra-national consciousness as reggae music and carnival parades.
The unification of the Caribbean territories via the Windies cricket team (there is no equivalent in other sports in the Caribbean) anticipates the diasporic condition of racialised unification of black Caribbean people from a range of nations of origins; therefore, an examination of Afro-Caribbean diasporas and cricket go hand in hand. Given that sport is an embodiment of culture in Canada and, moreover, associated with so many other cultural manifestations such as music, dancing and socialising, sport is a powerful mode of cultural production for thinking through the Afro-Caribbean diasporic subjectivities that are forged in Canada.
Researching the Mavericks Cricket and Social Club
The majority of the cricketers involved in this study played the sport as boys informally in the roads and fields, on the beaches and in an organised fashion in school, parish and national leagues in their respective Caribbean homelands. When they decided to immigrate, they knew they were not going to arrive in a country featuring clay pitches and regular test matches;7 in fact, many did not believe cricket was played in Canada at all, but they began playing in recreational cricket leagues when they arrived in the late 1960s and 1970s. They dominated the Hamilton and District, Montreal and District, Toronto and District and Commonwealth Cricket Leagues as well as the appropriately named SOCA (Southern Ontario Cricket Association) for over 20 years. Some even enjoyed elite cricket at the provincial and national levels in Canada; however, as they aged they were unable (or unwilling) to run or bowl as fast, sacrifice their bodies as much or see the ball as well. Many stopped playing as a result of acute muscular and joint injuries or illnesses such as stroke or heart attack, and they never returned to the action. The increasing drop-out rates, in addition to the changing cultural demographics of league cricket in Toronto, caused the majority to opt to end their competitive careers, amalgamate some of their teams, and as they crossed the threshold of 50 years of age, focus on the pleasures associated with watching or playing what they call “friendly master’s cricket” instead. Because they play with and against each other, and members of a few different teams join together to travel, I have aggregated several first-generation immigrant-friendly cricket clubs into one group, which is referred to as the Mavericks Cricket and Social Club (MCSC).
Approximately 200 Afro-Caribbean-Canadians, mainly living in Toronto, make up the MCSC. In particular, I focus on a group of approximately 50 male players (the Mavericks), with 100 male and 50 female supporters. This latter group comprises the daughters, sisters, friends, girlfriends, mistresses and wives of the cricketers. They do not play cricket, but a few remain embedded in the club culture nonetheless. A rare few come to every game and may cook meals for the after-parties, score keep, or enjoy the black/Caribbean cricket culture alongside male supporters. Other women are linked to the club only through their absence from games, attendance at dances and other social activities, or through their chauffeur and laundry services.
In order to study populations that are scattered across multiple locations, maintain networks across borders and live their lives embedded in multiple communities, researchers are required to live among and travel along with their participants, observing and engaging in cultural patterns and intimate social interactions in many different locations. I performed a multi-sited ethnography, observing and participating in MCSC cricket practices, games and trips for 21 months in 2008 and 2009.8 I did not play cricket but engaged as much as possible with the associated practices of the sport, including the (grand)child minding, score keeping and sideline cheering undertaken by female MCSC members, and the dancing, socialising and drinking of the males. I also attended team meetings, award ceremonies, house parties, street fêtes, picnics, dances and banquets.
Cricket-related travel is a highlight of the year for many of the members. The MCSC relies on members’ diasporic social networks to arrange weekend bus trips to Canadian cities in southern Ontario, Quebec and US states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They also travel for two-week-long cricket tours and tournaments in England and numerous Caribbean islands, including Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Trinidad. I formally interviewed (digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim) 29 players, and held dozens of informal interviews with former players, supporters, team managers, tournament administrators and MCSC members, including members of the teams that came to play against the Mavericks from abroad and players’ wives and girlfriends. Every participant was given a pseudonym. I deliberately chose names common to the Caribbean: some are Christian (e.g., Michael) and others Afro-Caribbean (e.g., Kundell) or Indo-Caribbean (e.g., Hussein) in keeping with the diversity of the real names of the Mavericks. Over 21 months, I spoke with hundreds of community members at games, practices, parties, picnics, dances, meetings and cricket-related trips. It would be impossible to collect demographic information from everyone, but the major characteristics of participants formally or informally interviewed and observed, whose words and actions compose the majority of the data analysed below, are displayed in Table A1 (in the Appendix).
In as few as 10 years, a study of the MCSC will not be possible. The majority of the members’ children do not play cricket, and the ratio of cricket players to cricket spectators in the club is rapidly shifting to favour the latter. The Mavericks’ average age was 61 years and many will soon cease play as a result of their physical degeneration; this community of Afro-Caribbean-Canadian cricketers is literally dying out and not being replaced. The members of the MCSC are uniquely positioned to offer insights into questions of diaspora, community, culture and (trans)nationalisms, particularly because a sense of “alienation may be relatively more pronounced among the earlier cohort of migrants” (Roberts, 2004, p. 650) and older, middle-class migrants may have more sufficient resources to travel and perform elaborate rituals that connect them to home (Werbner, 2005). Canadian census data show that immigration from the Caribbean reached a peak in the mid-1970s and migrants from the Caribbean represented more than 10 per cent of all landed immigrants admitted to Canada between 1973 and 1978, with the majority residing in Ontario and Quebec (Richmond, 1989, pp. 3–5). The Mavericks reflect these demographics, having an average year of migration to Canada of 1976 and having played the vast majority of their cricket in Ontario and Quebec.
Members of the MCSC were mainly middle- and working-class (discerned from their reports of their careers: e.g., autoworker, engineer, home renovator, police officer, postal worker, plumber, teacher). In 2007, a Statistics Canada report indicated that people of Caribbean origin aged 45–64 years and aged 65 and over had an average income of $32,502 and $20,944 respectively (Lindsay, 2007a, p. 15). Based on their reports of their careers, MCSC members probably make between $40,000 and $140,000, putting them in a higher socio-economic bracket than many of their Afro-Caribbean-Canadian peers. The majority of club members were Afro-Caribbean. They originally migrated from Antigua, Grenada, Guyana, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Jamaica. Also, approximately half were from Barbados. Most spent over half their lives in Canada, yet they remain connected to the Caribbean through their real, imagined and “corporeal travel” (Joseph, 2008) to Caribbean spaces.
A discussion of my positionality is necessary, given that questions of the participants’ and the researcher’s race, nationality and gender “have to be accounted for and theorized” in all sociology research, not to mention research on race issues (Carrington, 2007, p. 58, emphasis in original). My status as a 31-67year-old black Caribbean-Canadian woman, who understands Anglo-Caribbean dialects, enjoys Caribbean music and food and easily socialises, is likely to have helped me to gain rapport and entry into many spaces with the club members. As I wrote previously, “my relative youth, female and researcher status required that I befriend some female club members, who were constantly on guard against any (especially younger) woman, talking with their husbands or boyfriends due to the potential of sparking romantic interest” (Joseph, 2015, p. 171, emphasis in original). The friendships I made with female club members proved invaluable for finding people to interview, discussing what I had observed and editing my writing.
My relationships with many of the male club members were also friendly. Sometimes too friendly, but even those uncomfortable moments, when I was being pursued as a love interest or object for sexual harassment, were rich research moments, revealing much about gender politics in the Black Atlantic (see Joseph, 2013). In this text, I avoid “the worst type of identity politics … a static standpoint epistemology” (Carrington, 2007, p. 58) by describing the ways my various relationships, embodied experiences, age and gender performances influenced the observations I was able to make and interviews I engaged in (or not). Although this book is by no means an auto-ethnography, I recognise the following:
To write about the sexual politics and gender performances of the Mavericks’ cricket tours in Canada, England, and the Caribbean, or to describe what the players and spectators wore and the ways they wined (a sensual dance) at fêtes (parties) and other social events, and leave my own embodied, erotic experiences out of the account is tantamount to disregarding the very social phenomena and cultural boundaries I set out to study in the first place. (Joseph, 2013, p. 7)
Therefore, I draw inspiration from Rinaldo Walcott (2001), who taught me to intertwine the popular, personal and academic, to write myself into this community – as the Mavericks’ adopted (grand)daughter, friend, romantic date and researcher. I also embrace the directive from Ben Carrington (2008), whose obdurate calls for reflexivity in writing about race and sport have helped create a reflexive cultural studies/critical sociology of sport methodology that is sensitive to embodied performances of racialised identity by both the participants and the ethnographer. Owing, in part, to his status as a black male and his working-class background, in combination with his ability to play cricket to a relatively high level, Carrington was accepted as a player by the Caribbean Cricket Club he studied. He does not revel in this “insider” status, however. He explains, “[a]ll our ascribed, learnt, and behavioral characteristics – as well as simply the degree of rapport that has been built up before and while in the field – will shape, though not determine, how successful the research process is” (Carrington, 2008, p. 430). Every researcher should reflect on how their various social identities help or hinder them in the field and influence their understandings of their observations, and these reflections should be included in the research narrative. Although I was unable to play alongside the Mavericks on the field, and was excluded from or chose to avoid some parties, locker rooms and late-night hotel activities, I gained a unique perspective on the use of a Caribbean sport to create a sense of a transnational black identity through the “play” I engaged in with club members around the boundary, and at parties, picnics and meetings, as well as through my entrée into women’s club activities.
In the remaining chapters, out of acknowledgement of the inseparability of the poetic and political, and the rhetorical construction (not merely reporting) of cultural accounts – or as Clifford (1986, p. 10) puts it – because cultures “do not hold still for their portraits” – I have recreated the MCSC members’ storied means of communication as well as my own accounts of personal and research experiences using a variety of strategies. Often, participants would rise from their seats, not merely to tell a story but to perform a re-enactment, exaggerate a characteristic, or emphasise a memory. They sometimes spoke in clichés, rhymes and lyrics, answered questions in a confusing or poetic manner, and on occasion engaged in lewd, offensive or illegal behaviour. To render what was fragmentary coherent and meaningful, to protect anonymity without stripping away the rawness of real events and to capture the Caribbean bent for performing oral histories, a narrative inquiry approach is useful.
Narrative inquiry involves collecting and then mining the stories people tell about their experiences in the world for data to analyse. Research findings are then presented as narratives of experience. The fictionalised narratives presented in each chapter are the result of “restorying,” which Connelly and Clandinin (1990, p. 4), based on their educational research, describe as the process of a “reserarcher listen[ing] first to the practitioner’s story … so that it too gains the authority and validity the research story has long had.” Participants are encouraged to engage in storytelling in formal and informal interviews and stories are recorded digitally and in field notes. Then researchers and participants become involved in “a process of collaboration involving mutual storytelling and restorying as the research proceeds … the researcher needs to be aware of constructing a relationship in which both voices are heard” Connelly and Clandinin (1990, p. 4).9
In 2000, Clandinin and Connelly highlighted that the process of reporting on ethnographic research does not begin only after data collection has ended. In fact, as the researcher enters the field, scenes, characters and plot become evident and the writing process has begun. Some ethnographers within sport studies (e.g., Sparkes, 2002) make the case for poesis in qualitative research representations, which stimulates different kinds of analyses, enables readers to feel the world in new dimensions, and “reduces the distance between the ‘I’ and the ‘Other’, and between the ‘writing-I’ and ‘experiencing-I’ of the writer” (Sparkes et al., 2003, p. 154). Stories require general descriptions of context and particular details of experience to allow the reader to understand the actual life of a community. They must be plausible, authentic and create further meaning based on the polyvocal contributions. As such, in combination with traditional ethnographic reporting, I have tried to recapture the black diaspora penchant for performing oral histories in this text with some fictionalised narratives. I follow George Lamming’s (1953) coming-of-age narrative, In the Castle of My Skin, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at Caribbean life, communities and hierarchies, in a globalised world; I present participants’ voices as they were spoken, in a mix of Caribbean patois and Canadian English to affirm participants’ multiple attachments.
In addition to fictionalised narratives, I have included segments of interview transcripts and field notes in an attempt to capture the richness of the sporting Black Atlantic and Caribbean diaspora. Marcus (1998, p. 189) and other proponents of performing and inscribing reflexivity and polyvocality in qualitative research have argued for more open-ended, polyvocal and ultimately “messy” forms of dialogic writing that do not hide behind authorial authority. This self-consciously polyvocal text honours the Mavericks’ and my own myriad voices, performances, politics and means of communication.
I have separated the following chapters into six themes primarily drawn from (critiques of) Gilroy’s (1993) Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Conscious: community, routes, nostalgia, disjunctures, diaspora space and nationalisms.10 I begin by paying attention to the quotidian practices used to maintain unity among MCSC members in Chapter 2, “Community.” Their liming, a patois term used to describe (especially outdoor) socialising with food, drink, chat, banter and music, is central to their recreation of a sense of home and the forging of connections with real and fictive kin. I begin in this way to highlight the performative and life-sustaining qualities of Afro-diasporic culture in Canada, and because liming as community regeneration is key to all of the subsequent chapters. In Chapter 3, “Routes,” I show the ways the concept of transnational mobility is central to creating a deterritorialised Black Atlantic community. I provide examples of the cross-border paths Afro-Caribbean-Canadians take, and the family and friend reunions they create, to demonstrate how transnational social networks form. The chapter describes MCSC travel to their nations of origin, other Caribbean diaspora locations and hosting visiting teams in Toronto. These practices are integral to their ability to make meaningful financial/material investments that regenerate community in multiple Caribbean locations. Through cricket and other social events they create homespaces outside of the Caribbean and outside of Canada, an often overlooked aspect of the Afro-Caribbean-Canadian diaspora experience.
Chapter 4, “Nostalgia,” highlights memory sharing and making as critical processes of connecting to the past, to regional imagined communities and to the dispersed people of the diaspora. Gilroy (1993, p. 212) asks “How do black expressive cultures practice remembrance? How is their remembering socially organised … and marked out publicly?” A view of sport settings offers some answers. Within black cultural studies, nostalgia has been analysed and critiqued for its positive and negative constructivist aspects. James Lorand Matory (2008) has shown that remaking the past through myths, legends and stories, which are based on “facts,” but not necessarily “true,” are central to black identity. The Mavericks stories of their pasts, including details of their childhoods, Windies cricket histories and memories of their travels are fundamental not only to their creation of community in the present, but also to easing the pain of ageing in the diaspora.
The disjunctures of diaspora is the subject matter for Chapter 5. While a diaspora is described as a deterritorialised community, a local group of people who share an identity with people dispersed to other nations, they are also a group divided. Women are often left out of the story of the black diaspora, portrayed as non-agents, erased from the history of diaspora movements and travel. However, an examination of the female club members’ experiences – in addition to my own – reveals gender performances, power struggles and hierarchies within diasporas. Female club members gossip about people from different nations within the Caribbean ecumene, marking themselves as national citizens and respectable women, and making the values of the community known. Furthermore, I show that Afro-Caribbean-Canadian men’s performances of race are gendered and that their masculinities are classed, sexualised and performed relationally with women who are present at the ground as lovers and supporters, and even with women who are absent.
In Chapter 6, “Diaspora Space,” I attend to the lateral connections among diasporas, that is, how Afro-Caribbean-Canadians define themselves in contradistinction to Indo-Caribbean- and South Asian-Canadians. Much of the literature in Caribbean studies has been accused on ignoring, erasing and subordinating the Indo-Caribbean experience in favour of Afro-Caribbean domination. Although the majority of participants identified as black and Afro-Caribbean culture was dominant, I do not take those as uncontested facts. Rather, I investigate the cricket field as a site of ethnic conflict, which is loaded with the history of slavery, indentured service and nation building projects in the Caribbean and in Canada. The efforts to make a boundary around a cultural group and represent “authentic” Afro-Caribbeanness reveal the power struggles and impurities in seemingly homogenous diaspora cultures.
The nuances of Afro-diasporic life in Canada are highlighted in my descriptions of how both movement and stasis are equally relevant to black popular culture in Chapter 7, “Nationalisms.” Although we know identities shift and change over time, drawing from fixed, essentialist ideas of nationhood creates a rootedness that is essential to a black sense of self. Stuart Hall’s ideas of roots is critical to Chapter 7, which stresses the ways static Canadian and Caribbean nation of origin identities are performed in cricket spaces. Although diasporas are deterritorialised communities, Canadian nation-state discourses, histories of participants’ nations of origins and their assumed allegiances remain salient. The fact that many participants have lived in Canada longer than they were in their nations of origin requires us to address their hybridity and notions of themselves as (assimilated or resistant) Canadians. In the “Conclusion,” Chapter 8, I link together various threads within the book to deal with the questions of black belonging, dispersed and local Caribbean communities and the globalisation of cricket. I show how the activities of the members of a cricket and social club allow us to see both unities and hierarchies within a group, and the efforts made to create racial and ethnic boundaries which are inevitably crossed. I interrogate what we might gain from thinking about those who were largely missing (e.g., women, Indo-Caribbean-Canadians and second-generation Afro-Caribbean-Canadians) from MCSC games and events.
As I watched cricket players and supporters at games and social events, listened to them speak about the pleasures and frustrations of their lives in Canada and in their nations of origin, and followed them to near and far diaspora locations, they introduced me to their complex senses of community, culture and consciousness. They are locally embedded and globally attached. Their sense of themselves as authentically Caribbean is linked to their knowledge of and experiences within cricket settings. Yet there is no denying that they have a permanent presence in Canada and an indelible connection to black people across the Atlantic. The following chapters articulate some of the meanings of being black and Caribbean in Canada. Playing and watching sport, or supporting or travelling with a sport club, are important to creating racialised, gendered, ethnic and/or national identities. I begin with an analysis of the bounded communities club members create at and around the cricket grounds.