The Caribbean Region:An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 21: 19-42 (Volume publication date October 1992)
Michel-Rolph Trouillot
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor

My dear lady,

I’ve been thinking this week that I haven’t been Americana enough, haven’t maintained the upbeat-enthusiastic-everything-is-possible attitude.  I’m not sure I ever was a good representative of that mindset, though I’ve been chastised for it in the past by friends who were ever more fatalistic.  I’ve been away from reading this week, and with every missing page, my sadness grew and grew; and with thoughts of all the pages in all the books, my sadness grew and grew.  But I worked at making money, so that gives me the right to live a little longer, to be a proper person.  If one does not make money, then one should pay the world a kindness and just die… that’s how it seems.  I will read more tonight and work for money tomorrow and work for pleasure the next day.  I did go for volunteering tonight; that was a pleasure, but once again I find myself in a rush to write to you.

I felt an instant recognition in reading about anthropology in the Caribbean.  I could not stop thinking of home and childhood.  When Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote of Caribbean culture being born out of genocide and colonialism and slavery, I felt that he was describing my world growing up in the Mississippi Delta.  There’s such a shared history and circumstance.  But as time is limited, I will write of one specific thing for now, and perhaps more later in the week?

Trouillot wrote that some officials “saw Afro-Caribbean families as ‘deviant’ simply because they did not fit the nuclear folk-model of Western consciousness.  Just as in the United States, these bureaucrats’ views were echoed by social scientists who wanted to explain–or explain away–such ‘abnormalities’ as ‘missing fathers.'”  I grew up with this discussion swirling, this label of my family life as being deviant.  I’ve written many times of how I greatly prefer the family structure I knew as a kid to the “nuclear folk-model.”  I had this enormous, enveloping extended family experience.  I knew the intimacy that comes with mundane interaction with respect to  great-grandparents on both sides of my family.  I shared a household with a great-grandparent.  Did I ever share a household with my father?  No.  Were my mother and father ever married?  No.  However, speaking with people who grew up in the nuclear unit, I’ve come to believe that I shared something more with my father than what many experience after spending their entire childhood in a home with mom-dad-sibling.   Since I had intimate access to the same people who shaped my father growing up, I think I “know” him in a deeper and more significant way than those in many non-“deviant” families.  I may not know his favorite cereal or the way his takes his coffee, but I know the types of information that would allow me to decide whether I could be friends with him;  times when I’ve spoken to him about his views on women or “race” or religion, I had a near instant understanding of milieu from which those views were born.  I understood him.  Many had “present” fathers who were a lot more “missing” than mine.

This is not to say that I would not have preferred the physical presence of my father along with the other that I did have.  I just grew up in a culture where the value of knowing and being around your “people,” your extended family, was greater than the value of knowing or being around any one or two particular family members.  This “way” may have been born in part as a result of slavery where knowing and being around particular family members may not have been an option due to sales concerns;  it could also be part of an older tradition.  I think there is a wonderfulness to it that was often overlooked by “bureaucrats” and “social scientists.”

OK, now, I will post this while it is still officially Monday in my land.  I will read more of your letters and your work this week.  I must also finish some of the books that have been stacked on my desk for longer.  I read a couple of your letters just this night.  When you chastised Nelson (Algren) for not being a good French student, I felt the sting as well.

Devoted as ever,