Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives

By David Eltis | Go to book overview

6
Migration and Collective
Identities Among the Enslaved
and Free Populations of
North America
MECHAL SOBEL

CONCEPTIONS OF IDENTITY shaped the form and direction of migrant streams, as many of the chapters in this study illustrate. 1 This chapter will analyze transformations in identity that occurred as a result of migration, transformations that had enormous long-run implications for people in the Atlantic world. What follows are case studies of individuals who came to America between 1740 and 1810 and whose identity changes had a crucial impact on their own lives and often on the continuing streams of migration.

Sigmund Freud's use of the term identity is widely seen as seminal. In 1926, when speaking to his B'nai Brith group in Vienna, Freud told them he was a Jew not through “faith” or “national pride,” but due to “many obscure emotional forces which were the more powerful the less they could be expressed in words, as well as a clear consciousness of inner identity, the safe privacy of a common mental construction.” 2 Or so his German words have been translated. In the German original, the last phrase, Freud's explanatory words for identity, were “die Heimlichkeit der inneren Konstruktion,” which alternatively might be translated as “the at-home-ness of a secret inner construction.” 3 Whatever the best translation, it would appear that Freud saw his own identity as a constructed inner part of himself that he felt was “home,” although we know that this was a conflict-ridden home for him.

To be at home with oneself as well as with a group identity can be seen as both very good and yet very dangerous. Leon Grinberg and Rebecca Grinberg have noted that “In children's games, zones of se

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