The Pursuit of Happiness

Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: Published: February 2018

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

In The Pursuit of Happiness Bianca C. Williams traces the experiences of African American women as they travel to Jamaica, where they address the perils and disappointments of American racism by looking for intimacy, happiness, and a connection to their racial identities. Through their encounters with Jamaican online communities and their participation in trips organized by Girlfriend Tours International, the women construct notions of racial, sexual, and emotional belonging by forming relationships with Jamaican men and other "girlfriends." These relationships allow the women to exercise agency and find happiness in ways that resist the damaging intersections of racism and patriarchy in the United States. However, while the women require a spiritual and virtual connection to Jamaica in order to live happily in the United States, their notion of happiness relies on travel, which requires leveraging their national privilege as American citizens. Williams's theorization of "emotional transnationalism" and the construction of affect across diasporic distance attends to the connections between race, gender, and affect while highlighting how affective relationships mark nationalized and gendered power differentials within the African diaspora.


"Breathtaking. . . . Simply reading this book felt like an act of self-care for me—a breath of fresh air." — Erica Lorraine Williams, Anthrodendum

"This book will be of interest to scholars in many fields, such as Black feminist studies, transnational and diaspora studies, and the anthropology of tourism and mobility. I particularly want to highlight the book’s contribution to affect studies, given Williams’ careful attention to the ways in which her interlocutors’ emotions are influenced by their racial, gendered, classed, and national subjectivities." — Dannah Dennis, Journal for the Anthropology of North America

"The Pursuit of Happiness is an insightful and engrossing book about African-American women on topics few readers are privileged to hear about or understand." — Jualynne E. Dodson, American Journal of Sociology

“The Pursuit of Happiness is thus an exemplar of multisited ethnography, even as it serves as a model for scholars working in the emerging of fields of the ethnography of affect and cultures of care. In all respects, this is an original, accessible, and important book.” — Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Asian Journal of Social Science

"The Pursuit of Happiness challenges white-centric understandings of Caribbean tourism, male-centric understandings of black diasporic connections, and youth-centric notions of leisure and emotional fulfillment. Williams's positioning of African American women as agents is especially remarkable.  ... [This book] makes a vital contribution to transnational black feminist thought and feminist geography, African Diaspora studies, critical race studies, Caribbean studies, tourism studies, and cultural anthropology by centering black women's emotions and transnational mobilities within these fields." — Nicosia Shakes, Anthropological Quarterly

"The Pursuit of Happiness is a beautifully written text which humanizes the lives, experiences, and desires of Black women. There are few exceptions wherein scholarly texts examines the experiences of U.S. Black women beyond the borders of the U.S. Williams' work is a guiding light as to how this may be successfully and meaningfully done in future works." — Antwann Michael Simpkins, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"Through her interweaving of sociocultural theory, quotations from interviewees, anecdotal evidence from her field/virtual research, and thorough analysis of these components, the author challenges prevailing notions of the emotional desires and motivations of Black American women. She helps the reader to understand the push-pull factors that motivate the Girlfriends of her study, as well as the strength of the diasporic dreams that illustrate their longings for freedom."  — Lauren C. Johnson, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This is the book that I have been anxiously waiting for. The Pursuit of Happiness is about how electronic media enables a group of middle-class black American women to find peace, love, and friendship outside their geographical space. This novel and innovative ethnography pushes the boundaries of what anthropology can be considered in its broadest definition." — A. Lynn Bolles, author of Sister Jamaica: A Study of Women, Work, and Households in Kingston

The Pursuit of Happiness is an engaging book that makes an important contribution to scholarship on tourism in the Caribbean. Bianca C. Williams's vivid language and keen analysis of her respondents are particularly enjoyable, and her interview data—which was obviously collected with care—make for a very rich and interesting read.” — Jafari Allen, author of iVenceremos? The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bianca C. Williams is Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. "Jamaica Crawled Into My Soul": Black Women, Affect, and the Promise of Diaspora  1
Interlude  27
1. More Than a Groove: Pursuing Happiness as a Political Project  31
Interlude  63
2. "Giving Back" to Jamaica: Experiencing Community and Conflict While Traveling with Diasporic Heart  65
Interlude  95
3. Why Jamaica? Seeking the Fantasy of a Black Paradise  99
Interlude  121
4. Breaking (It) Down: Gender, Emotional Entanglements, and the Realities of Romance Tourism  123
Interlude  159
5. Navigating (Virtual) Jamaica: Online Diasporic Contact Zones  163
Interlude  185
Epilogue. Lessons Learned  187
Notes  197
Bibliography  209
Index  221
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner of the Second Annual Nelson Graburn Book Award, presented by the Anthropology Tourism Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association.

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