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Jamaicaholics and Our #MeToo Era

What can tourism teach us about racial identity? A surprising amount, according to CUNY Graduate Center Professor Bianca Williams, author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2018).

From 2003 to 2007, Williams traveled with mostly middle-aged, lower-middle-class African-American women on their repeated vacations to Jamaica. She also observed the connections they made to each other and Jamaican culture in the online communities they created.

Williams traces the lure of Jamaican travel for African-American women to How Stella Got Her Groove Back — the bestselling novel by Terry McMillan and the ensuing movie. Both tell the story of a successful, divorced 40-something businesswoman who vacations in Jamaica and finds love with a Jamaican man half her age.

Williams found, however, that the African-American women’s Jamaica excursions go far beyond getting one’s groove back.

She explains that the women she studied feel their access to happiness in the United States is limited due to racism, sexism, and ageism in our society, whereas in Jamaica, a country that is predominantly black, they find themselves among people who look like them, in a culture that sees “women over 40 as beautiful, wise, and desirable.”

The Jamaica trips also allow the women to escape demands from family and community and prioritize leisure and self-care, something they find difficult to give themselves permission to do at home.

Williams hopes her book spurs discussions about how the pursuit of happiness is not something Americans have equal access to due to differences in economic, political, and social resources. She also sees how her research applies to the current BlackLivesMatter, MeToo, and BlackJoy movements, encouraging us all to address the importance of mental and emotional wellness for black women as they contend with such issues as sexual violence and police brutality.

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Book Cover: 'The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism' by Bianca C. Williams
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The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism
Duke University Press, 2018

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Bianca C. Williams (Professor, Anthropology) | Profile

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The Graduate Center

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