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Where did they come from and where did they go?
Observers of human migration speak of a Chinese diaspora, an African diaspora, an Irish diaspora, a French diaspora, an Indian diaspora. An early, if not the first, recorded use of diaspora in this sense appears in the Greek version of Deuteronomy 28:25, which predicts a dire future for the sinful people of Israel, who would be smitten by their enemies and “scattered throughout all the kingdoms of the earth.” Modern Zionism has been an effort to reverse the Jewish diaspora of the first century and restore Jews to their homeland.
Almost no one speaks of an American diaspora. Why is this so?
Reason 1: Not many Americans emigrate. The government of the United States pays close attention to those trying to enter the country but ignores leavers. Associations of retired people, the largest group of emigrants, put the number at around ten million. This represents less than one-thirtieth of the American population. By comparison, the Irish diaspora has been more than ten times the population of Ireland. If not many people disperse, there’s not much to say about a diaspora.
Reason 2: Americans aren’t distinctive in language or culture. Nearly all speak English, but they are greatly outnumbered around the world by the non-American Anglophones. What might be labeled American culture can almost as well be called world culture at this point. Peoples in recognized diasporas have cultural markers they identify with. They carry a bit of their ancestral lands with them. Americans don't have much in the way of these unifying tags.
Reason 3: Diasporas often reflect some national trauma that triggers the scattering. The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans set the most durable Jewish diaspora in motion. The potato famine of the nineteenth century left the Irish with a simple choice: sail or starve. Sometimes the calamities unfolded over time. China was long afflicted by recurrent famine and widespread poverty. When opportunity to emigrate arose, there were plenty of willing Chinese, despite the Confucian stricture against abandoning elders. The African diaspora was the result of the centuries-long international slave trade.
Americans have largely been spared such disasters. The American victory in the Revolutionary War left the Loyalists in the lurch, and many did decamp to Britain, Canada and the West Indies. Some unreconstructed Confederates fled to Brazil after the Civil War. During the same period a back-to-Africa movement found a small following among American blacks. But nothing catastrophic ever hit the American population at large. Or when it did, as during the depression of the 1930s, it hit other countries too, limiting their appeal as refuges.
Reason 4: An American diaspora has occurred but hasn't taken the normal form and so isn't recognized. The world culture mentioned in Reason 2 might be considered a virtual American diaspora. Americans don’t emigrate, but their folkways do.
Nor did the American diaspora start in America. The American colonies were settled amid an explosion of English (later British) influence that lasted four hundred years and produced outposts of British power all across the planet. Many thousands of British men and women went out to the colonies, but the impact of the British diaspora was far greater than the number of the settlers. Britain’s chief export was the English language and British ideas of government and trade.
The British diaspora contributed to subsequent diasporas from South Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Emigrant Indians and Pakistanis, Nigerians and Ghanaians, and Jamaicans and Barbadians often spoke English, which gave them an advantage in the many parts of the world already shaped by the British diaspora.
Americans didn’t emigrate, but American variants of the folkways inherited from the British joined the currents that had been flowing outward from Britain since the sixteenth century. Today it’s impossible to tell how much of America’s contribution to world culture is America’s own and how much is Britain’s—and how much that of the other countries shaped by the British diaspora.
America, moreover, continues to be influenced by the British diaspora at second and third removes. The Indian diaspora to America has produced corporate leaders Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, CEOs of Microsoft and Alphabet (parent of Google) respectively; and such political officials as Vice President Kamala Harris (whose mother is Indian) and Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina. Jamaica was the home of the parents of Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
The second law of thermodynamics asserts that entropy—the measure of disorder in a physical system—increases over time. Perhaps something similar applies to human culture. As subcultures disperse, they become less distinctive and blend into larger, less differentiated cultures. This often worries people, and not without reason. But it’s probably inevitable. We might as well go with the flow. Because it’s going to go, with or without us.