Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Peter Hitchcock

Committee Members

Sonali Perera

Ashley Dawson

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies

Keywords

Indian Ocean, Third World, Afro-Asia, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, Black studies

Abstract

“Toward the Black Indian Ocean: Race and the Human Project in the Afro-Asian Imagination” asks the question: why hasn’t the Indian Ocean been typically theorized as an African diasporic site? While the burgeoning discipline of Indian Ocean studies frequently positions notions of oceanic “cosmopolitanism” as a way of engaging with universalist anticolonial aspirations, the field has been limited by static conceptions of the African continent. In response, this dissertation argues that the marginalization of Black Africans in conceptions of Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism reflects a colonial provenance and attempts to delineate this representational history. Theoretically, I engage with Black feminist critiques of the racialized production of Western Man as the subject of humanism and consider how the Indian Ocean figured in the colonial creation of racialized notions of human difference. Ultimately, I ask how mid-twentieth century articulations of Non-Aligned, Third Worldist, and Afro-Asian solidarities—and more recent utopian appropriations of their legacies—inherit this original exclusion of Blackness from cosmopolitical imaginaries.

I begin with the foundational case of Mahatma Gandhi’s exclusionary depictions of Black South Africans in his early years as a political activist, arguing that Gandhi articulates a racialized opposition between a “cosmopolitan” conception of “Asianness” and a “non-cosmopolitan” conception of “Africanness” that continues to structure discourses of Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism. I then trace this Afro-Asian opposition forward to its contestation by mid-century African American, Pan-African, and Black radical writers, such as Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois. In particular, I read Wright’s engagements with Afro-Asianism in his 1950s “travel writings,” especially his account of the 1955 Bandung Conference, as a mediation of transnational African diasporic debates on the Black subject of anticolonial liberation. Finally, I consider the postcolonial consequences of these Afro-Asian tensions as represented by diasporic East African writers of South Asian descent, such as Shailja Patel, Sophia Mustafa, and M.G. Vassanji, in their narratives of migration from East Africa to Britain, the United States, and Canada beginning in the late 1960s. While I situate a broad array of Anglophone East African Asian works, I focus predominantly on Patel’s multi-generic work Migritude for its unique disobedience to the Afro-Asian opposition traced throughout this dissertation.

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