- Africa in the Indian Imagination: Race and the Politics of Postcolonial Citation by Antoinette Burton
In Africa in the Indian Imagination, Antoinette Burton delivers a fascinating analysis of the Afro-Asian relationship from the vantage point of India. She contributes to a growing scholarly interest in histories of the global south. Until recently, such scholarship has emphasized and even celebrated Afro-Asian solidarity particularly in the wake of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia (1955). Instead, Burton joins a number of scholars, mainly diplomatic historians, in challenging narratives of solidarity by arguing that Asian and African relations were fraught with tension and competition. Burton, a seasoned colonial and postcolonial scholar, advances our understanding of Afro-Asianism more so because she offers a social and cultural history of the India-Africa relationship and delves into previously unexplored archives and sources.
This book is not new, but rather a reprint of Burton's Brown over Black: Race and the Politics of Postcolonial Citation (Gurgaon, 2012). This new edition has been remarketed and released for a wider audience beyond South Asia [End Page 575] and includes a brief foreword by Isabel Hofmeyr, an established scholar of Indian Ocean history. Burton's essays are concerned with Indian works of fiction and nonfiction that depict the subcontinent's relationship with Africa. She argues that Indian discourse engaged in a "politics of post-colonial citation," which she defines as the "locative maneuver that serves as a racializing device, positioning Africans as black and Indians as brown, or at the very least as not-African and not-black" (4). Burton contends that Indian writers "cited" or referenced Africa as a buttress of Indian identity. At the same time, they produced a hierarchal positioning of "brown over black" that served to empower Indians and refashion Africans as their racialized others.
Burton's principal chapters offer close readings of two novels, one travel narrative, and one memoir. Burton is at her best when she is writing about the novels, Ansuyah Singh's Behold the Earth Mourns (1961) and Chanakya Sen's The Morning After (1973). Both tell stories of the diaspora across Afro-Asia. Singh's novel is about an Indian anti-apartheid activist in Durban (1946–1948), while Sen narrates a story about African students studying in India. Burton convincingly argues that the interface between Indian and African characters in each novel reproduced racialized and gendered hierarchies that privileged "brown over black." Burton also points to anxieties about crossing Afro-Asian boundaries and the discursive work done to shore up racial difference in each novel. This is especially clear in her analysis of Sen's novel, in which Indian women and African men crossed racial boundaries in intimate spaces. Such crossings proved devastating for the African characters and provided a cautionary tale against interracial mixing within the Afro-Asian communities in India.
Burton's study of Frank Moraes's The Importance of Being Black (1965) reaffirms the significance of racial hierarchies in Indian perceptions of Africa. Burton asserts that Moraes, a journalist who wrote about his travels throughout Africa in 1965, relied on older discursive hierarchies of the colonial era to position African states "below" India developmentally. Rather than confraternity, Moraes situates "African states in a position of tutelage, an object of pedagogy in the primer of Gandhian/Nehruvian state-making" (61).
Burton's final essay on Phyllis Naidoo's memoirs about Indian and African collaboration in the anti-apartheid struggle stands out. She argues that Naidoo's Footprints in Grey Street captures the interracial struggle against apartheid in South Africa and registers a new way of narrating solidarity across the Afro-Asian experience. Burton finds promise in Naidoo's "Afrindian" story because it "cites" interracial solidarity on the ground in the anti-apartheid movement, while also recognizing the "frictions between brown and black that were characteristic of the struggle" (145). [End Page 576]
This book is compelling, although it has some limitations. Burton's dependence on textual...