Shobana ShankarApr 29, 2022
An Uneasy Embrace
Africa, India and the Spectre of Race
Oxford University Press 2021
The entwined histories of Blacks and Indians defy easy explanation. From Ghanaian protests over Gandhi statues to American Vice President Kamala Harris’s story, this relationship—notwithstanding moments of common struggle—seethes with conflicts that reveal how race reverberates throughout the modern world.
Shobana Shankar’s groundbreaking intellectual history tackles the controversial question of how Africans and Indians make and unmake their differences. In An Uneasy Embrace: Africa, India and the Spectre of Race (Oxford UP, 2021), she traces how economic tensions surrounding the Indian diaspora in East and Southern Africa collided with widening Indian networks in West Africa and the Black Atlantic, forcing a racial reckoning over the course of the twentieth century. While decolonization brought Africans and Indians together to challenge Euro-American white supremacy, discord over caste, religion, sex and skin color simmered beneath the rhetoric of Afro-Asian solidarity.
This book examines the cultural movements, including Pan-Africanism and popular devotionalism, through which Africans and Indians made race consciousness, alongside economic cooperation, a moral priority. Yet rising wealth and nationalist amnesia now threaten this postcolonial ethos. Calls to dismantle statues, from Dakar to Delhi, are not mere symbolism. They express new solidarities which seek to salvage dissenting histories and to preserve the possibility of alternative futures.
Shobana Shankar is currently an Associate Professor in the History Department at Stony Brook University.
Sara Katz is a Postdoctoral Associate in the History Department at Duke University.