Antoinette Burton – Postcolonial Flyover: Above and Below in Frank Moraes’ The Importance of Being Black (1965)

Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below

An international & interdisciplinary conference

Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Event Dates: 26 June 2010
Bristol, UK

Antoinette Burton (University of Illinois)
Postcolonial Flyover: Above and Below in Frank Moraes’ The Importance of Being Black (1965)

Frank Moraes was an editor for the Times of India who wrote a searing analysis of the African continent called The Importance of Being Black in 1965 in the wake of decolonization. Very much the view from an airplane (he never lived in Africa), it is nonetheless a critical ethnography of emergent African nation-states — refracting the fate of postcolonial India and Indians through its telescopic lens and honing in on African cultural practices on the ground as evidence (or not) of Africans’ fitness for self-rule. In Moraes’ work as in that of a number of his contemporaries, the figure of the African woman recurs, serving as a sign of Africa’s postcolonial possibility and as a site of anxiety about racial intermixture. The Indian woman, if she appears at all, functions as an index of national virtue and as key to the making of a worldly Indian masculinity, whether secular or communal. Whereas postcolonial histories have either emphasized Indians’ relationship with Britons or have glossed their solidarity with Africans, I argue that concerns about south-south racial and sexual politics were paradigmatic of postcolonial Indian culture and history. Moraes’ text offers a view from the vantage point of a newly postcolonial Nehruvian state which saw itself as a patron of emerging African nations. My paper plays with the scalar complexities of this promontory view in an attempt to capture some of the shifting ground of the post-imperial world.

Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois, email
Antoinette Burton is Professor of History at the University of Illinois. Her core research interests are in the areas of Britain and the empire, the history of women and gender, and world history. She is the author of many articles and books including: Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915 (University of North Carolina Press, 1994), At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late Victorian Britain (University of California Press, 1998), Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home and History in Late Colonial India Oxford University Press, 2003) and The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau (Duke University Press, 2007).

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