Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — Du Bois in the World: Pan-Africanism & Decolonization


This is part of a dossier called “Du Bois in a Comparative Context.” The dossier emerges from an MLA Special Session in January 2018 of the same title, organized by Nergis Ertuk.

by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

[OPENING AT 2018 MLA: Thank you, Nahum [Chandler], for being here.  I hope you will situate my paper within your thinking of “a problem for thought.” As I told you in personal conversation, I did not want you to be on the panel because you would be too authoritative for me.  But then I regretted that decision and asked you to be present among us. And thank you always, Brent [Edwards], for saying to me in 1991 that the work that I do could connect to a study of W.E.B. Du Bois. Enough said.]

In 2009, I gave the Du Bois lectures in order to find an answer to the question: why did Du Bois call the fugitive slaves’ en masse joining of the Union army during the Civil War a general strike?  I have followed the trajectory of that answer through the last nine years. In this essay I will speak on a moment belonging to the broader narrative of Du Bois and decolonization. In conclusion I will touch on globality.

In September 2017 I started co-teaching a course with Mamadou Diouf on Pan-Africanism and Postcolonialism. This topic touches the limits of Du Bois’s range. It situates enslavement in the American context as producing the African-American as a peculiar agent of undoing the color line. I go into more detail in the book of which this is an edited part (Spivak forthcoming).

Du Bois’s Pan-Africanism is different from other versions. One might focus on four typical but different examples, always reminding oneself that this is by no means an exhaustive taxonomy: Flora Shaw Lady Lugard, Edmund Blyden, Marcus Garvey, and George Padmore.  Flora Shaw invoked Islamic pan-Africanism combined with racism against the Bantu, Blyden and Marcus Garvey incorporated it within the Pan-African argument of diasporic African resettlement within Africa, in quite different ways. Du Bois, by contrast, connected Pan-Africanism to the decolonization of all African nation-states, and went further to include full international decolonization in that connection.

Du Bois is generally seen as the father of Pan-Africanism. But it is also well-known that it had its origin in Trinidad, in the risk-taking efforts of a diasporic in Britain, Henry Sylvester -Williams by name, who focused on all Blacks colonized by Britain. Henry Sylvester-Williams organized the Pan-African Association in 1897 and also organized the first International Conference, in London, in 1900, where Du Bois was a guest and began expanding the color line to all colonized countries. Sylvester-Williams died in 1911 and the connection of Pan-Africanism with the British Commonwealth did not remain ideologically foregrounded, although it remained pre-comprehended in the work of C.L.R. James and George Padmore.

To retrieve Du Bois’s track to Pan-Africanism, we must relate it to the activist scholarship of George Padmore (1903-59) who, as a younger Trinidadian, was no doubt touched, however indirectly, by Sylvester-Williams’s opening of seven Pan-African centers in Trinidad.  Even if we consider only Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism? (Padmore 1956), we get a detailed sense of the status of Pan-Africanism in the historically differentiated nation-states of the entire African continent. Indeed, much of what Padmore locates as problems are relevant to the continent today. His work gives us a sense of the importance of constitutionality, and presents the manifestoes of each of the Congresses.  For the purposes of this essay, what is notable is that within each Manifesto, forwarded to colonial governments as a gesture of resistance, Gandhian principles are tabulated as the guiding principle of each Congress.

In 1946, on the eve of Indian Independence, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a member of the Viceroy’s legal council, and a critic of Gandhi because of Gandhi’s caste-Hindu subject-position of “tolerance,” wrote Du Bois, asking him about the possibility of an African-American petition to the UN, hoping to launch such a petition from the untouchables of India. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution, was from a so-called untouchable caste.

Figure 1: Letter from Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar to W.E.B. Du Bois, 1946. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collection
Figure 2: Letter by W.E.B. Du Bois to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1946. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collection

Du Bois wrote back, saying he knew about untouchability, but the conversation did not go any further, for the attempt to put together such a petition died in the UN. There is now a strong movement to bring African-American struggles together with the largely South Indian (although many Dalit intellectuals are located in well-known North Indian universities) Dalit strike against caste prejudice. This is a good effort, but we also need to remember that post-colonialism and Pan-Africanism, efforts at joining struggles, were anterior to the kind of class-specific collaborations that globality produces today. I believe that Du Bois did not go any further with Ambedkar because his understanding of Pan-Africanism, leading to the visionary world without colonialism, did not offer him an opportunity to get into struggles interior to colonized space. Du Bois’s novel, The Dark Princess, exoticizes a “noble” India, that is even Aryanist — Brahminism, Buddhism, and Islam mixed up in the stylized spectacular way of a romance that asks the reader to remember A Midsummer Night’s Dream.[1]It reflects the desire to overcome the class-specific problem of access to the subaltern but does not have the resources to imagine a plausible fulfillment.[2] 

The failed encounter between Du Bois and Ambedkar can be read as a stood-up date or faux-bond. Chandler would no doubt dizzyingly theorize Derrida’s Ja ou le faux-bond where the “yes” is staged as a stood up date between plan and performance.[3]

I will follow Chandler’s lead as I imagine it and note that because of this anaclitic reading of “yes,” Derrida urges in that early piece – in order constantly to make the appointment happen? — that we must (il faut – noting the “fault” (faut) line written into the French “must” [il faut] – suggesting that we will always not quite make it while doing what we must – the effort continues indefinitely as the generations change):

fight… for a massive transformation of the apparatuses. . . work in several directions, in several rhythms… In order to hold these two unequal necessities together and differentiate systematically a (“theoretical” and “political”) practice, a general upheaval imposes itself: not only as a theoretical or practical imperative, but already as a proceeding under way, one which invests, envelops, overflows us in an unequal fashion. (Derrida 1995, 58-59)

That is what a “yes” is like, always a missed date – working at externally generated conjunctural imperatives that change unendingly and must be differentiated as theory and politics. Theory and politics are the practices involved here, apposite to the Du Bois-Ambedkar situation. In the space between the appointment and the indefinitely prolonged “missing it,” unrolls the historial (the possibility of study as temporal sequence) – not always historiographed (organized into official history) – as it has not been in this particular case.

Both pre-digital and digital efforts at joining struggles are helped when there is a certain degree of class-continuity on both sides. This usually relates to the leadership of the struggles. In Du Bois’s library is a book on Gandhi put together on Gandhi’s 75th birthday, hand-dedicated to Du Bois by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

Figure 3: Photograph of Gandhiji: His Life & Work, 2012. Courtesy of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Figure 4: Photograph of Gandhiji: His Life & Work, 2012. Courtesy of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Figure 5: Photograph of Gandhiji: His Life & Work, 2012. Courtesy of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

These are his connections, the connections enjoyed by Joseph Appiah, or Kofi Awoonor.  Du Bois’s particular friend is Lala Lajpat Rai. His sources for Dark Princess are Rai and perhaps Shridhar Venkatesh Ketkar, a Cornell PhD who taught at my own university (University of Calcutta) and wrote books among which is a History of Caste in India: Evidence of the Laws of Manu on the Social Conditions in India during the Third Century A.D. Interpreted and Examined: With an Appendix on Radical Defects of Ethnology.[4]

Ketkar, like Ambedkar in the graduate paper I cite below, concentrates on marriage rules – caste is a way of helping preserve social order through the patriarchal manipulation of gendering. Although Du Bois is of course deeply aware of rape and miscegenation, his use of “caste” is much closer to the self-convinced hierarchy half-mockingly described in Marx’s description of so-called primitive accumulation.

Long, long ago there were on one side a diligent, intelligent and above all frugal elite and on the other lazy, ragged characters who blew off all they had and more.  The legend of the theological Fall of Man may tell us how man came to be cursed to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow; the history of the economic Fall of Man reveals to us how there were people who did not need this at all.  Same difference. So it came to pass, that the former accumulated wealth, and the latter finally had nothing to sell but their own skins. And from this Fall dates the poverty of the great masses, that up to now, despite all their labor, have nothing to sell but themselves, and the wealth of the few, that increases constantly, although they have long ceased to labor. (Marx 1977, 1:873)

This is something like caste, if you like. Some people are just not good enough, others, superior to them, must “help” them by letting them serve. That is the story that justifies inequality. But that is not the flesh of the three thousand castes (with subcastes) among the Hindus. The natural-inequality story is a very general analogy for a hierarchy that is neither race nor class. It is in this sense that Du Bois uses the phrase “color caste” in the Black Flame Trilogy.[5]

(Rai’s The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions is a hardly disguised orientalist-nationalist claim that the caste-system works better than U.S. race-classism.)

These are broadly class-continuous connections.  The class-continuity in the case of Du Bois-Ambedkar is even stronger, Harvard-Columbia-London School of Economics; top administrator and world-class intellectual; neither of them subaltern by birth — Du Bois was in the Black middle class, and Ambedkar’s father was a Subehdar in the Army (although they did of course both suffer from race/caste discrimination when they stepped out into mixed territory).  Perhaps the most important of all the connectivities is that Ambedkar wore his Brahmin teacher’s surname and, as Du Bois shows us in his paternal genealogy, the 17th century Chretien Du Bois was white.  I can think that they quietly acknowledged complicity and allowed their practice to be stronger, not speaking for but coming up against what is not their class origin, in the name of constitutionality.[6]

This is where Chandler’s reading of Du Bois’s biography of John Brown as an “African American,” the abolitionist white man who gave his life for the “Negro,” is superb.  Du Bois’s hero, Manuel Mansart, puts it more simply in a bit of free indirect discourse in The Ordeal of Mansart:

The students talked frankly about white people in the surrounding world; they did not like them; they did not trust them.  There were always exceptions, and favorite white teachers like Spence and Freiburg were in some subtle, unexplained way incorporated into their own black race — a method all the easier since they too, suffered under the Southern white world’s ostracism and persecution. (Du Bois 1959, 125-6)

(The connections being insisted upon along the conference circuit today are a version of global “simultaneity,” used to produce thinkers organic to the networking ideology of global capital.)

Internal to the colonized space, Ambedkar is utterly justified in writing of Gandhi, in the preface to the 2nd edition of The Annihilation of Caste: “. . . to many a Hindu he is an oracle, so great that when he opens his lips it is expected that the argument must close and no dog must bark. [4:] But the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible.”  Gandhi’s erratic racism record in South Africa is now well documented.[7]

And Pan-Africanism, as Padmore shows us, was heart and soul committed to Gandhi’s declared politics in India. Du Bois marked out all the strike-related passages in the Gandhi volume in his library that I have pointed at above.

The connection, then, between parts joining struggles with caste/class-continuity, is generally metonymic, the leaders and the group focusing on an issue and its ramifications, leaving other items – sometimes perhaps potentially divisive – out of bounds while the struggle is celebrated.

In the case of the brief exchange between Du Bois and Ambedkar, class-continuity was the first enabler. It was the further metonymic obligation – as subjects against race and caste respectively — that backfired because they were both temperamentally and circumstantially in an amphibolic relationship with identitarianism; for both of them, identitarian thinking and acting both built and broke. (Examples are too pervasive to cite.) “I have suffered from racism as you from casteism” did not catch fire, because Du Bois’s anti-colonial connections were with the nationalist dominant. Du Bois had worked to take Africanity beyond the unique separator of enslavement. He took into account, as indeed did Marx, that in colonialism, slavery became an instrument (however out of sync) of the self-determination of capital. This allowed him to write it into the world-historical discourse of Marxism, rewriting the color line, by way of colonialism, into brown, red, and yellow. His efforts at making these connections were in sustained evolution, and found literary expression in the Black Flame trilogy. Reading and writing in prison, Antonio Gramsci had tried to understand the Sards (natives of Sardinia, Gramsci’s birthplace) as serfs, from Rome to the 20th century, writing in Book 25 of his prison journals. Ambedkar, as a practical politician who had earned his way to the top in a postcolonial situation, asked for a separate electorate for the untouchables (and failed, of course). One must note these contextual imperatives as one equalizes.

As a youthful graduate student, Ambedkar, in a 1916 essay written for a graduate seminar, was rewriting caste into reproductive heteronormativity – to urge that caste was constituted by the difference in the treatment of surplus-women and surplus-men produced by enforced endogamy — and finally, studying the greatest tools of generalization, as a member of the group that was not allowed to generalize, into the world-historical discourse of constitutionality. This final self-staging was shared by the two, but it was this very thing that did not allow Du Bois to check out the interior color-lines (so to speak) of the progressive bourgeoisie that could unite to call for an end to colonialism. (Let us once again remember Padmore’s documentation of the intimate connection between Pan-Africanism and Gandhianism.) It was Columbia to Harvard, as it were, not a commerce between individual ethnocultures.

Allison Powers has written on Du Bois’s ferocious critique of U. S. “democratic” travesty of constitutionality (2014: 106-125). I cannot reproduce her complex argument here. I can only point out that she clearly shows that Du Bois’s argument against the “constitution fetich [sic]” is against the fetishization of the original American constitution (Du Bois 1935: 267f). Her conclusion recognizes that Du Bois does not offer a solution to the problem of access to constitutionality but rather quotes “the slight gesture” invoked on the last page. That poetic signal by Du Bois points at the development of imaginative flexibility that comes with what I have elsewhere called “an aesthetic education.” I am not sure that this is a “failure.” When she contrasts Du Bois and Ambedkar, she needs to recognize that Ambedkar was framing a constitution, whereas Du Bois was fighting a famously fetishized one that continues to be fetishized today, for race- and gun-control. Of course Ambedkar finally claimed that he had failed in his task and perhaps this too can allow us to think them together. Anupama Rao correctly notices that Ambedkar’s “attempt to redress the inequities [of caste] through political means was at some level an impossible project that emphasized the contradiction between caste and democracy, rather than resolving it” (Rao 2009: 157).  There is a comparable (though not identical) contradiction between race and democracy. This is part of the fact that the rational abstractions of the political and the juridico-legal must always be bound to the textuality of life. The constitutional subject, uniting our two protagonists, is never achieved – keeping open the historiality of the missed date – not yet historiographed, for race or caste. It is to Du Bois’s phrase “prejudice made flesh” that attention must here be drawn (1935: 323). It is the fleshliness of the gendered episteme of the racialized and the fleshliness of the indefinitely heteronomous gendered episteme of the casted that cannot be generalized or analogized. (I try to norm it at the bottom by teaching democracy as “other people” rather than “my rights” to the poorest of the poor. But that too is not generalizable.) This is part of the challenge of the raced universal or the casted universal of the constitutional subject.[8]

Always working toward an impossible appointment between flesh and the law.

The commerce between Orientalized and claimed ethnocultures has apparently expanded considerably, accompanying the expansion of diasporas, in the U.S. as a direct consequence of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system based on national origins that had been U. S. immigration policy since the 1920s; supplemented by the global accessibility enhanced by the digital. Without deep language learning and awareness of cognitive damage resulting from the generalized exercise of millennial pre-colonial ethnocultural structures of power, connected-struggle efforts are good against racism but not against its legitimation by reversal, and do not support or engage with the slow and persistent work for building subaltern agency. The fleshliness of the diasporic claiming conference-culture is imagined national-origin rather than active caste-subjectivity at the bottom. From his handwritten notes in the pages of the African language related books in the core collection (now neglected and open – literally, in unlocked cabinets in a small unlocked room – to imminent destruction and disappearance) Du Bois took with him to Ghana in his nineties, his awareness of the need to achieve cognitive continuity is impressive for any age.

For he imagined the need to achieve that continuity, but did not deny its impossibility. The effort is restricted to minute handwritten marginalia.

Here a word to Dalit friends in the academy and the global cultural sphere: we must be able to admit that historical crimes damage the cognitive machine. Exceptional subalterns and/or class-empowered academic members of Dalit struggles do not represent those who remain at the bottom. Vanguardist struggles do not necessarily consolidate a future.

In Talking to Du Bois, I have tried to show that certain of Du Bois’s texts stage an inability to imagine the subaltern episteme – stateless social groups on the fringe of history – to remind ourselves of Gramsci’s formula – as they prepare to step into citizenship. But this inability cannot be imagined or staged in the case of the interiority of the post-colonial. Lumumba and Fanon, “the tall one and the short,” both of whom came to the 1958 All-African People’s Congress, the first Congress on African space, need to be remembered here. They were both deeply aware of the internal ethnic problems of the post-colonial nation, and Lumumba was killed by it, albeit with the collusion of the CIA. We need also to remember that Ambedkar could not imagine Palestine. He wrote small interventions comparing the image between slavery and untouchability. This is for ourselves to be aware that there are deep historical limitations to the flexibility of our own identities.[9]

This inability to imagine the interiority of a class-fixed postcolonial does not stop “caste” from being a useful word for the Abolitionists through to Pan-Africanism – to describe all the divisions that are not quite race or class, with internal “keep out” rules. Padmore certainly uses it in many crucial passages, as does Du Bois. As I have indicated above, it is a convenient abstraction but cannot grasp the ungeneralizable fleshliness that belongs to the casted subaltern.

The most crucial use of “caste” by Du Bois is in his 1948 rejection of the “talented 10th”– the idea that the most intelligent among African-Americans should take it into their hands to help the rest:

Turn now to that complex of social problems, which surrounds and conditions our life, and which we call more or less vaguely, the Negro Problem. It is clear that in 1900, American Negroes were an inferior caste, were frequently lynched and mobbed, widely disfranchised, and usually segregated in the main areas of life. As student and worker at that time, I looked upon them and saw salvation through intelligent leadership; as I said, through a “Talented Tenth.” And for this intelligence, I argued, we needed college-trained men. Therefore, I stressed college and higher training. For these men with their college training, there would be needed thorough understanding of the mass of Negroes and their problems; and, therefore, I emphasized scientific study. Willingness to work and make personal sacrifice for solving these problems was of course, the first prerequisite and Sine Qua Non. I did not stress this, I assumed it. I assumed that with knowledge, sacrifice would automatically follow. In my youth and idealism, I did not realize that selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice. I made the assumption of its wide availability because of the spirit of sacrifice learned in my mission school training. (Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth Memorial Address” 3)

Earlier, in the 1905 meeting which gave rise to the Niagara Movement, number four of the eight-point program drafted by Du Bois was “the abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on race and color” (Padmore 1956, 112).

This is traveling theory, expanding the range of the word “caste,” as generalized reaction to the word “race,” not to get into the thick of the word, into the “collective ontic,” to commit a solecism. Analogous – not that one ever escapes analogy – yet we must maintain a differential taxonomy.

A last brutal shift into globality, the dream of decolonization under a reality check.  The academic intellectual needs to prepare the ground once again – for an epistemological relocation exorbitant to national liberation – and work for the insertion of the subaltern into constitutionality – the place where Du Bois and Ambedkar meet. The constitutional subject is without identity.

Nahum Chandler invokes the idea that all generalities are also caught in particularities.  To consolidate this suggestion, he quotes Spillers’s thought of ambivalence. “But if by ambivalence we might mean that abeyance of closure,” she writes, “or break in the passage of syntagmatic movement from one more or less stable property to another, as in the radical disjuncture between ‘African’ and ‘American,’ then ambivalence remains not only the privileged and arbitrary judgment of a post-modernist imperative, but also a strategy that names the new cultural situation as a wounding.”[10]

The gender-race-class-crosshatched person who occupies the empty space of the constitutional subject for each case is irreducible.  And today, in globality, we do not need the so-called decolonized citizen to tell us the wound is healed.  We need to hear the historical subaltern to feel the wound.

I will quote the speech in Tallapoosa County Alabama by a man named Alfred Gray . . .  Gray was speaking at a meeting on the eve of elections for the state constitution, which were to take place on February 4, 1868.

The constitution I came here to talk, 1868, I came here to talk for it. If I get killed, I will talk for it.  Am I afraid to fight the white man for my rights? No. I may go to Hell. My home is Hell. But the white man shall go there with me. My father, God damn his soul to Hell, had 300 niggers, and his son’s son, his son, sold me for $1,000. Was this right?  No. I feel the damned spirit of damnation in me and will fight for our rights until every rascal who chase niggers with hounds is in Hell. Remember the Fourth of February.  We’ll fight until we die, or we’ll carry this constitution. (qtd by Allen 1937, 123-135)

Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe. In this kind of a situation, the fact that it is the mother who becomes the motor of the argument is historically not only acceptable, but necessary. In that empty position without the mark of legitimacy, we must be able to reclaim the constitutional state over against the state that today manages global capital, so that we walk the walk against my father’s son who, legitimized by capital, knifes me in the back for profit. By analogy, remember – as in the case of caste. All the reading required is the daily news. Flint Michigan and Lagos Nigeria.

So, I ask Hortense, do these differences, between the collective ontic and the differential ontology of social formations, between the ungeneralizable subaltern and the constitutional subject, qualify as a species of that abeyance of closure, that break in the passage of syntagmatic movement from one more or less stable property to another – two separate differences – in the dream of decolonization and the ruse of globality?

[POSTSCRIPT]  In The Republic of Caste, Anand Teltumbde gives a detailed analysis of Ambedkar and the Dalit movement in general, clear out of ancestor worship. For the purposes of this brief essay, the point to be noted from within his complex analysis is today’s intense competition among Indian sub-castes to claim state-sanctioned reservation. As he writes,

on 1 August 2009, the vidvatsabha (council of intellectuals), an initiative led by Prakash Ambedkar [the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar], organized a seminar in Mumbai on the unlikely subject of reservation within reservations. It suggested that reservations for the S[chduled]C[aste]s, which have been disproportionately accessed by a single sub-caste in every state, should be subdivided among all sub-castes in the SC category to ensure that equitable benefit accrues to all of them.[11]

Du Bois knew well that the analogy works through voting block politics – an abuse of constitutionality – I invoke the Black Flame Trilogy once more. Constitutionality, then, is the agenda for this failed date. We continue to work at it – caste as analogy for the Black diasporic. To compute it in African terms, we go to ethnic groups, and we get mired in singularities. Ambedkar’s focus on a largish nation-state would get lost upon the vast continent. Yet even there a certain generalizability comes through citizenship. Rest upon those abstract structures if you want to historiograph the historial.


Allen, James S. Reconstruction: The Battle or Democracy, 1865-1876. New York: New World.

Ambedkar, B.R. 1937 The Annihilation of Castes, With a reply to Mahatma Gandhi (Tracts for the times), 2nd edition.

Derrida, Jacques. 1995.  ‘Ja, or the faux-bond II.’ Translated by Peggy Kamuf, in Points…Interviews, 1974–94, 58-9. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860 – 1880. New York: Free Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1959. The Ordeal of Mansart. New York: Oxford University Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1948 “The Talented Tenth Memorial Address,” The Boulé Journal 15, no. 1: 3-13.

Padmore, George. 1956. Pan-Africanism or Communism?: the Coming Struggle for Africa. New York: Roy.

Powers, Allison. 2014. “Tragedy Made Flesh: Constitutional Lawlessness in Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction.Comparative  of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34, no. 1: 106-125.

Rao, Anupama. 2009. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Marx, Karl. 1977. Vol. 1 of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes. New York: Vintage.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Forthcoming. Talking to Du Bois. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 

[1] Although there is an unconvincing and isolated remark against Aryanism in the final section of the book, where the robust realism of the Chicago accounts in the novel is replaced by a series of autobiographical bulletins from both sides, largely in the form of letters, ending in a meeting.  It is as if the “romance” section uses the most expository style.  Brent Edwards points at Du Bois’s own invocation of the romance-status of the novel in The Practice of Diaspora Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, 234-236) and underscores the complexity of the man but does not comment on this stylistic unevenness of the text.

[2] Books such as Dorah Ahmad’s plangent Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), Nico Slate’s Colored Cosmopolitanism: the Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India, as well as Vivek Bald’s ongoing work on typically speak of connections with sectors that have nothing to do with the located populations in African states and India, and of course not at all with the located ungeneralizable voting subalterns, each specific to a situation that can only be generalized with real access to citizenship. And that is the point I am making. (Slate’s book is somewhat of an exception to this and I will engage with it at length elsewhere.)  In an article called “Caste or Colony? Indianizing Race in the United States,” for example, Daniel Immerwahr writes interestingly, contrasting two texts, that they show “the irreconcilability of two competing visions of how blacks in the US are understood to relate to Indians: one vision identifying race with caste, the other identifying race with colony,” (Modern Intellectual History 4. ii, 2007, p. 275); his references are also to the usual populations, but he might be aware of this; what is alarming is that in the “colony” version, he does not recognize that the text he is looking at is based on an Orientalist view of Hinduism, as “naturally” understanding of non-violence, just as Orientalist views of Buddhism do not recognize the genocidal drive of ethnic Buddhists toward the Rohingyas; and, in the “caste” version, he still clings to the centrality of the Varna and Jati binary opposition that is undone every day on the subcontinent. His excellent list of “Paul Gilroy, Penny M. Von Eschen, Sudarshan Kapur, Brenda Gayle Plummer, Robin D. G. Kelley, Vijay Prashad, Nikhil Pal Singh [who], among others, have demonstrated beyond refutation the persistence and centrality of internationalism in US black thought” (276), does not touch the problem that I am commenting on. Please refer to the text for my understanding of the particular agency of the African-American subject in the thinking of Pan-Africanism, where I stand with, among others, Abiola Irele, The African Scholar (Lagos: Bookcraft, forthcoming).  I treat this problem in greater detail in my forthcoming Talking to Du Bois.

[3] I say this because of Chandler’s good theorizing of Du Bois’s work as rewriting general ontology in X: The Problem of the Negro As A Problem for Thought (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2014).

[4] Calcutta: Thacker, 1914; Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1979.

[5] Du Bois, The Ordeal of Mansart, Mansart Builds A School, Worlds of Color ([1957-61] New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961-) are Du Bois’s best novels, a fictive representation of Black Reconstruction.

[6] “Up against” is my translation of tout contre in a powerful passage where Assia Djebar counsels us as to how to “speak” on behalf of those who are tied to us by identity, though not by class (Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, tr. Marjolijn de Jager, Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1992), 2.

[7] Colored Cosmopolitanism can serve as a well-documented guide.

[8] “Du Bois’s work invites the supplement of a third term: the raced universal” (Lawrie Balfour, Democracy’s Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W.E.B. Du Bois, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), 133.

[9] For an analysis of the difference between Ambedkar and the Ambedkarites, see Anand Teltumbde, The Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva (Delhi: Navayana, 2018).

[10] Nahum Dimitri Chandler, X — The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought (Fordham Univ. Press, 2014), p. 148-9

[11] Teltumbde, Republic, 87.  The long-term solution is humanities-style education, not unmindful of critical mainstreaming, by well-trained individuals, an impossible prospect. Du Bois’s own project of producing an informed and critical black voter class was not allowed to continue at the University of Atlanta.  Information about this is readily available in biographies, but, to my mind, the best account is to be found in his thinly disguised James Burghardt in The Ordeal of Mansart. Ambedkar did not live long enough to devote any real time to this sort of education.  Gramsci’s intuitions for producing subaltern intellectuals remain buried in his prison journals. My own minuscule effort, , outside of the Du Bois-Ambedkar exchange, described in “Margins and Marginal Communities: A Practical Keynote,” was first presented at Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata, December 17, 2013, and is now forthcoming with Sage in ‘Margins’ and ‘Marginal’ Communities in the Asian Perspective: Identity and Resistance, edited by Nandini Bhattacharya Panda.


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