Race-Mixing, Radicalism, and Reimaginating the Nation

Race-Mixing, Radicalism, and Reimaginating the Nation

Journal of Women’s History
Volume 22, Number 4, Winter 2010
pages 253-256
E-ISSN: 1527-2036, Print ISSN: 1042-7961

Hilary Jones, Assistant Professor of African History
University of Maryland

The title of Kumari Jayawardena’s monograph, Erasure of the Euro-Asian, reveals the degree to which people of mixed racial ancestry have been silenced in histories of nationalism and national identity in South Asia. The same holds true for the story of mixed race groups in Africa under colonial rule. An obsession with racial purity and the pervasive image of the “tragic mulatto” has dominated popular and academic discourse to the point that we fail to recognize the complex ways that people who lived “betwixt and between” colonial powers created their own sense of group identity and negotiated the politics of race, class, and gender to assert their own interests and even develop a radical critique of colonial rule. Overemphasis on the idea that people of mixed racial ancestry were destined to live lives of marginalization or that they acted simply as the unwitting agents of colonial powers has, thus, erased the critical contributions that Euro-Asian women and men made as leaders, public intellectuals, and reformers in the land of their birth and in the colonial societies of which they were a part.  Erasure of the Euro-Asian uncovers these hidden histories and in doing so complicates our assumptions about collaboration and resistance and disrupts the notion that assimilation or mimicry constituted the only possible response for people of mixed racial ancestry within modern colonial societies.

Jayawardena’s study of Euro-Asians over several generations, from first encounters in the sixteenth century to the emergence of modern nationalism in South Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, confirms my own research on métis identity and French colonialism in Senegal, West Africa. In Senegal, the history of Euro-Africans begins in the period of the Atlantic slave trade. African and Afro-European women known as signares married…

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