An Uneasy Embrace
Africa, India and the Spectre of RacePart of the African Arguments series
A pioneering cultural and intellectual history of how race and racialisation have brought Africans and Indians together, yet also driven them apart.
Finalist for P. Sterling Stuckey Prize 2022
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. Drawing on archival and oral sources from seven countries, 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 decolonisation brought Africans and Indians together to challenge Euro-American white supremacy, discord over caste, religion, sex and skin colour 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.
Shortlisted for the International Studies Association’s Global Development Section Book Award
‘A deeper, democratised vision of Afro-Indian collaboration’ — The Wire
‘A timely, wide-ranging and compelling text that deserves wide attention and is sure to provoke debate.’ — Africa is a Country
[A] must-read for all scholars interested in histories of Africa-India connections and those who seek evidence that ideas from the past continue to exist with the potential to forge pathways toward solidarity and progress in the Global South.’ — The Journal of African History
‘An immensely readable account of some lesser-known connections between the Indian subcontinent and the African(a) world, which engages constructively with historical and sociological themes in both African and South Asian studies.’ — Canadian Journal of African Studies
‘Shobana Shankar is a first-rate academic and this book makes an important contribution to the growing literature on the Indian Ocean world. Thought-provoking, properly researched and well written, An Uneasy Embrace pushes the academic boundaries.’ — Goolam Vahed, Professor of History, University of KwaZulu Natal, and author of History of the Present: A Biography of Indian South Africans, 1994–2019
‘An Uneasy Embrace is an ingenious narrative and a meticulously researched account of the unexplored cultural, political and racial conversations between Indians and West Africans. Unique in its interdisciplinary methodology and subject matter, it will have an appeal across disciplines.’ — Renu Modi, Professor and Director, Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai
‘In this original, rich and captivating book, Shobana Shankar brilliantly illuminates the complex and multilayered cultural economy and circulations between India and Africa, the Black Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and African and Indian diasporas.’ — Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Vice Chancellor, United States International University–Africa
‘This brave book is a welcome addition to the growing intellectual exploration of race–caste theories. Original in scope and informed by passionate research, it will become one of the most sought-after works on African–Indian studies.’ — Suraj Yengde, Harvard University, author of Caste Matters
Shobana Shankar is Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University. She is the author of Who Shall Enter Paradise? Christian Origins in Muslim Northern Nigeria, c. 1890–1975; and co-editor of Religions on the Move! and Transforming Africa’s Religious Landscapes: The Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), Past and Present.