Memory and the urban lives of ‘race’ in Mombasa: Perspectives from Kenyan Asian women
An online interactive lecture by Zoë Goodman in the framework of the IIAS/UKNA Asian Cities Presentation Series.
This webinar will take place from 12:30 - 14:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).
People of South Asian descent have constituted a significant minority in Kenya for generations. Most ‘Kenyan Asians’, as they are known, are proud Kenyans; few have close ties to South Asia. However, for many of their compatriots, Kenyan Asians’ claims to being ‘Kenyan’ or ‘African’ are tenuous at best, and they continue to be stereotyped as wealthy, insular and racist.
This politicised antagonism between black and brown Kenyans is a legacy of racialised British rule, buttressed by postcolonial politics, which have effectively bound racial and territorial belonging through an enduring emphasis on autochthony and indigeneity. As Achille Mbembe (2002: 256) has written, “The idea of an Africanity that is not black is simply unthinkable”.
Drawing on ethnographic research in the port city of Mombasa, this seminar aims to write Kenyan Asian women into African urban studies, as well as demonstrate how their everyday practices challenge simplistic black/brown antipathies.
Through the notion of ‘nostalgia talk’, Zoë will examine how middle-aged, working-class Kenyan Asian women disrupt hegemonic conceptions of the African city as only or necessarily black. While invoking rooted, multiracial solidarities, nostalgia talk also serves to exclude racialised ‘others’, exposing the intersections of security, urbanity and ‘race’ that shape Kenya’s on-going ‘war on terror’. In order to capture both the complexity and persistent unravelling of contemporary social divisions, the talk will conclude by advocating for an ‘everyday’ approach to the urban lives of ‘race’ in Kenya and beyond.
Reference cited: Mbembe, Achille. 2002. “African Modes of Self-Writing.” Public Culture 14 (1): 239–73.
Zoë Goodman is an urban anthropologist working in Mombasa, Kenya. Her research explores the way Muslims of South Asian descent have shaped urbanity and piety in the city, and how these are in turn being affected by pervasive security discourses. Zoë is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden and a Research Associate in the Anthropology department at SOAS, University of London.
There will be time for questions after the lecture.
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