Being dark and foreign: a study of race in New Delhi's African student population

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

This thesis presents a qualitative study of the experience of social discrimination faced by a group of African students living and studying in New Delhi, India. The question of whether the cause of discrimination is that the students are 'foreigners', or that they are 'dark', or that they are 'dark foreigners', frames the research process. What is of issue here, is whether the theoretical framework of the research opens, in the first place, a productive means of enquiry into these social issues, and in the second place, whether it leads to an effective way of articulating policies that serve to alleviate the problem of discrimination faced by African students in Delhi. I will show that by framing the problem within discourses on xenophobia, this phenomenon is placed on the agenda of established global migration policy research. While the broader context of global migration forms an integral part of understanding this phenomenon, the complex construction of racial, cultural and existential difference which emerges from the data, requires a reading which exceeds the analytic framework offered by contemporary understandings of xenophobia. Discourses of race, in turn, place the experience of the African participants in India in relation to national problems of caste discrimination, colonial categorisation and contemporary reservation politics. Such a line of enquiry enables an engagement with a layered history and culture of struggle politics in India which reveals the structural similarity of experiences of discrimination across various cultural and historical domains (Randeria, 2006;; Viswewaran, 2010). The discourse of race allows connections to be made between vernacular understandings of difference rooted in Hindu mythology, which themselves are inflected by global discourses of race (Amin, 2010). The Indian cultural phenomenon of a preference for light skin indicated by a rapidly growing cosmetics industry, is shown to carry purchase within global consumer capitalist culture and contemporary discourses of development (Couze, 2010). By treating race as a living practice, this thesis is able to engage with anticolonial thinkers like Franz Fanon and Anibal Quijano. Fanon's thinking on the topic of discrimination remains grounded in experience, and as such, provides a critical tool to re-engage the histories that the project of imperialism undermined, as well as the agency of those who experience discrimination. I argue that ultimately, the anti-colonial arguments offered by Fanon and Quijano enable a way of thinking beyond a colonised position. Finally, I argue that race, as a category of self-identification, should not be discarded in the name of assimilation or non-racialism. In this way, the dissertation asserts Winant's claim that "race and racism also work from below, as matters of resistance (racism continues as something to be resisted), and as frameworks for alternative identities and collectivities" (Winant, 2014: 3). This thesis will demonstrate that the concept of race, though ambiguous, remains indispensible in an analysis of overlapping forms of discrimination in a post-colonial and emerging trans-national context.