Some Intimate Histories of Afro-Asian "Solidarity"

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:20 AM
Missouri Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Histories of Afro-Asian solidarity rarely dwell on questions of intimacy, yet they tend to presume a proximity and a reciprocity between people of African and Asian descent that, arguably, defines postcolonial politics in its characteristically utopian form.  Neglect of intimacy stems partly from the challenges that inhere in capturing the affective dynamics of most political movements and formations. Such challenges are significant even if we resist equating the domain of the intimate with that of the personal or the subjective. But the insouciance of postcolonial histories towards interracial intimacy grows out of a larger problem at the heart of postcolonial studies, i.e., the presumption that rhetorical expressions of Afro-Asian solidarity and the very real geopolitical re-alignments that ensued in the wake of the 1955 Bandung conference either stemmed from or produced cultures of intimacy and exchange in "ordinary" political and social life. In fact, there is every indication that the terms of endearment between people or communities of African and Indian descent were strained at best. A common idiom of these tensions was the specter of interracial sex, not simply as or for itself but as a carrier of the political valences of interracial desire of all kinds. In this paper I examine, through several fictional examples, what I argue was in fact a broad struggle over intimacy at the heart of Afro-Asian solidarity to broach some larger questions about the stakes of re-materializing the embodied histories of both the racialized postcolonial self and the gendered postcolonial imagination.