CFP: Workshopping Approaches to Race, Racism, and Racialization in Ethnographic Examinations of China-Africa and South-South Encounters

January 13, 2017

New York University

The spectre of race haunts the China-Africa moment. A consequence of the steady stream of sensational stories about South-South interactions is the realization of W.E.B Du Bois’s observation that “crossings of the global color line make for anxious investigations.” The historian Jamie Monson argues that the study of “China-Africa” has become a “hot” topic precisely because the expansion of Chinese capital and migration to Africa (and vice versa) has disturbed implicit racial geographies and global hierarchies of value. Surprisingly however,  critical or intersectional perspectives on race have been limited in the emerging field of China-Africa studies. Political economists and ethnographers have frequently gestured towards issues of race, racism and racialization in African-Chinese interactions (or talked around it in terms of culture, language, ethnicity etc.), but a sustained in-depth, critical, and reflexive conversation is needed.  Instead, we have seen a pattern of impassioned apologetic or polemic responses that follow periodic “racist scandals” which appear in international media reporting on the topic. These scandals, ranging from a restaurant in Nairobi that banned black patrons after sunset, to a Chinese laundry detergent ad that recycled the trope of “washing” a black man into whiteness, have frequently become focal points in a predominantly “West-East” narrative of comparative racisms originating in the global North.  These scandals have been simultaneously interpreted as either tokens of “deep-seated” Chinese racisms or hypocritical “Western” media constructions or misinterpretations. These debates touch on the very definition of “racism” and its use in the discussion of global inequalities, discourses, and practices, both in the context of a “rising” global South and the lingering inequalities of the “West and the rest.” Missing from these discussions, however, have been the insights that ethnographic approaches could offer, or a critical stance on the positionality of experiences and claims about race, racialization, and racism.

On January 13, 2017, we will gather at New York University to move beyond periodic scandals and grapple with the concepts of race, racialization, and racism more broadly within the context of China-Africa or South-South interactions. We invite up-and-coming scholars who are wrestling with these issues, particularly in Chinese-African connections, but also in transnational Afro-Asian, and South-South formations more generally. What we are seeking is not so much completed or polished work, but rather thinkpieces, reflections, and works in progress which evince attempts to think through these issues. We especially welcome scholars who have conducted (or plan to conduct) ethnographic fieldwork or in-depth historical research. The aim of the workshop is to promote a conversation which we hope will both sharpen critical approaches to race in the study of China-Africa, and also contribute to the anthropology of race more broadly.

We hope to address the following questions during the workshop:

Are expressions of anti-black racism in China best understood as “ignorance,” “ethnocentrism,” “colorism,” classism, products of nationalism informed by social Darwinism, or what? What is the relationship between racial prejudice and structural racism? Can they be independent of each other?

What does it mean to map concepts like race and racism onto the study of these issues? How do we approach racism critically in these domains? What intellectual genealogies are we building upon? How do ethnographic treatments of race shape the positionality of the ethnographer and his/her interlocutors along axes of racial identity, gender, and/or class? How does one write critically about race in China-Africa interactions without themselves reproducing racial categories of Chineseness and Blackness?

Topics of discussion might include, but are not limited to:

  • Citizenship, migration, and labor regimes The afterlives and affordances of “Afro-Asian solidarity”
  • Interpersonal trust and ethics
  • The everyday language of race in quotidian Chinese-African interactions Global hierarchies of value Convergences and divergences between “race” and “suzhi”
  • (In)commensurabilities between “race,” “ethnicity,” “nation,” “minzu,” “zhongzu,” culture, and civilization in China “Yellow Peril” narratives globally and in Africa particularly Chinese migrants as “Asian middlemen” in Africa Interracial desire and miscegenation anxieties Blackness and Whiteness Afro-Orientalism Discourses of race in both Chinese and African print, television, and online media Cyber-racism, “polite” racism, and anti-racism Representations of race in literature and film Racialized geographies and “empire”
  • The “social lives” of race-based categories Race, racism, and politics in the production of social scientific knowledge about China-Africa The semiotic politics of identifying discourses, images and practices as “racist” or “racialized”
  • Anti-racist discourses and projects in China Critical comparative treatments of "black" experiences in China versus the global north and other parts of the global south Structural racism and global inequality Racialization of labor, consumption, and exchange

We welcome pieces that touch on the questions and/or discussion topics above. Please send a short description of your research questions and topic along with a CV to Derek Sheridan ( and Melissa Lefkowitz ( The deadline to apply is Friday, November 18, 2016.

The workshop will take place from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm in Room 706, Rufus D. Smith Hall (25 Waverly Place), New York University.


Melissa Lefkowitz (Department of Anthropology, New York University) Derek Sheridan (Department of Anthropology, Brown University) Event sponsored by the Department of Anthropology at New York University.