Hazel V. Carby

Hazel V. Carby is emeritus professor of Afric­an American Studies at Yale. Her latest book, Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands, came out last September.

The Limits of Caste

Hazel V. Carby, 21 January 2021

The racial imaginaries rooted in colonisation are not only historical but geopolitical in character. After the Abolition Act of 1833, the British repurposed slave ships to transport more than a million indentured labourers from India to work on plantations in their colonies around the globe, resulting in the complex entanglements of caste and race in British Guiana, Jamaica and Trinidad. Isabel Wilkerson sees caste as both cause and symptom of a Manichean division between black and white in the early days of North American colonisation, but this division tells us little about the effects of gender and class, and can’t account for indigeneity. If we broaden our understanding to include the history of racial geographies across the Americas, rather than uncritically accepting national boundaries established long after the European invasions, encounters with indigenous inhabitants become central to any attempt at making sense of the classification and division of humanity.

Thecity of Minneapolis, in which George Floyd lived and died, has been plagued not only by Covid-19 but also by an epidemic of police violence. As Mike Griffin, a community organiser, put it, he was ‘just as likely to die from a cop as from Covid’. Major news outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post, seemed astonished at the scale of structural and...

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