Afronormativity and its settler colonial origins: Jordache A. Ellapen, From black to brown: Race, diaspora, and post-apartheid South Africa, PhD Thesis, Indiana University, 2015


Abstract: In 1994, South Africa became a democratic country and has since prided itself with having the most progressive constitution in the world. However, I argue that the post-apartheid nation-state is Afronormative and has become a site of regulation for social formations like race, gender, and sexuality. I coined the term Afronormativity, to examine how political culture produces and relies on normative social identities. Furthermore, Afronormativity, as a structure, makes visible the hierarchical nature of the post-apartheid nation-state. Through analysis of the reconstitution of the black-white binary in the post-apartheid period, I examine the limited forms of legibility and visibility this binary offers for certain kinds of minoritized subjects like Indians, who were introduced to South Africa in 1860 through the British Empire’s indentured servitude scheme. I argue that since the colonial period, notions of citizenship and national belonging have relied on the construction of the Indian as the “alien-other”. The post-apartheid nation-state still relies on political identities formed during colonialism and apartheid that reiterate stereotypes of the Indian as Other. I analyze how such stereotypes obscure the manner in which settler colonialism operates in the contemporary period, where the Indian functions as a scapegoat to deflect attention away from the continuing effects of white supremacy on the majority black population.

By drawing on a visual culture archive that extends beyond material culture (films, photographs, and fine art exhibitions) to consider the visuality of everyday life in South Africa, I shift my focus from the recuperation of the Indian subject to consider brownness, influenced by a queer diasporic framework, as an analytic that destabilizes and critiques Afronormativity. Located interstitially between black and white, I argue that brownness queers the black-white binary and a queer framework also challenges binaries related to gender and sexuality. This dissertation is interdisciplinary and draws from Queer of Color Critique, African Studies, African-American and African Diaspora Studies, Asian American and South Asian Diaspora Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Visual Culture Studies in order to examine questions related to race, diaspora, nation, settler colonialism and the limits of neoliberal citizenship in an era of global capital.

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