Keren Weitzberg, Dept. of History and Lauder Institute Postdoctoral fellow: "Becoming 'Asiatic' in Kenya: Imperial Connections, the Color Bar, and the Isaaq Somali Diaspora (1936-1940)"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - 1:30pm - 2:30pm
Meyerson Hall, B2

In 1937, members of the Isaaq Somali community of Kenya petitioned the colonial government to pay a higher rate of taxation in response to colonial efforts to erode their status and legal rights. Isaaq Somali representatives not only demanded to pay the Asian rate of taxation, but also claimed that they were not Somalis, but rather “Asiatics.” This intriguing case study allows for a reconsideration of how race and ethnicity were politicized under colonial rule. As this presentation will show, Somali leaders brought regional ideas of belonging and descent into dialogue with colonial ideas of race and ethnicity. Studying this incident allows for a reconsideration of the political possibilities enabled by empire. Although the British Empire institutionalized a global color bar, it also provided a language of redress, particularly for relatively privileged groups, who could demand greater rights within the segregated racial order. Empire, in contrast to the much narrower nation-state of later years, allowed the Isaaq Somali community to engage the state by mobilizing through their diasporic networks. Examining the archival and oral evidence surrounding the 1930s campaign for Asiatic status sheds light on political possibilities that were thinkable under empire, but which became untenable after independence.