The politics of whiteness in Africa

  • November 9, 2017
The politics of whiteness in Africa

Danelle van Zyl-Hermann has co-edited a special issue on contemporary discussions around white communities in Africa.

As different white communities seek to negotiate the challenges posed by the postcolonial context in particular ways, we see a multiplicity of configurations of white identity and power. At the same time, the articles reveal similarities in racist ideologies, cultural repertoires and material practices of domination across varying African contexts. Whiteness in postcolonial Africa emerges as dynamic and constantly adapting.

Danelle van Zyl-Hermann and Jacob Boersema

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has co-edited the first comparative study on white privilege, power and subjectivities in post-colonial Africa in an academic journal.

Danelle van Zyl-Hermann [2010] is currenty a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of the Free State, South Africa. Along with Jacob Boersema from Columbia University, she has edited a special issue on 'The politics of whiteness in Africa' in the latest edition of the journal Africa. ​Africa, the journal of the Interational African Institute, is the premier journal devoted to the interdisciplinary study of African societies and culture. 

The edited collection brings together research on Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Danelle says it provides timely new insights into contemporary discussions around white citizenship and belonging under black majority rule; into how race in contemporary Africa articulates not only with post-colonial struggles but also with new racialised forms of globalisation; and into the fragility of the cohesion of white communities in the post-colony.

In their introduction to the issue Danelle and Jacob talk about the need to understand the construction, representation and functioning of whiteness in Africa vis-à-vis the white other as well as vis-à-vis the racial other.

They underline the need to consider the heterogeneity of whiteness in contemporary Africa, including variations in whiteness in disparate geographical contexts and within white communities. They write: "White subjectivities or patterns of white power and privilege both assume different forms in, say, Kenya than they do in Zimbabwe, and differ between, for instance, urban and rural white communities within Zimbabwe. As different white communities seek to negotiate the challenges posed by the postcolonial context in particular ways, we thus see a multiplicity of configurations of white identity and power. At the same time, the articles reveal similarities in racist ideologies, cultural repertoires and material practices of domination across varying African contexts. Whiteness in postcolonial Africa emerges as dynamic and constantly adapting."

The co-editors talk about certain trends, for instance, the growing use of the language of victimhood, mainly in relation to postcolonial policies of black majority regimes ostensibly disadvantaging or even threatening whites and how this is being used to preserve power structures.

Danelle and Jacob argue that the studies have wider implications beyond Africa. They write: "Population projections for the United States estimate that by 2042 whites will no longer form the majority of the population but will be outnumbered by Americans of other races. In many American and European cities, whites already form a minority in relation to labour migrants, immigrants and their descendants. Foreshadowing broader, global trends, the ethnographies [we have] collected illuminate aspects of future race relationships far beyond the African continent.

*Picture credit: Youtube.

Danelle Van Zyl-Hermann

Danelle Van Zyl-Hermann

  • Alumni
  • South Africa
  • 2010 PhD History
  • St John's College

For details on my research and publications, please visit https://unibasel.academia.edu/DanellevanZylHermann

Latest News

Provost wins top Royal Society award

Gates Cambridge Provost Professor Barry Everitt has been selected for the Royal Society’s premier award in the biological sciences. Professor Barry Everitt FMedSci FRS has been awarded the Croonian Medal and Lecture 2021 for his research on the application of his findings on brain mechanisms of motivation to important societal issues, such as drug addiction. […]

Addressing energy injustice in the Global South

A new framework which uses artificial intelligence to analyse textual data on energy use and behaviour could help policymakers develop a deeper understanding of energy injustices in the Global South. The study, Grounded reality meets machine learning: A deep-narrative analysis framework for energy policy research, was led by Gates Cambridge Scholar Ramit Debnath [2018] and is published in the journal Energy Research […]

Scholar wins top German prize for PhD thesis

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has won a prestigious international award for her PhD dissertation on the relationship between offshore finance and state power. Dr Andrea Binder was named winner of the Körber Foundation’s German Dissertation Award 2020 for social sciences. The prize, one of the most highly endowed for young researchers from Germany, honours excellent PhD research which […]

Developing a farm for impact model

Shadrack Frimpong has not yet started his PhD, but already his and his team’s work has earned him awards from the Queen, the Clinton Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Foundation. The awards are for their outstanding work in creating a potential new development model for rural crop-growing communities starting from Shadrack’s own village in Ghana. […]