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ALL Essays The New York Review of Books

“The Soul as a Picture Gallery”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Studio Portrait by an unknown American photographer, 1940s–1950s

For The New York Review of Books, I wrote about a Met exhibition of African-American portraits found at flea markets and other resting places for the forgotten. “Though salvaged, the images remain tinted by this history, their anonymity like a kind of sepia.“

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Songs of Themselves

In a review essay for the July issue of Prospect Magazine in the UK, I write about the memoir Ants Among Elephants, double consciousness and the rhetorical tradition of memoirs by Dalit women.

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ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

Mother Lode

For the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I review a personal history of Ethiopia by Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam, as refracted through the life of the author’s grandmother.

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Masters and Servants

For the Boston Review, I write on novels by Neel Mukherjee and V.S. Naipaul and one odd winter in New Delhi that left me unhoused in my own skin.  I consider whether, “in the curved space-time of global history, migration can crack open wormholes to freedom from old rigidities and entitlements,” including the barriers of gender, class and caste.

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Edifices of Empire

For Dissent Magazine, I wrote an essay about racial capitalism, drawing on Peter Hudson’s Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean and Stuart Hall’s memoir Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands: “For Hall, his family, his class, his island—the color line was drawn inside them. It was a psychological legacy of the power held by slave owners. Racial thinking’s repercussions in the real world were only too concrete. […] The power of slave owners also had a significant material legacy—they were financially compensated for the loss of the enslaved human beings they had treated as units of production, who were suddenly abstracted into capital. As Hall explains, slave owners funneled the payments they received at emancipation into businesses—shipping, railways, merchant banking—that fueled Britain’s industrial transformation in the second half of the nineteenth century. Hall juxtaposes this eclipsed history of racial capitalism with an exploration of the prejudices that misshaped so many lives in colonial plantation societies in the Caribbean to underscore the economic roots of all that internalized prejudice and self-loathing. Jamaican planters profited from both slavery and abolition; in self-vindication, they worked to instill “a continuing faith in the ‘truth’ of race” in the late-nineteenth century. On the ground, this manifested as an abiding “mental slavery” (to use Bob Marley’s famous words). The struggle for liberation from it was the task of Hall’s generation and continues urgently to be that of our own.”