Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India

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A hidden history connects India and the United States, the world’s two largest democracies. From the late nineteenth century through the 1960s, activists worked across borders of race and nation to push both countries toward achieving their democratic principles. At the heart of this shared struggle, African Americans and Indians forged bonds ranging from statements of sympathy to coordinated acts of solidarity. Within these two groups, certain activists developed a colored cosmopolitanism, a vision of the world that transcended traditional racial distinctions. These men and women agitated for the freedom of the “colored world,” even while challenging the meanings of both color and freedom.

Colored Cosmopolitanism is the first detailed examination of both ends of this transnational encounter. Nico Slate tells the stories of neglected historical figures, like the “Eurasian” scholar Cedric Dover, and offers a stunning glimpse of people we thought we knew. Prominent figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Swami Vivekananda, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr. emerge as never before seen. Slate reveals the full gamut of this exchange--from selective appropriations, to blatant misunderstandings, to a profound empathy--as African Americans and South Asians sought a united front against racism, imperialism, and other forms of oppression.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Slate, Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University, details the links between human rights activists in the two countries in this richly-sourced history. From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, Indians and African-Americans found common ground in their fights against colonialism on one side of the world and racism on the other, creating a "colored cosmopolitanism" that brought together what Indian activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya called the "darker races" of the globe in a shared pact to upend oppression. American racism led Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi to ponder whether it was worse being an untouchable in India or being black in America. To answer that question and others, Slate wisely lets his subjects speak for themselves, drawing extensively from interviews, oral histories, and archival materials. However, Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King Jr., the most celebrated of his disciples of non-violence, garners surprisingly few pages here. Instead of travelling down this well-trod path, the author delves deeper into how Gandhi's African-American contemporaries, such as civil rights stalwarts Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois influenced the Indian leader, precipitating a profound reworking of his thinking on both caste and race. Engagingly-written, this sweeping account of these episodes in U.S. and Indian history has the ability to appeal to professional historians as well as general readers. B&W Photos. (Jan.)
Amitava Kumar
Colored Cosmopolitanism is a testament to a solidarity that thrived despite painful contradictions. A detailed, compelling history that is also an example of effortless storytelling.
Thomas Borstelmann
Deeply researched, subtly argued, and written with verve and clarity, Colored Cosmopolitanism demonstrates the porousness of national borders--and the importance of international connections for social justice movements. This is superior transnational history.
Mary L. Dudziak
Nico Slate's important book reveals how African Americans and Indians framed a fluid 'colored cosmopolitanism,' embracing an anti-imperial and anti-racist conception of freedom.
Vijay Prashad
Nico Slate provides a wide-ranging tour of the interactions that knit together the African American and South Asian freedom movements, as intellectuals and activists fashioned new ideas of freedom and justice, pushing against each others' worlds to find more generous renderings of social practice and political strategy.
Stephen Tuck
An original, thorough, and elegant consideration of the connections between the Indian and American freedom struggles--and a persuasive reconsideration of the ways in which activists conducted those struggles and conceived of their freedom.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Tony Norman
One of the most fascinating releases of 2012 was Colored Cosmopolitanism, Nico Slate's exhaustive history of the ties between the American civil rights movement and India's inexorable march toward democracy from the 19th century through the 1960s...The dialogue between African-Americans and South Asians chronicled in Colored Cosmopolitanism is one of the great untold stories of the 20th century.
Choice - K. K. Hill
Since the mid-1990s, U.S. scholars have sought to understand the international factors that shaped the U.S. civil rights movements. Within the last decade, transnational studies of the civil rights and Black Power movements have emerged and emphasized the connections between black activists within the African diaspora. Slate breaks new ground by unearthing a "hidden history" of solidarity between anticolonial activists in India and black civil rights activists in the U.S. during the 20th century. The author argues that Indian and black activists were able to transcend physical distance, differing sociohistorical environments, and racial difference (albeit imperfectly) through a shared vision of "global double victory" for the "darker races." Slate does more than provide a fresh history of the Indian anticolonial movement and the U.S. civil rights movement; his seminal contribution is his development of a nuanced conceptual framework for later historians to apply to studying other transnational social movements.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Slate exhaustively charts the liberation movements of the world's two largest democracies from the 19th century to the 1960s. There's more to this connection than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s debt to Mahatma Gandhi, and Slate tells this fascinating tale better than anyone ever has.
— Tony Norman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674059672
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nico Slate is Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Words like Freedom 1

1 Race, Caste, and Nation 6

2 Racial Diplomacy 36

3 Colored Cosmopolitanism 65

4 Soul Force 93

5 Global Double Victory 125

6 Building a Third World 161

7 Nonviolence and the Nation 202

Conclusion: The Reflection of What Is 243

Note on Usage 257

Notes 259

Acknowledgments 315

Index 317

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