Anthropology Roundtable Symposium: Derek Sheridan - The Semiotics of 'Heiren' ('Black People')

The Semiotics of 'Heiren' ('Black People'):  Race, Everyday Language, and Discursive Complicities in a Chinese Migrant Community 

Derek Sheridan, Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica (Taiwan),

Among Chinese migrants in Tanzania, “heiren (黑人)” (black person/people) is a ubiquitous term that encapsulates everyone from laborers to state officials, and ranges from a collective term for “black people” in aggregate to an individual pronoun. In English, this language bolsters the claim that Chinese migrants racialize Africans; a claim that indicates “the Chinese” hold “racist” attitudes. Conversely, the argument that Chinese discourse shouldn’t be (mis)-interpreted through Western (US) concepts of race precludes recognition of Chinese discourse within global histories of “race,” and the contested politics of identifying/disavowing “racism.” In this talk, I examine racialization in everyday discourse, and also the politics of (white) ethnographic reportage on (non-white) racism. I focus on the social lives of the word heiren, examining how it is deployed in heterogenous social situations and discursive contexts. 

Derek Sheridan's research focuses on geopolitical imaginaries and the ethics of global inequalities in China-Africa relations. His first book, currently in preparation, is an ethnography of Chinese entrepreneurial migrants in Tanzania. Based on fieldwork in Dar es Salaam, a key trading node with a long history of Afro-Asian connections, the book examines how Chinese migrants and ordinary Tanzanians have come to depend on each other for their livelihoods within an uneven and hierarchical global political economy.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

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