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Failed Kinship and the Brown Commons

Thursday Lecture Series, Failure

dateApril 6, 2023 timeThursday, 12:15pm–2:00pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • Video available by request to Columbia affiliates.

  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Drawn portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois with only his skin in color

In his 1940 autobiography Dusk of Dawn, W.E.B. Du Bois writes of a “kinship [that] binds together not simply the children of Africa, but extends through yellow Asia and into the South Seas.” Chander argues that this political ideal and the revolutionary possibilities it introduces emerge from the failure of capital to consolidate the familial bonds among forcibly displaced peoples. Noting that Du Bois identifies this failure with a racialized position he describes as “brown,” Chander suggests that the alternative kin network Du Bois calls forth might productively be read in terms of what José Esteban Muñoz called “the brown commons,” where “Brownness…affiliates and intermeshes with blackness, Asianness, [and] indigenousness.” He then considers how this commons is imagined in the series of books that the revolutionary historian Walter Rodney was writing for the schoolchildren of Guyana at the time of his assassination in 1980. These works represent the promise of kinship among differently racialized working peoples who share a common history of vulnerability and violence.


Manu Samriti Chander is an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark. He is the author of Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century (Bucknell, 2017) and co-editor, with Tricia A. Matthew, of the Oxford University Press book series Race in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture.

This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.