'Ghostlike' Seafarers and Sailing Ship Nostalgia: The Steamship Lascar in the British Imagination c.1880-1960

Presented by Jon Hyslop

Monday, 27 February, 2012 - 15:00

Racism is sometimes portrayed as consisting as highly theorized ideologies, but it often actually functions through a blunter process of non-recognition. Simon Dagut has shown that in high imperial southern Africa, settler racism often took the form of an intense social distancing, manifesting in obliviousness toward the social existence of the black workforce. Thus a single Englishman, camped out in the bush with a score or more of African workers could declare himself in his diary to be ‘alone.'  In the same way, the lascar was often unreal to the British imagination. But the lascar was the doppelganger of the British seaman; the one could not be thought of without the other. The celebration of the British seaman was, and remains, a deeply racialized text, silently contrasting him with his usually unmentioned Asian and African crewmates, even when they seem not to be there.

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