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A darker shade of white: expat self-making in a Congolese rainforest enclave

  • Thomas Hendriks

This article offers a new perspective on contemporary ‘whiteness’ in Africa by looking at the ambiguous ways in which it affects everyday life in and around the labour compounds of a multinational timber firm in the Congolese rainforest. As a foreign investment enclave, the logging concession is home to a small isolated community of European expatriate men whose ‘white’ faces evoke a set of ambivalent memories of colonial exploitation in the area. Through a carefully contextualized understanding of how these contemporary expats are perceived in the labour compounds and how they construct their own racialized male selves, this article pushes the discussion on whiteness in Africa beyond the conventional analysis of (post-)settler identities and whites of African nationalities. It argues that, as a permanent fixture in the present neoliberal moment but also as an uncanny repetition of a colonial past, the European loggers construct and embody very specific ‘expat’ masculinities whose internalized dynamics of self-exoticization make them ‘African’ in their own right. Mobilizing the problematic trope of ‘darkness’, both in expat self-making practices and in popular narratives about their presence, this article illustrates how whiteness in Africa comes in many shades.

Cet article offre une nouvelle perspective sur la « blanchité » en Afrique contemporaine, en investiguant comment elle affecte la vie quotidienne dans et autour des camps de travailleurs d'une entreprise forestière multinationale en forêt Congolaise. En tant qu'enclave d'investissements étrangers, cette concession forestière, gérée par des hommes « blancs » vivant dans une petite communauté isolée, fait ressurgir des mémoires populaires ambivalentes touchant à l'exploitation coloniale de la région. A travers une lecture contextualisée de la façon dont les travailleurs perçoivent ces expatriés Européens et de la façon dont ces derniers construisent leurs propres identités raciales masculines, cet article pousse la discussion sur la « blanchité » en Afrique au-delà de l'analyse conventionnelle des identités (post-)settler et des Blancs de nationalités africaines. Comme caractéristique du présent néolibéral, mais aussi comme répétition troublante du passé colonial, les forestiers Européens construisent et incorporent des masculinités expatriées particulières qui « s'africanisent » à travers des dynamiques d'auto-exotisation. En mobilisant la métaphore problématique des « ténèbres » dans les pratiques de construction de soi chez les expatriés, mais aussi dans les narratifs populaires sur leur présence, cet article montre comment la blanchité en Afrique présente de multiples nuances.

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