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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Race, Caste and Colorism

The Race, Caste and Colorism Working Group aims to cultivate a global network of scholars, artists, writers, translators and activists around a shared political, intellectual and aesthetic inquiry of race, caste and colorism.

About the Project

With a focus on United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #16, Peace and Justice and Strong Institutions, the Race, Caste and Colorism Working Group will help foment intellectual and institutional shifts in the ways scholars and writers think about local manifestations of caste and casteism, and race and racism, as part of a global semiotics of colorism.

Colorism creates forms of consciousness—categories such as light and dark, good and evil, enlightened and unenlightened, for example—that manifest locally and persist globally. The persistence of color and colorism not only inflects different world systems, but also constitutes a particular world system itself.

Through publishing and translation work, curricular development, literature and the arts, the Race, Caste and Colorism group will advance the idea of colorism, knitting the globally oppressive structures of race/racism and caste/casteism together, while also accounting for the historical, religious, regional and cultural differences between them.

The group also aims to create key moments of intersection between leading and emergent artists engaging with the history, present, and future of race, caste and colorism—to develop twenty-first century versions of the political and intellectual exchanges of the mid-twentieth century that brought together people like Ambedkar and DuBois, or King and Nehru. To this end, the group will host a regular slate of activities, including artists’ and writers’ workshops, scholarly conferences and storytelling seminars, and create dedicated publishing channels for stories grounded in living in caste, race and colorism.

Group Members


  • Laura Brueck (Asian Languages and Cultures, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences)
  • Ivy Wilson (English, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences)

Group members:

  • Emily Maguire (Spanish and Portuguese, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences)
  • Kalyan Nadiminti (English, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences)
  • Lakshmi Padmanabhan (Radio/Television/Film, School of Communication)

Latest Work and Developments


  • The Race, Caste and Colorism Global Working Group is working with Navayana Publishers, an independent anti-caste publishing house based in Delhi, India, to curate, edit and publish a book series on race, caste and colorism. Learn more about the books in the series currently in production.   
  • Group leaders Laura Brueck and Ivy Wilson are co-editing a special issue of The Massachusetts Review on Race, Caste and Colorism set to be published in spring 2024. Laura Brueck will publish her article “The Politics of Translating Dalit Literature,” and Ivy Wilson will join the Editorial Board of the journal.  
  • The group has co-organized workshops and seminars as well as hosted a visiting lecture series (detailed below) that have contributed to the development of a forthcoming edited anthology of essays on race and caste, tentatively titled Race and Caste – An Anthology, to map the present and future trajectories of this emergent field of interdisciplinary inquiry.

Teaching Activities 

  • Group leaders Brueck and Wilson launched a graduate student reading group and co-taught a course on Race, Caste and Colorism in spring 2022. Laura Brueck and students from the course participated in the “Future of Critical Caste Studies” conference at the University of Chicago in April 2022.
  • Co-lead Laura Brueck is teaching a second iteration of her seminar on race and caste in spring 2024. 
  • The group plans to bring two visiting scholars to campus in spring 2024:
    • S. Anand, an Indian author, publisher and journalist and Co-Founder of Navayana Publishing, and 
    •  A/nil, a.k.a. Anilkumar Payyappilly Vijayan, a poet and Associate Professor of English at Government Arts and Science College in Pathiripala, India as well as the author of The Absent Color: Poems published by Navayana Publishing. 

Engagement Activities and Artistic Collaborations

  • Group leaderBrueck and Wilson organized a panel on “Global Caste” at the 2023 Annual Conference on South Asia, the premier annual South Asian studies conference in the US, to explore the presence of race, caste and colorism as they are made visible—and interrogated—in literary and cultural production across the US and South Asia. 
  • In March 2023, members of the group co-organized a three-day seminar on “Race, Caste and Colorism” as part of the Annual Conference of the American Comparative Literature Association. In April 2023, group leaders Brueck and Wilson participated in a daylong workshop on “Caste, Class and Race: Inter-Areal Studies of Socio-Cultural Contradiction" at the University of California Santa Cruz. 
  • The group connected critical dialogues on race, caste and colorism by hosting a robust program of speakers that brought leading scholars in the intersectional field of race and caste to Northwestern to discuss these issues through the lens of literature, anthropology and history. Speakers have included:
    • Charu Gupta, Professor of History at the University of Delhi, on “Critical Caste and Gender Studies: Anecdotes from Teaching and Research” in fall 2022
    • Yogita Goyal, Professor of English at the University of California Los Angeles, on “Race, Caste, and Failures of Comparison” in fall 2022
    • Nihkil Pandhi, PhD candidate at Princeton University, on “In Ambedkar’s Wake: Frequencies, Fictions and Futures of Anti-Caste” in winter 2023
    • Kaneesha Parsard, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago, on “Is the Coolie Woman a Banker?” in winter 2023
    • Anthony Joseph, poet, novelist and lecturer, reading from his T.S. Eliot Award-winning collection of poems Sonnets for Albert in spring 2023
  • The group has screened several films on structures of oppression at the Northwestern Block Museum of Art, including:
  • The Race, Caste and Colorism Group partnered with SpaceShift Collective to launch Starlight in fall 2022, a community arts space and artist workshop on Chicago's Devon Avenue, one of the most diverse streets in America and a cultural hub for Chicago's South Asian population. The Race, Caste and Colorism group's Starlight space featured a six-week series of immersive events celebrating South Asian culture, from movie screenings and concerts to workshops, lectures and live demonstrations.