White skin colour and elite distinction on the island of Mauritius
(University of Vienna)
Paper short abstract:
Forty years after Mauritian independence, white skin colour still remains at the core of Franco-Mauritian elite distinction. The paper analyses how Franco-Mauritian elite distinction is reinforced through intra-group and inter-group processes.
Paper long abstract:
The Franco-Mauritians - the white elite of the island Mauritius (numbering about 10,000 individuals) - have successfully maintained their elite position, even forty years after Mauritius' independence. That the transition from colonialism to independence has not deprived them of their position can be explained partly by their maintenance of a distinct (ethnic) identity in an overwhelmingly non-white society. At the core of the Franco-Mauritians distinction as elites is their white skin colour, with all its historical connotations. The paper will contribute to the debate of how elite distinction is shaped through both intra-group and inter-group processes. It will discuss, on the one hand, how endogamous marriage practices, exclusive social and sport clubs, and, more generally, an elite culture reinforce Franco-Mauritian identity. On the other hand, it will argue how the strong focus on ethnicity in Mauritian society at large facilitates the Franco-Mauritians' elite distinction through skin colour. On the small island with its 1.2 million inhabitants, ethnicity is omnipresent, and Franco-Mauritian identity as such thus hardly challenged. Despite regular criticism of their colonial past and unequal share in the island's wealth, Franco-Mauritians co-exist relatively peacefully with the rest of Mauritian society. However, since their ethnic identity continues to provide them with privileged access to the island's most powerful business networks, elite distinction marked by the white skin colour is persistent.
Elite strategies of distinction and mutuality