Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality

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Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality  
Author(s) Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication date 2008-2-18
Pages 382
ISBN 0521707528
Lake and Reynolds argue that the policy of “whiteness” and the “white man’s country” was propagated at the turn of the century, as colonized people began to revolt against their colonizers and whites sought to control other races. The authors contend that whiteness became a transnational form of racial identification, with a distinctive sense of identity and self, and the basis of new geopolitical alliances. By looking at various colonizing nations, they illustrate how the formation of whiteness and nationbuilding was “dynamically inter-connected and thus mutually formative” (5). They look particularly at how the US, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand used exclusion, deportation, segregation and various surveillance tools like the census, the passport and the literacy test to create an ongoing project of whiteness. At the same time, these white alliances were connecting, they were becoming increasingly isolated via these exclusionary policies, and triggering resistance from China, Japan, India and others. The authors are particularly careful to define the idea that the “white man’s country” drew on both republican and imperial traditions in order to justify who was fit for self-rule, and who was white/non-white. The book is divided into five thematic sections that trace how the conversation on whiteness informed and then transformed international relations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Part I is concerned with describing how migration signaled the new global mobility of the nineteenth century, (which was based on a need for labor), and how white countries began to share common methods for dealing with the influx of nonwhites. The authors focus on Chinese immigration to both Australia and California and how both used a shared vocabulary and similar restrictions to control immigrants. On the other hand, men like Lowe Kong Meng, a Chinese immigrant to Australia, specifically challenged his right to settle on new lands, asking if the white men could, why could he not. This signaled the development of things to come as the East began to challenge the framework of white superiority. Part 2 analyzes the discursive frameworks for talking about whiteness. They focus on the figures of Charles Pearson and James Bryce whose writings constituted this conversation. Bryce and Pearson were liberal democrats, one Australian and one British, – and yet their commitment to equality and democracy emphasized finding a racial homogeneity. Bryce and Pearson described their fears of the new forms of racial contact produced by modern migrations. The authors argue that these writings encouraged “a binary mode of racial thought that lay in the basis for the division of the world into white and non-white” (93). Bryce’s Romanes lectures carried great weight, in that he described four possible outcomes of conquest and colonization – the weaker races would die out, the weaker race would be absorbed by the stronger, the races would mix to form something new, or that racial difference was so great that it must result in social separation. He argued against the impossibilities of multiracial democracy. Pearson was particularly concerned with the idea of Eastern (Japanese and Chinese) domination, and emphasized that white states must band together to provide a haven for whites against the advancing threat. Theodore Roosevelt was greatly influenced by Pearson, as his decision to send the fleet for a Pacific tour, and his ideas about the reinvigoration of American manhood illustrate.

As “white” countries considered the impacts of Bryce and Pearson’s philosophies, they began to solidify their transnational connections with each other, even as “nonwhite” nations hardened their own resistance to the existing framework. Australia and New Zealand came to view the US as more compatible with their racial goals than Britain. In South Africa, the British Empire was further threatened by the increasing militancy of white settlers who wished to enforce total and scientific segregation between blacks and whites. With the collapse of the British Empire, and the rise of new but tenuous alliances between “white countries,” white manhood was in a vulnerable position. The greatest challenge to it would come from Japan, who began demanding equality of status with Western powers. After World War I, their demands were rejected at the Paris Peace Conference, but it left a deep psychological mark that may have led partially to Japan’s instigation of WWII. The notion of white global superiority after 1945 began crumbling in earnest. Even as 1930’s immigration restrictions enforced “segregation on a large scale,” scientists had already begun to undermine the dominating concepts of racist thought. Lake and Reynolds argue the advent of the Nazis and their brutal polices of eugenics and holocaust had the effect of “scarifying the conscience of the world” (331), and helped to push policies in the war’s aftermath that were more focused on global equality and equal rights.

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