- Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality
Drawing on evidence from Australia, South Africa, and the U.S., Australian scholars Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds have written a fine study of the rise of white racism in transnational perspective during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book includes an informative account of the emerging racial discourse in the three counties—identifying both common themes and distinctive features—while also demonstrating how long-distance “solidarities” facilitated the growth of white racism in an increasingly globalized world.
Chapter one is a fascinating account of how, beginning in the 1850s, the migration of Chinese laborers to the goldfields of Australia and California contributed to a new sense of whiteness among people of European descent, especially males. In both places, popular protest against the newcomers from China led to discriminatory taxes and immigration restrictions.
Chapters two through five chart the growth of the new “discursive frameworks” of race in the three countries. Central to this development were the ideas of two Englishmen, James Bryce and Charles Pearson. Bryce’s enormously influential three-volume opus, The American Commonwealth (1888), included a chapter on the South since the Civil War in which he argued—consistent with the orthodoxy of the day—that the effort to extend political equality to African-Americans during Reconstruction had been mistaken because the freed blacks were only half-civilized and thus unfit for citizenship. For Bryce, whiteness was a prerequisite for democracy. Pearson, who relocated from Oxford to Melbourne in the 1870s, agreed with Bryce on this issue (they were longtime friends), but Pearson thought of race relations in more global terms. In his major book, National Life and Character: A Forecast (1893), Pearson predicted ominously (for whites) a future world in which “the European observer will look round to see the globe girdled with a continuous zone of black and yellow races, no longer too weak for aggression, but independent. . . . ”
Chapters six through nine are the most interesting part of the book because they demonstrate the significance of international connections to the shaping of the new racial discourse. The 1901 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, a document that allowed for immigration restrictions against non-Europeans and the deportation of Pacific islanders, was clearly shaped by the authors’ (mis)understanding of race relations in the U.S. following the Civil War, as described by Bryce and others. Japan’s stunning defeat of Russia in the war of 1904–5 led to anti-Japanese activism in San Francisco (the “Schools Crisis” of 1906) and rioting against Japanese and Chinese in Vancouver on behalf of the goal of “White Canada Forever.” Immigration restrictions followed in both countries. In South Africa, the reconciliation of Boers and Britons following [End Page 463] the war of 1899–1902 set the stage for greatly strengthened white rule over the African, colored and—despite the activism of M.K. Gandhi—Indian communities.
In chapters ten through thirteen, the authors treat the contradictory themes of (1) challenges to the ideology of white supremacy and (2) its consolidation. Perhaps the most significant of the intellectual challenges was that mounted by W.E.B. DuBois whose famous declaration at the 1900 Pan-African Congress in London on the importance of the “color line” inspired the title of Lake and Reynolds’ book. DuBois’ 1903 collection, The Souls of Black Folk and his 1910 essay, “The Souls of White Folk” might be taken as the founding documents of today’s whiteness studies. But it may have been the government of Japan that launched the most telling critique of white supremacy when, at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the Japanese delegation called for the adoption of a racial equality clause. Although the Japanese effort failed to pass and was soon followed by a wave of racist legislation in the U.S., South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, that was hardly the end of the story...