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  • Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality
  • Tiffany A. Trimmer
Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality. By Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 382 pp. $90.00 (cloth); $30.99 (paper); $24.00 (e-book).

This book is three world histories of the mid nineteenth to early twentieth century in one. It is simultaneously an intellectual history of binary racial identities (white and nonwhite) formed in an era of global migrations, a legislative history of restrictive immigration policies designed to keep these races apart, and a political-cultural history of how a clash between the desire for separation of the races and the reality of population mobility transformed the self-styled "White Men's [End Page 626] Countries" of Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Lake and Reynolds's excellent study centers around the conceptualization of whiteness as a "transnational form of racial identification" (p. 3) that gave Anglo-Saxon immigrants in five different parts of the world common political cause. It charts white male breadwinners' attempts to safeguard their political and economic rights in the face of perceived threats from Chinese, Japanese, and Indian immigrants. Showing how ideas about whiteness and legal strategies to restrict Asian immigration were exchanged among the five white men's countries, the authors demonstrate that these national-level historical trends were not simply parallel developments but instead constituted an "inter-connected and mutually formative" (p. 5) transnational phenomenon—a decades-long pattern of transnational collaboration to protect white privilege. The authors illustrate, for example, how strategic use of a literacy test to prevent black men from voting in the U.S. state of Mississippi found its way to South Africa to help protect white male suffrage there; the literacy test idea then had a second round of transnational evolution as Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Canada drafted restrictive immigration legislation in the early twentieth century. A "global colour line" demarcated by whiteness—the book's title is inspired by W. E. B. DuBois's argument that the defining problem of the twentieth century was "the problem of the color line" (p. 1)—shaped the contours of the local, national, and transnational historical events detailed in the book. An additionally captivating aspect of Lake and Reynolds's history is the examination of how the racial division of the world cut both ways. The formation of transnational alliances dedicated to overthrowing racial segregation—pan-Africanism, pan-Asianism, anticolonial movements—are also an integral component of their narrative.

Multiple audiences will find this book useful. World historians will want to study it as a model for sustaining a transnational narrative across more than three hundred pages. The patterns of world historical action and reaction—international migration provoking racially motivated immigration restriction provoking demands for racial equality—documented by the authors expertly integrates local-level and national-level historical details. The framing of race as a worldwide political-cultural solidarity will intrigue world historians as well as scholars interested in the construction of racial identities. This group will also find the book's discussion of how racialized ideas about fitness for participation in democratic society shaped desires to exclude Africans, African-Americans, and Asians from white men's countries informative. Migration historians will gain much from the five interconnected [End Page 627] national histories of immigration restriction and the persuasive recasting of anti-Asian immigration sentiment (and resistance to it) as a transnational phenomenon. The book's sustained emphasis on the "transnational circulation of emotions and ideas, people and publications, racial knowledge and technologies" (p. 4) will prove methodologically instructive. Historians of the British Empire will enjoy the authors' highlighting of both cultural affinities and political disconnects between London, its self-governing colonies, and the United States. Lake and Reynolds's argument that the British decision to side with whites in South Africa and Australia over their Indian subjects constituted a "betrayal of the idea of imperial citizenship" (p. 5) will give these scholars much to debate. The transnational reframing of events in late nineteenth- and early...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 626-632
Launched on MUSE
2011-09-04
Open Access
No
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