- Crossing the Color Line: race, sex, and the contested politics of colonialism in Ghana by Carina E. Ray
In this creatively and brilliantly conceived book, Carina Ray uses the story of interracial sexual relationships between European men and African women in the Gold Coast and African men and European women in Britain as an entry point into a much broader history of racial and gender relations. Throughout, one learns about the interconnectedness of sexual and racial politics to the big question of colonial ‘civilization’. The author’s carefully sourced and previously untapped primary sources from both Ghana and Britain, combined with her ingenuity, give beauty to historical writing. Her detailed archival materials and oral interviews allow her to move from specific colonial trials of interracial affairs to big narratives on the transatlantic movement of ideas, practices and families, and anti-colonial struggles within the British Empire. The photographs of multiracial families strategically placed throughout further put a human face on her narratives, and bring readers another step closer to the lived experience of historical agents and the societies that produced them. The eight closely connected chapters introduce change and continuity in the politics of race and sex in both the Gold Coast and Britain, the factors responsible for change, and how social and political transformation of colonial legitimacy reshaped perceptions of interracial relationships across race, class, gender and location.
Any Africanist familiar with trends in the scholarship on race, gender, sexuality and empire would not contest the significant contributions of Ray’s Crossing the Color Line to African studies. For one thing, this book is another successful attempt at putting sexuality in its rightful place in the general history of the colonial encounter in Africa. Instead of following the established discourse of ‘sex peril’ or anxiety over the alleged rape of European women by African men in settler colonies of East and Southern Africa, Ray’s book presents convincing arguments and narratives that humanize socio-sexual relations and removes them from the margins of criminality and violence. Interracial sexual relationships went beyond the over-flogged perspectives of coercion. While not ruling out sexual exploitation, men and women of different races, as Crossing the Color Line affirms, have the capacity to fall in love and establish sexual relations and conjugal affairs – like any other humans. The pseudo-intellectual construction of racial difference, which individuals and groups have used to divide and rule societies, was challenged as Africans and Europeans contracted sexual relationships on both long-and short-term bases. Multiracial couples risked the social and political implications of going against the grain to establish families, some of which lasted for a lifetime. Yet Europeans and Africans also formed sexual and conjugal relationships to enhance their socio-economic status. Hence, Ray argues that ‘Gold Coast women’s varied sexual engagements with European men were part of a broader spectrum of self-determination strategies that women employed in their efforts to wield more control over their lives’ (p. 12). These interracial relations went beyond secret or public affairs between couples – they powerfully shaped and invoked social discourses of power, right and privilege in both the Gold Coast and the metropole. They made significant inroads into the ordering and othering of colonial society.
Ray does not treat the colony and the metropole as separate spheres of political and social power. Rather, she creates a nuanced analysis that brings them into analytical dialogue in order to explore the contestation over interracial sexual relationships. This approach is important in coming to grips, first, with how practices travel and are transformed and domesticated in different locales and [End Page 193] in shifting circumstances. Second, it demonstrates that studies that treat racial politics as discrete local practices, impervious to external ideals, overlook the power of human agency in the rapidly globalizing world of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Third, and most importantly, it puts the anti-colonial movement in its merited place...