Rezension über:

Marilyn Lake / Henry Reynolds: Drawing the Global Colour Line. White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (= Critical Perspectives on Empire), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2008, x + 371 S., ISBN 978-0-521-70752-7, GBP 17,99
Buch im KVK suchen

Rezension von:
Bianca Isaki
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Andreas Fahrmeir
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Bianca Isaki: Rezension von: Marilyn Lake / Henry Reynolds: Drawing the Global Colour Line. White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2008, in: sehepunkte 9 (2009), Nr. 1 [15.01.2009], URL:

Bitte geben Sie beim Zitieren dieser Rezension die exakte URL und das Datum Ihres Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse an.

Marilyn Lake / Henry Reynolds: Drawing the Global Colour Line

Textgröße: A A A

What if the history of the modern world were told as the story of securing the world for whiteness? This is the story that historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds chart in Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality. Their departure point is the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century; and their emcee is African/ American thinker, W.E.B. DuBois. "The world," DuBois wrote in 1910, "in a sudden emotional conversion, has discovered that it is white, and, by that token, wonderful" (1).

The transnational scene of Anglo-Saxon racial solidarity at the turn of the century finds white men parading military forces around the Pacific, trading strategies to disenfranchise non-white citizens, passing anti-immigrant legislation that insulted non-white nations, "opening-up" non-industrialized countries for natural resources and labor, and a collection of anxieties about the imminent demise of whiteness, being "swamped by Indians" in Transvaal, the Zulu Uprising in 1906, the 1905 Japanese naval victory over Russia, and a root-taking Chinese diaspora in "gold rush"-era Australia.

Using whiteness as their optic, the authors employ a scalar inclusive of the emotive as well as the geopolitical. As they describe it, "the spread of whiteness is a transnational form of racial identification, that was, as DuBois noticed, at once global in its power and personal in its meaning, the basis of geopolitical alliances and a subjective sense of self" (3). This optic allows us to make sense of whiteness' paradoxical forms as coordinated efforts by white men to address Asian immigration, African American slavery, and countermobilizations against their race projects within and amongst Asian, African, and Pacific Islander nations, and in their diasporas as well.

The authors inventory whiteness as a transnational exchange of discourses, legislative instruments, mass-mediated anxieties, literary imaginations, and military strategies that white men used to secure a white global imaginary and their nations' place within it. Drawing thus enumerates the historical ways that ideals of unity and civilization have served as proxies for white men's power. This discussion richly engages the contradiction posed by white democracies; "[i]n the figure of the white man, the imperialist became a democrat and the democrat an imperialist" (9). Namely, how is whiteness to be a beacon of equality as well as a benchmark in a racial hierarchy?

With the United States, Australia, Aotearoa, South Africa, and Canada, as frequent sites of its discussions, Drawing is a crucial contribution to comparative scholarship on white liberal settler societies. Underdiscussed, however, is the difference that indigeneity makes to settler colonies, and more specifically, tensions created between non-white settlers and indigenous peoples by settler colonialism.

At times, this tension lies barely below their discussions. In the same paragraph that mentions Charles Pearson's prophecy that native peoples "seemed destined to disappear" is also Pearson's view that "[o]ngoing Chinese expansion was an inevitability" (79). I'm pointing to the implicit antagonisms between processes of indigenous peoples' colonization and Asian immigration.

An example that cuts closer to the question of indigeneity proceeds from their engagement with Australia's late 1880s proposals to deport Blacks to Africa. At that time, the editor of the Melbourne Age queried, "if the negroes should be 'returned' to their natural home in Africa, why should not Europeans be returned to Europe? Why did the white man have rights to settle in new lands, but other races not" (61)? Here, the "right to settle" is something ambivalently shared with Blacks, but not with Aboriginals.

In another example, Alfred Milner, "the key imperial official in South Africa" from 1897-1905, devised a plan to create a class of colonial middleman Asian Indians in order to manage "the native question" in South Africa (215). Milner reasoned that " '...when a coloured man possesses a certain high grade of civilization he ought to obtain what I call 'white privileges' irrespective of his colour' " (215). The authors use this instance to complicate the seeming twin-ness of non-white against white by indicating the possibility of non-white assimilation, linking it, for instance, to Theodore Roosevelt's engagements with "the race question" in the U.S. In both white settler colonies, the concept of "not-white, not-quite" secured white men's right to rule as something that proceeds from their proximity to civilization.

Alongside this illuminating engagement, I'm pushing for further engagement with the terms of competition between the development of racial hierarchies and indigenous oppression. My point is that Asian immigrant (labor) racial identity and African native-ness are diffracted for a moment in ways that bear importantly on the dynamics of settler colonial power. In the South African instance, however, we can't look to history to tell us about their differences. Milner's efforts failed, largely due to the uniform consistency of white colonial racism against all nonwhites, Asians and Africans alike. Whiteness, in this historical moment, created a countermobilizing unity and a crucial instrument against white colonial rule in Africa, and beyond. Instead of competition, the continued "studied humiliation" of Asiatics birthed the satyagraha resistance movement. At the same time, Drawing does not offer history's lessons as exhaustive texts, but as points of entry into shifting forms of racial identifications. This rich methodology allows me to pose questions about the limits of whiteness' analytic to see what was at stake in the histories they engage.

The limits of this analytical lens get repeated in their engagement with masculinity as another "colour line". In White Australia, white men are "real men" as opposed to "mixed race communities, including Aborigines, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Malays and Pacific Islanders [...] coolies" (153-4). By drawing racial lines, Aborigines are folded into a racializing system that renders their indigenous claims invisible. Partly, this is because whiteness works this way - by commanding its contrast with the dark world. I'm pointing out that their fidelity to their object of investigation causes to repeat some of the limits of that objects analytical framework.

I realize that I am (unfairly) asking the authors to engage a project that they didn't. Yet, the uses to which their project can be put may warrant this critique. Namely, their assertions about the transnational operations of whiteness may evade the important ways that racism, and antiracism, against immigrant and ethnic groups can function with, as well as against, white oppression of indigenous national sovereignty. Considering the ways that indigeneity is irreducible to race may address a historical inquiries they suggest;"[m]ight not the conceit of whiteness bring about its own demise" (189)? Perhaps, I'd argue, if we do not repeat the blind spot of whiteness' vanities in our own accounts of the "non-white" world's color lines.

Bianca Isaki