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Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's…
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Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the…

by Marilyn Lake, Henry Reynolds

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Two academic experts on the plight of the Australian indigene have thrown a strong light on black/white relations. ( )
  rajaratnam | Jun 19, 2010 |
Taken from http://shawjonathan.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/drawing-the-global-colour-line/

This book starts brilliantly, quoting W E B DuBois's 1910 essay, 'The Souls of White Folk':

' the discovery of personal whiteness among the world's peoples is a very modern thing – a nineteenth and twentieth century matter indeed. ... What is whiteness that one should so desire it? ... Whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen.'

The historical narrative starts with the arrival of an entrepreneurial Chinese man in Melbourne in 1855, two years after the discovery of gold, and ranges around Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California, British Columbia, tracing the progress of the ideal of 'white men's countries', and along with it the betrayal of promises made by the British Empire and US to their non-Anglo-Saxon subjects and citizens.

It's a hard read, especially in the first two sections – 'Discursive frameworks' and 'Transnational solidarities' – where public intellectuals of more than a hundred years ago solemnly put forward blatantly racist propositions that are still awfully familiar, but with very little of the dog-whistling, denial and misdirection we're used to these days, and then democracy-loving politicians proceed to build on each other's successes in excluding and disenfranchising anyone who is classified as not white. We have our noses rubbed in the arrogant and repulsive racist atmosphere in which the Australian Commonwealth and the Union of South Africa were founded and first California and then the rest of the US chose 'racial solidarity' even with recent bitter enemies and legislated to keep Asian, particularly Japanese, immigrants away from their shores.

In some ways it's like a horror story, a sort of "I know what you did last century". The scientific consensus reached in the 1940s, that 'race' was 'not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth, which had "created an enormous amount of damage, taking a heavy toll in human lives causing intolerable suffering",'* followed by the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, amounts to the moment where we wake up and discover it was all a terrible dream ... or was it? That moment is followed by a long tail, in which the 'white men's countries' one by one open their doors and legislate against racial discrimination, until 'Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress sweep into power and dismantle the last bastion of white supremacy.'

The book marshalls a vast amount of material, and it has hugely enriched my understanding of the White Australia Policy, among other things, but the prose is very heavy going, and the authors are often absent except as very competent and passionate compilers of evidence. This may well be necessary when there is such a complex field to cover, but it doesn't make for literary excellence.

The chapter on the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 is a rich exception. The Australian Prime Minister, W M Hughes, emerges there as a lively fall-guy cum villain: he vociferous opposes the Japanese delegation's diplomatic, courteous and eminently rational push to include a paragraph on racial equality in the covenant of the League of Nations. The other white leaders, who generally despise the uncouth Australian, say that if it was up to them they'd include the paragraph, but you know, the Australians (who didn't actually have a seat at the table) won't stand for it ... Hughes went to the grave thinking of this as a great victory. Someone ought to make a movie of that chapter. ( )
  shawjonathan | Nov 22, 2009 |
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Reynolds, Henrymain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521707528, Paperback)

In 1900 W. E. B. DuBois prophesied that the colour line would be the key problem of the twentieth-century and he later identified one of its key dynamics: the new religion of whiteness that was sweeping the world. Whereas most historians have confined their studies of race-relations to a national framework, this book offers a pioneering study of the transnational circulation of people and ideas, racial knowledge and technologies that under-pinned the construction of self-styled white men's countries from South Africa, to North America and Australasia. Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds show how in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these countries worked in solidarity to exclude those they defined as not-white, actions that provoked a long international struggle for racial equality. Their findings make clear the centrality of struggles around mobility and sovereignty to modern formulations of both race and human rights.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:13 -0400)

This is a pioneering account of the transnational production of whiteness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A work remarkable for both its international breadth and for its sensitivity to a local particularity, it is a model for the new global history. A powerful and sobering history, incisively and elegantly told.… (more)

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