Decolonization Resource Collection: Race

Francisco Laso’s “The Three Races or Equality before the Law” (1859). Museo de Arte de Lima. Image courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.

Primary sources

Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899)
This famous poem, written by Britain’s imperial poet, was a response to the American take over of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Kipling exhorts the reader to embark upon the enterprise of empire, yet gives somber warning about the costs involved; nonetheless, American imperialists understood the phrase “the white man’s burden” to justify imperialism as a noble enterprise of civilization.

L. S. B. Leakey, White African (1937)
In his autobiography, Kenyan-born anthropologist and archaeologist Louis Leakey details his earliest years as a young white man in colonial Kenya, a time during which he was initiated as a Kikuyu despite his European heritage. Leakey’s early research projects in the Olduvai Gorge in present-day Tanzania and other sites in southern Kenya were often carried out with the assistance or permission of local indigenous communities.

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)
This theoretical work on antiracism and anticolonialism is a classic in decolonization theory. In his application of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical theory, Fanon seeks to explain the divided self-perception of the “Black Subject” and how and why Black individuals aspire towards affirmation of a reinvented social identity in the colonial world.

Richard Wright, Black Power: Three Books from Exile, New York, NY: Harper Collins, (originally published 1954, new edition 2008)
Richard Wright’s Black Power is an impassioned chronicle of the author’s trip to Africa’s Gold Coast before it became the free nation of Ghana. Wright speaks eloquently of empowerment and possibility, and resonates loudly to this day. Included in this edition are two nonfiction works Wright produced around the time of Black Power: The Color Curtain and White Man, Listen! 

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Gutierrez, Ramon, “Internal Colonialism: An American Theory of Race,” Du Bois Review 1, 2 (2004).
This essay explores the historical genealogy of Internal Colonialism as an American theory of race from approximately 1950 to the early 1990s. Internal colonialism as an idea originated in Latin America as part of a larger Marxist critique of development ideologies and was specifically elaborated by dependency theorists to explain the racial effects of poverty and isolation on indigenous communities.

McHale, Shawn, “Understanding the Fanatic Mind? The Viet Minh and Race Hatred in the First Indochina War (1945-1954),” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 4, 3 (2009).
This essay examines Việt Minh deployment of propaganda on race hatred and cannibalism during the First Indochina War (1945–1954). It evaluates the literature on the First Indochina War and on historical institutionalism for its ability to help explain this propaganda. It then focuses on the war for the Mekong Delta, arguing that weak state control led to continued violence and the breakdown of social trust.

Stevens, Kate and Angela Wanhalla, “’Every Comfort of a Civilised Life’: Interracial Marriage and Mixed Race Respectability in Southern New Zealand,” Journal of New Zealand Studies 14 (2013).
In this article, the authors argue for the significance of Māori concepts such as whanaungatanga (connectedness) and whakapapa (genealogy) to understanding shore whaling in southern New Zealand. Kinship connections formed through marriage tied newcomer whalers to the region, as well as bringing Ngāi Tahu into the emerging coastal economy. The depth of these relationships went beyond the economic, creating enduring social bonds and mixed communities across generations.

Stevens, Simon, “The External Struggle Against Apartheid: New Perspectives,” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 7, 2 (2016).
Stevens reviews Ryan Irwin’s Gordian Knot (2012) and Rob Skinner’s The Foundations of Anti-Apartheid (2010), two of the first published studies from an emerging stream of more detached and critical scholarship on the global anti-apartheid movement. This review essay addresses the questions of periodization, strategy, ideology, and the kinds of actors on which scholars focus, highlighting the ways in which these books advance the study of the external struggle against apartheid and the avenues for future research that they suggest.

Books and readers

Asiwaju, A.I. (ed.), Partitioned Africans: Ethnic Relations across African’s International Boundaries 1884-1984, New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
This collection of essays offers a comprehensive history of the creation, destruction, and reinforcement of ethnic boundaries in Africa and how these boundaries shaped the political fate of the continent, its nations, and international relations.

Ballhatchet, Kenneth, Race, Sex, and Class Under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and their Critics, 1793-1905, London, UK: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.
In this book, Ballhatchet incorporates new evidence to support the longstanding theory that British rule in India was “justified” by the doctrine of racial superiority and based on maintaining distance between Britons and imperial Indian subjects. Ballhatchet focuses primarily on the link between racial, sexual, and class prejudice, and how this connection plays into Britain’s justification for its careful maintenance of colonialism and racial division in India.

Gilroy, Paul, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, London, UK: Hutchinson, 1987.
Gilroy demonstrates the enormous complexity of racial politics in England today. Exploring the relationships among race, class, and nation as they have evolved over the past twenty years, he highlights racist attitudes that transcend the left-right political divide. He challenges current sociological approaches to racism as well as the ethnocentric bias of British cultural studies.

Glassman, Jonathan, War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar, Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011.
This book explores how violently enforced racial boundaries arose from Zanzibar’s entangled history. Jonathon Glassman challenges explanations that assume racial thinking in the colonial world reflected only Western ideas. He shows how Africans crafted competing ways of categorizing race from local tradition and engagement with the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds.

Irwin, Ryan, Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012.
At the highpoint of decolonization, South Africa’s problems with race, territoriality, development, and more shaped a transnational conversation about nationhood. This book examines South Africa’s freedom struggle in the years surrounding African decolonization, using the global apartheid debate to explore the way new nation-states changed the international community during the mid-twentieth century.

Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
In 1899 the United States, having announced its arrival as a world power during the Spanish-Cuban-American War, inaugurated a brutal war of imperial conquest against the Philippine Republic. Over the next five decades, U.S. imperialists justified their colonial empire by crafting novel racial ideologies adapted to new realities of collaboration and anticolonial resistance. In this transnational study, Kramer reveals how racial politics served U.S. empire, and how empire-building in turn transformed ideas of race and nation in both the United States and the Philippines.

Lake, Marilyn and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries       and the International Challenge of Racial Equality, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Whereas most historians have confined their studies of race-relations to a national framework, this book studies 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. Lake and 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.

Lee, Christopher, Unreasonable Histories: Nativism, Multiracial Lives, and the Genealogical Imagination in British Africa, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
Lee unsettles the parameters and content of African studies as currently understood. At the book’s core are the experiences of multiracial Africans in British Central Africa—contemporary Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia—from the 1910s to the 1960s. Drawing on a spectrum of evidence, Lee traces the emergence of Anglo-African, Euro-African, and Eurafrican subjectivities which constituted a grassroots Afro-Britishness that defied colonial categories of native and non-native.

Luis-Brown, David, Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
Luis-Brown reveals how between the 1880s and the 1930s, writer-activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States developed narratives and theories of decolonization, of full freedom and equality in the shadow of empire. They did so decades before the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the mid-twentieth century. Analyzing the work of nationalist leaders, novelists, and social scientists, including W. E. B. Du Bois, José Martí, Claude McKay, Luis-Brown brings together an array of thinkers who linked local struggles against racial oppression and imperialism to similar struggles in other nations.

Madokoro, Laura, Francine McKenzie, and David Meren, (eds.), Dominion of Race: Rethinking Canada’s International History, Vancouver, BC, CA: University of British Columbia Press, 2017.
This book exposes how race-thinking – normalizing racial differences and perpetuating them through words and actions that legitimize a discriminatory system of beliefs – has informed priorities and policies, positioned Canada in the international community, and contributed to a global order rooted in racial beliefs. By demonstrating that race is a fundamental component of Canada and its international history, this important book calls for reengagement with the histories of those marginalized in, or excluded from, the historical record.

Parker, Jason, Brother’s Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British Caribbean, 1927-1962, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Parker’s international history of the peaceful transition in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago analyzes the roles of the United States, Britain, the West Indies, and the transnational African diaspora in the process, from its 1930s stirrings to its Cold War culmination. Grounded in exhaustive research conducted in seven countries, Brother’s Keeper offers an original rethinking of the relationship between the Cold War and Third World decolonization.