In reading Drawing the Global Colour Line (more of its main arguments here), I realised how many of the key figures in theorising and popularising a global understanding of white supremacy as it connected to land, labour, masculinity and nation were unknown to me. Here are a couple of them:
Charles Henry Pearson (1830-1894) Born in England, taught at both Oxford and Cambridge before emigrating to Australia. It was there in 1893 that he wrote the incredibly influential National Life and Character: a Forecast in 1893. Lake and Reynolds write that it:
caused a sensation, most particularly because of its startling prophecy. ‘The day will come’, Pearson wrote, in words that echoed the Chinese Remonstrance to the Victorian parliament and would, in turn, be much quoted:
and perhaps is not far distant, when the European observer will look round to see the globe girdled with a continuous zone of the black and yellow races, no longer too weak for aggression or under tutelage, but independent, or practically so, in government, monopolising the trade of their own regions, and circumscribing the industry of the Europeans represented by fleets in the European seas, invited to international conferences and welcomed as allies in the quarrels of the civilized world . . . We shall wake to find ourselves elbowed and hustled, and perhaps even thrust aside by peoples whom we looked down upon as servile and thought of as bound always to minister to our needs. The solitary consolation will be that the changes have been inevitable.2
This view emerged out of liberal ideas:
Pearson had, indeed, shown a lifetime commitment to liberal reform. He was raised in a family with strong connections to evangelical circles. His grandfather, a medical doctor, belonged to the Clapham Sect, was one of the founders of the Bible Society, and was ‘intimate with Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, and the whole connection of Stephens, Venns, Thorntons and Babingtons’
It actually isn’t that surprising that one of the building blocks in imagining whiteness and its geographies should come from this kind of background, I’ve written more about the Thorntons and the Clapham Sect and their crazy racist Sierra Leone escapades. This strange mix of abolitionism and racism could help explain why Pearson was one of the few people to recognise Haiti:
In an essay in the mid-1880s, Pearson had pointed to the historical significance of Haiti – the first black republic – whose founding in 1804 provided a new dynamic in world history (loc 1230)
And based on that, to imagine a world where whites no longer dominated, to ‘forecast the emergence of a post-colonial world and the parallel decline of the white man.’ (loc 1095) Elsewhere they continue to highlight the contradictions of Pearson’s work and thought:
Although careful to state that ‘lower and higher races’ were ‘relative terms’, with no fixed meaning, Pearson’s argument encouraged racist thinking of a kind that his own forecast called into question.69 Though critical of the view that the ‘lower races’ were inherently, biologically inferior, Pearson’s arguments, like those of Bryce, encouraged a binary mode of racial thought that lay the basis for the division of the world into white and not-white, a dichotomy that would soon dominate the thinking of English-speaking countries and beyond.
Most importantly, Pearson’s book drew attention to what was happening in the world beyond Europe and challenged white men’s presumption….by pointing to the insecurity of white men’s place in the world… (loc 1330)
There is more on the fear of the Chinese in Australia:
The fear of Chinese immigration which the Australian democracy cherishes, and which Englishmen at home find it hard to understand, is, in fact, the instinct of self-preservation quickened by experience.
We know that coloured and white labour cannot exist side by side; we are well aware that China can swamp us with a single year’s surplus population; and we know that if national existence is sacrificed to the working of a few mines and sugar plantations, it is not the Englishman in Australia alone, but the whole civilised world that will be the losers.12
One of the results?
National Life and Character prompted claims that territory in the ‘Temperate Zone’ – in South Africa, North America and Australasia should be preserved as ‘white man’s country’ – even if that meant, in the words of one critical commentator, penning up ‘within the limits of Asia something like half the whole number of mankind’.11(loc 1168)
For Lake and Reynolds, ‘The most significant legacy of Pearson’s ‘epoch-making book’ was to shape the discursive and psychic frameworks in which much subsequent discussion of changing world forces would take place, in particular the idea of a coming rivalry between East and West. (loc 1325) The greatest question for the white race, which would be taken up by writers after him:
Would his pride of race guarantee his primacy of place in the world, or was he destined for racial decline and wretched humiliation, elbowed aside by the ascendant ‘black and yellow races’? (loc 676)
In his essay ‘Geography as a Basis for History’, he:
theorised three forms of population movement: transference, dispersion and permeation. In the Romanes lecture, he developed a typology of four possible outcomes of conquest and colonisation or processes of ‘unequal race contact’: (1) the weaker races would die out; (2) the weaker race would be absorbed by the stronger; (3) the races would mix to form something new; and ( 4) racial difference was so great that it must result in social separation. (loc 1050)
This is the authority of the man:
By 1902, Bryce was an acknowledged expert on race relations in the New World. The American Commonwealth had become a compulsory reference work for nation-builders and political science students (loc 1056)
More of what he was writing:
To make race or colour or religion a ground of political disability runs counter to what use to be deemed a fundamental principle of democracy and what has been made (by recent Amendments) a doctrine of the American Constitution. To admit to full political rights, in deference to abstract theory, persons, who, whether from deficient education or want of experience as citizens of a free country, are obviously unfit to exercise political power, is, or may be, dangerous to any commonwealth. Some way out of the contradiction has to be found and the democratic southern States of the North American Union and the oligarchical republic of Hawaii, as well as the South African colonies, are all trying to find such a way. (loc 1031)
Just as telling as the words, the frustrated response from abolitionist Wendell Phillips Garrison:
‘I fear you will comfort both our Imperialists and the lynchers, for the latter have caste for their stronghold, and it seems to me you justify caste’.85 In a long review in Nation, Garrison regretted that Bryce had thrown ‘the weight of his humane authority into the white scale’ noting that he ‘pointedly omits to recommend abolition of the laws forbidding intermarriage’. In this way, Garrison charged, Bryce was denying African-Americans’ equal humanity:
the weight of the statutory prohibition lies in its perpetuating the doctrine of slavery, that the colored man is, when all is said and done less than a human being. This doctrine has not been eradicated from the white mind in the generation since the war, and it coexists with a logical toleration not only of exceptional punishments for crimes perpetrated by the blacks, but for atrocious cruelty reserved solely for them – the lynchings deplored by Mr Bryce, in which the faggot is ever ready to be applied to the dark skin.86
But Bryce continued to insist on the dangers posed to democracies by the influx of ‘half-civilized men’. The gift of political power to people who were ‘not only ignorant, but in mind children rather than men’ was not to confer a boon, but rather to inflict an injury.87 (loc 972)
Pearson’s apprehension of a postcolonial world in which white men would be ‘elbowed and hustled, and perhaps even thrust aside’ by peoples whom they looked down upon as servile, set alarm bells ringing around the globe. In his own alarmist tract, The Rising Tide of Color, published nearly two decades later, an American, Lothrop Stoddard, paid tribute to Pearson’s book as ‘epoch-making’ and hailed the ‘lusty young Anglo-Saxon communities bordering the Pacific – Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, and our own “coast” as pace-setters in declaring themselves “All White”‘. Nor were their policies separate developments. ‘Nothing was more striking’, Stoddard noted, ‘than the instinctive and instantaneous solidarity which binds together Australians and Afrikanders, Californians and Canadians, into a “sacred Union” at the mere whisper of Asiatic immigration’.14 (loc 95)
But while Pearson, a liberal and a stoic, had been resigned to the rise of the ‘black and yellow races’, Stoddard called for decisive action. ‘We stand at a crisis’, he cried, ‘the supreme crisis of the ages’. Nowhere could the white man endure colour competition; everywhere the East could underlive and thus outbid the West. The grim truth of the matter was that:
The whole white race is exposed, immediately and ultimately, to the possibility of social sterilization and final replacement or absorption by the teeming coloured races.
If the world were to avoid the hideous catastrophe of a ‘gigantic race war’, Asia would have to accept that the white man could not permit migration to white men’s countries or the settlement of the non-Asia tropics. ‘Immigration restriction is a species of segregation on a large scale’, wrote Stoddard memorably, ‘by which inferior stocks can be prevented from both diluting and supplanting good stocks’.20
It was Pearson’s account of ‘the world-forces of the present’ that attracted Roosevelt’s attention and in particular his focus on the implications of comparative birth rates. European nations were entering a ‘stationary’ state while ‘the teeming population of China’ was rapidly expanding and spreading outwards. 17 With much of the ‘competition between the races reducing itself to the warfare of the cradle’, Roosevelt noted memorably, ‘no race has any chance to win a great place unless it consists of good breeders as well as of good fighters’.18 He would henceforth become a great champion of ‘good breeders’, but it was leading sociologist, Edward A. Ross, in his address to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 1901, who gave a name to the problem of the declining birth rate: ‘race suicide’.19 (loc 1414)
A little reminder of how this all connects back to sexuality and the control of women, a requirement for racial purity.
Again, Roosevelt emphasised the world-historic significance of the new white commonwealths to their democratic insistence on race purity. It was aristocratic societies – such as Great Britain and Spain – that introduced coolie or slave labour, while the new democratic states acted to save the best portions of the earth as a ‘heritage for the white people’:
Had these regions been under aristocratic governments, Chinese immigration would have been encouraged precisely as the slave trade is encouraged of necessity by any slave-holding oligarchy, and the result would have been even more fatal to the white race; but the democracy, with the clear instinct of race selfishness, saw the race foe, and kept out the dangerous alien. The presence of the negro in our Southern States is a legacy from the time when we were ruled by a trans-oceanic aristocracy.
Again, Roosevelt emphasised the world-historic significance of the advent of white men’s countries: ‘The whole civilization of the future owes a debt of gratitude greater than can be expressed in words to that democratic policy which has kept the temperate zones of the new and the newest worlds a heritage for the white people’.34(loc 1463)
more from Roosevelt on the provocations of peoples of colour’s freedom struggles in the eyes of white men:
The experience of the United States made this clear. If ever blacks or Indians threatened white domination, they were ruthlessly suppressed:
What occurs in our own Southern States at the least sign of a race war between the blacks and the whites seems to me to foreshadow what would occur on a much bigger scale if any black or yellow people should really menace the whites. An insurrectionary movement of blacks in any one of our Southern States is always abortive, and rarely takes place at all; but any manifestation of it is apt to be accompanied by some atrocity which at once arouses the whites to a rage of furious anger and terror, and they would put down the revolt absolutely mercilessly. In the same way an Indian – outbreak on the frontier would to this day mean something approaching to a war of extermination.40 (loc 1482)
Extermination… words and ideas like these were so prevalent, and not so very long ago at all.
There is so much more to the book of course, a highly recommended read.