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Bringing the Empire Home: Race, Class, and Gender in Britain and Colonial South Africa / Edition 1

Bringing the Empire Home: Race, Class, and Gender in Britain and Colonial South Africa / Edition 1

by Zine Magubane
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How did South Africans become black? How did the idea of blackness influence conceptions of disadvantaged groups in England such as women and the poor, and vice versa?

Bringing the Empire Home tracks colonial images of blackness from South Africa to England and back again to answer questions such as these. Before the mid-1800s, black Africans were considered savage to the extent that their plight mirrored England's internal Others—women, the poor, and the Irish. By the 1900s, England's minority groups were being defined in relation to stereotypes of black South Africans. These stereotypes, in turn, were used to justify both new capitalist class and gender hierarchies in England and the subhuman treatment of blacks in South Africa. Bearing this in mind, Zine Magubane considers how marginalized groups in both countries responded to these racialized representations.

Revealing the often overlooked links among ideologies of race, class, and gender, Bringing the Empire Home demonstrates how much black Africans taught the English about what it meant to be white, poor, or female.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226501772
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/01/2003
Edition description: 1
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Zine Magubane is an associate professor of sociology and African studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Postmodernism, Postcoloniality, and African Studies.

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Bringing the Empire Home: Race, Class, and Gender in Britain and Colonial South Africa

By Zine Magubane

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2004 Zine Magubane
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226501779

CHAPTER ONE - The Metaphors of Race Matter(s): The Figurative Uses and Abuses of Blackness

"Woman," John Lennon once said, "is the nigger of the world." The Irish have been called the "blacks of Europe." Norman Mailer (1959) stirred up tremendous controversy when he penned an essay suggesting that blacks are more sensual than others and function as the "female" of the human species.

These amalgams of well-known and well-worn stereotypes demonstrate how our ideas about race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation are deeply implicated. In each case blackness functions metaphorically and as shorthand for social marginality. Why is this the case? What is it about blackness that makes it such an elastic signifier--able to signal pain as well as pleasure, disfranchisement as well as resistance? The fact that these analogies make sense even though they require us to suppress, and therefore accommodate, enormous contradiction indicates the complex and ever changing nature of our cultural and social constructions of race, gender, and class difference.

In the interest of a better understanding of these dynamics, Bringing the Empire Home explores how, over the course of a periodroughly spanning 1800-1900, images of blackness--of black bodies, black labor, black leisure, and black suffering--became metaphorically incorporated into English discussion about everything from poverty to the extension of the franchise. I aim to demonstrate the tremendous diversity of ways in which blackness was used and became incorporated into English political and social life. The premise that guides this book is that figurative language, whatever form it takes and although it is frequently used unthinkingly and imprecisely, matters--particularly when we are speaking about race and blackness. Wilbur Urban (1951: 176) put it quite well when he stated that "We abuse words and concepts when we use them metaphorically--that is in other senses than they are ordained for. However, it is quite clear that if we do not use them metaphorically, we shall not use them at all." Figurative language matters precisely because of what it can tell us about the intentions of the individuals who deploy it. "Language symbolizes or represents not just the referent, or object of the word but also the intentions of the speaker" (Urban 1951: 117).

By no means am I the first person to have noticed that the language of racial difference, particularly blackness, functions in a figurative manner. Authors like Jean and John Comaroff (1992) and Anne McClintock (1995) have done interesting work on the manner in which blackness was made to serve a purely analogical function, such as when the poor were compared to African savages or English women were compared to African men. Other scholars have looked at how people have historically pointed to aspects of blackness or the black condition in order to dramatize or highlight a problem facing another, unrelated, community. David Roediger (1991) has written eloquently on how "white worker" developed as a self-conscious social category mainly through comparison with blacks, thus giving birth to and bestowing meaning on concepts such as "wage slave." Yet another interesting body of work looks at how racial difference functions as a negative pole against which to construct an identity by way of contrast. Ann Stoler (1995), for example, has done innovative work on how the construction of "bourgeois sensibilities" and the making of a European self implicitly and explicitly referenced colonialism and the colonies.

What, then, given all the important work that has already been done, could I possibly say that adds anything new or interesting? The purpose of this text is to supplement, rather than supplant, the type of work alluded to above. Indeed, many of the processes of analogical association that I reference and discuss have already been referenced or discussed by other scholars. What makes this book unique is that it brings together a discussion of the figurative uses of the language of blackness, especially in reference to black people in South Africa, with another exciting body of knowledge, produced largely by economic historians, about the historical development of the rhetoric of capitalism and the poetics of economics, and the emergence of conceptual abstractions like "the economy" that are associated therewith.

The economist Deirdre McCloskey has written a number of interesting books showing how "economics and other human sciences rely on metaphors and stories" (1990: 1). According to McCloskey, it is in the definition and study of problems that stories and figurative language have been instrumental for the construction of conceptual categories and abstractions:

The nineteenth century invented the talk of a "social problem," an "economic problem," and the like, problems which finally the Great Geometer in London or Washington is to solve with compass and straightedge. The economic historian Max Hartwell speaks often of the rhetoric of British parliamentary inquiries in the nineteenth century as defining problems where no one had seen them before. It is not always done with mirrors, of course; this or that condition worthy of correction does exist. But in any case it is done with words. Someone who has persuaded you to speak of inequality of income as a problem has accomplished the most difficult part of her task. (1990: 155)
Mary Poovey has argued that institutions like the Bank of England and the stock exchange, "along with the discipline by which they were detailed and naturalized--political economy--constituted the first of many concrete forms in which individuals encountered and imagined the economic to exist" (1995: 6). Poovey, like McCloskey, maintains that delineating what constituted the boundaries of a particular problem was a critical component of the process of carving out conceptual entities like "the social" or "the economic": "The emergence of the social domain involved the specification of a set of problems that was related to but not coincident with political and economic issues" (1995: 8). Thus, "social" topics like education and crime were separated from "economic" problems like the balance of trade and "political" topics like the franchise by fiat of a particular type and style of rhetoric. Ellen Meiksins Wood, who is both an economic historian and a Marxist, has done perhaps the most innovate work in this regard, analyzing the dynamically interdependent histories of capitalism and economic theory. She places the "disaggregation of domains" that Poovey discusses and the "rhetoric" of economics that McCloskey writes about within the context of the dynamic interaction of two processes--the historical development of capitalism and the evolution of the economic theory that supports it. In this way Wood is able to reflect on what she terms the "rigid conceptual separation of 'the economic' and 'the political' which has served capitalist ideology so well" and thus "understand exactly what it is in the historical nature of capitalism that appears as a differentiation of 'spheres,' especially the 'economic' and the 'political'" (1995: 19). Douglas Dowd, another Marxist economic historian, likewise remarks in his Capitalism and Its Economics, "just as economics came into being with capitalism, so did the notion of 'an economy'" (2000: 13).

It appeared to me that these two exciting bodies of work could usefully be brought together. Most economic historians, even extremely talented ones like Wood and Dowd, tend to forget that "the political and institutional histories of 'the centre' and its outer circles [are] mutually constituted" (C. Hall 1996: 70). Therefore, they have not examined the role that images, stories, and rhetoric from the colonies and about colonized people--particularly Africans--might have played in the drawing of boundaries between different kinds of knowledge, in the social construction of conceptual entities, and in the creation of a poetics, of economics. Likewise, although many postcolonial theorists have analyzed the process whereby certain populations, particularly the poor, were racialized, they have not specifically concerned themselves with looking at the connections between this process and the rigid separation of social life into the spheres that characterized bourgeois political economy. Thus, the aim of this text, which is located at the intersection of these two bodies of work, is to bring these two areas together.

Outline: The Shape of Things to Come

In chapter 2 I look at how the authors of the classical texts of political economy explained the transition to capitalism. I show how the ways in which women figured in these texts authorized a commonsense separation of the political and the economic. The ideological treatment of women's bodies-- how they were described, analyzed, and depicted--provided a means for constructing "the economy" as something determined by disembodied natural forces rather than by power relations. My argument is that the manner in which female bodies were described functioned as a rhetorical maneuver that effectively wrote the exploitation of female bodies and women's labor out of the narrative of the transition to capitalism. At the same time exploitation of females was being written out of the narrative, so too was the fact that the balance of power between the individual capitalist and worker was determined not by natural economic forces but by the political configuration of society--that political power was an essential condition of capitalist appropriation. In this way, "economic" and "political" factors came to have the appearance of belonging to totally separate and disconnected spheres. Chapter 2 thus places women's bodies at the center of the struggle between classes, showing how control over women's bodies and women's labor was a central determinant of the political configuration of society as a whole and therefore critically affected the disposition of power that obtained between the individual capitalist and worker.

In chapter 3 I continue in the general vein of looking at how embodiment articulates the evolution of capitalism and colonialism. Here I focus, however, on representations of colonized male bodies, examining how they provided a stock set of images and metaphors for reconstituting public knowledge about the destitute in England. Political economists used images of nomadic African bodies as a way of explaining, and thereby rationalizing, the allocation and control of labor in a capitalist society. The rhetorical uses to which the idea of nomadism was put contributed to a view of society wherein the social relations in which "the economy" was buried--in other words, the social relations that actively constituted it--came to be seen as wholly external to it. The discourses produced by political economists compared English male workers with "nomadic races" in order to conceal the fact that politically derived control over the mobility of labor was a critical tool for controlling the labor process and thus increasing surplus in production.

Although men's bodies are the focus of the chapter, it is through this discussion of men's bodies that it becomes even clearer that the power relationships between classes that conditioned the nature and extent of exploitation were significantly influenced by women's economic agency, which was an important determinant of the balance of class forces. The concerted ideological effort on the part of elites to use colonial imagery and analogies to demonize poor households for their "unnatural" gender organization is shown to be yet another means whereby the wealthy were introducing new forms of political power into the production process while, at the same time, claiming to be removing any political influence from the economy.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of how defenders of the poor and working classes sought to replace the body of the nomadic African with that of the enslaved New World African in analyses of English poverty. Black bodies became the cornerstone of English debates about the cultural status of labor as working-class radicals compared themselves to slaves in an effort to dramatize the ways in which capitalist ideology made the activity of labor and its attendant virtues the attributes of the employers of labor rather than of laborers themselves. The radicals' efforts to undermine one of the ideological cornerstones of capitalism failed, however, because white workers attempted to elevate the cultural status of labor without rehabilitating the cultural status of blackness. Thus their efforts further entrenched, rather than overturned, the reification of spheres that characterized the discourse of political economy.

In chapter 4 I turn from the discussion of individual bodies to an examination of the concept of the "social body," a conceptual abstraction that was produced alongside other conceptual abstractions like "the economy" and "the civic sphere." I document how the ability to manipulate racial discourses, and specifically the social meanings attached to different ideas of race, determined who would have the power to define what problems threatened the social body and, thus, who would be given the authority to fix them. The civic sphere was a site for conflicts both between the middle and working classes and within the middle classes as men and women competed for the right to be the exclusive caretakers of the social body. Over the course of the middle decades of the nineteenth century, middle-class women became increasingly vocal in their attempts to carve out an independent space for themselves in the public sphere. They did so not by constructing arguments around gender equality, but by formulating an alternative discourse around race and social problems to that used by male reformers. Female reformers were far more likely to promote a cultural, rather than biological, definition of race precisely because the former allowed for the formulation of social problems and their solutions in terms that put women and their particular set of problem-solving skills at an advantage. In the course of delineating these struggles, I aim to examine how the notion of an autonomous civic sphere of social action came to occupy such an important ideological place in capitalist culture and to show how the full conceptual differentiation of civil society required the simultaneous emergence of the idea of an autonomous economy.

In chapter 5 I turn from a discussion of how the racial Other abroad was put in the service of constructing the domestic Other to consider how and why images of racial Others were used by middle-class women and elite sections of the working class to articulate their own experiences of political exclusion. The chapter thus documents an important shift in how the bodies of racialized Others were incorporated into metropolitan social debates. I specifically focus on the effect the Anglo-Boer War had on images of "native" bodies and on those bodies' subsequent deployment in metropolitan discourses about citizenship. Because the Anglo-Boer War shaped public and parliamentary discussions of the extension of the franchise, the meaning of citizenship, and the limits of liberal democracy in much the same way as the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica shaped public and parliamentary discussion of the 1867 Reform Act, it is an ideal location from which to trace some of the sources of the politically exclusionary impulses that got written into the universalistic theoretical framework of liberalism.

I explore how three different social groups in Britain used African bodies and the Anglo-Boer War as dual vehicles for representing their own political marginality. First, I examine the writings of trade unionists and other working-class radicals who used the African body to launch a critique of capitalist property relations and denounce the cynicism of a system wherein socioeconomic inequality and exploitation coexisted with "political" equality. While the trade unionists offered a radically new conception of democracy as encompassing the right to expand democratic control over production, they did so by deploying a discourse on African suffering that cast Jewish men and women out of the body politic. Hence, the model of democratic participation they offered, while ostensibly free of class bias, had exclusionary racial politics written into its very foundation. I next examine the writings and speeches of pro-war suffragists. These women used the Anglo-Boer War and the suffering of Africans as a vehicle for proposing a model of citizenship that, while more gender inclusive, was also more restrictive, in that the balance of class power was purposefully excluded from being a criterion of democracy. Here we get some insight into the ways in which the conceptual framework of liberal democracy can, while expanding its parameters of inclusion, nevertheless maintain the invulnerability of the economic sphere to democratic power, thus making the separation of the economic and political spheres not only a conceptual abstraction, but a real fact of life.

In the final section I look at the actions of the pro-Boer suffragists, who used the war as the pretext for promulgating a model of citizenship that stressed the consent of the governed as the main criterion for defining democratic citizenship. The way in which they imagined the ideal consent-granting subject effectively erased the concerns and claims of African people while whitening the Boers. This analysis of the ways in which the suffragists used the Anglo-Boer War as a signal moment for concretizing the ideal of consent enables us to see how it was that a liberal democracy could become more gender inclusive even as it was becoming more racially exclusive, as well as how the political exclusion of certain groups got written into ostensibly inclusive and universal political principles.

In the next two chapters I turn my attention from the enunciations and actions of the dominators to those of the dominated. In this way I hope to avoid the error of other postcolonial studies that, in the words of Ruth Frankenberg and Lata Mani, simply take a detour through "the Other" in the interest of, once again, recentering the Western Self. "Only this time, it is not the Other as 'ourselves undressed' so much as 'ourselves disassembled'" (1996: 355). Laura Brown observes that "productive and important as it has been for critics of colonialism, the category of the 'other' . . . sometimes precludes finding a place for the voice and struggles of the native in the massive and complex edifices of power that seem to surround and contain all resistance" (1993: 32). In the final two chapters I therefore seek to provide a place for hearing the voices of the Others and seeing how they struggled against the powers that sought to contain them while, hopefully, avoiding the pitfall of simply "endowing the enslaved with agency as some sort of gift dispensed by historians and critics to the dispossessed" (Hartman 1997: 54). I have tried to read between the lines of missionary accounts, newspaper articles, and travel writing in order to get some idea of what concepts like whiteness and blackness meant to colonized Africans.


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Table of Contents

1The Metaphors of Race Matter(s): The Figurative Uses and Abuses of Blackness1
2Capitalism, Female Embodiment, and the Transformation of Commodification into Sexuality14
3Savage Paupers: Race, Nomadism, and the Image of the Urban Poor40
4The Care of the Social Body: Gender Strife, Class Conflict, and the Changing Definitions of Race69
5"Truncated Citizenship": African Bodies, the Anglo-Boer War, and the Imagining of the Bourgeois Self95
6White Skins, White Masks: Unmasking and Unveiling the Meanings of Whiteness129
7What Is (African) America to Me? Africans, African Americans, and the Rearticulation of Blackness153

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