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Not Seeking Certain Proof: Interracial Sex and Archival Haze in High-Imperial Natal

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Subverting Empire

Part of the book series: Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series ((CIPCSS))

Abstract

In colonial settings, nothing was as dangerous to racialised social hierarchies as sexual contact between ‘white’ and ‘black’.1 While Africans and Asians were constructed as — variously — rapacious, lascivious, hyper-sexed or diseased, Europeans who had sex with so-called ‘natives’ were perceived not only as culpable for the emergence of mixed-race populations but also as betraying a profound lack of racial feeling — to be recognised as white required those classified as such to think and feel as well as behave according to tightly circumscribed racial norms.2 Interracial sex was problematic because it raised the question of why Europeans would have sex across racial boundaries. To contemporaries, these people may have been constructed as degenerate or deranged but these categorisations masked something far more disturbing. Sexual subversives were dangerous because they embodied what was collectively felt but fiercely suppressed — the possibility that any European might feel desire, affection or intrigue for those beyond the racial divide. They represented, in other words, the collapse of racial feeling and with it the possibility that the entire emotional and intellectual superstructure of empire might be shown up to be false. However, if interracial sex signalled the most profound contravention of social norms, its deviant aspect was in no way simple or straightforward.

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Notes

  1. The historiography of sex and empire has proliferated rapidly in recent years. For the most influential contribution, see Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (California: University of California Press, 2002).

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  14. This essay is inspired by elements of recent scholarship on colonialism, archives and sexuality. In particular, I am indebted to Anjali Arondeker, For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Duham, N.C: Duke University Press, 2009)

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© 2015 Will Jackson

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Jackson, W. (2015). Not Seeking Certain Proof: Interracial Sex and Archival Haze in High-Imperial Natal. In: Jackson, W., Manktelow, E.J. (eds) Subverting Empire. Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137465870_10

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137465870_10

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-57350-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-46587-0

  • eBook Packages: Palgrave History CollectionHistory (R0)

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