“A fundamental human right”? Mixed-race marriage and the meaning of rights in the post-war British Commonwealth

Journal article


Piccini, Jon and Money, Duncan. (2021). “A fundamental human right”? Mixed-race marriage and the meaning of rights in the post-war British Commonwealth. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 63(3), pp. 655-684. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0010417521000177
AuthorsPiccini, Jon and Money, Duncan
Abstract

This article explores the removal or exclusion in the late 1940s of people in interracial marriages from two corners of the newly formed Commonwealth of Nations, Australia and Britain's southern African colonies. The stories of Ruth and Sereste Khama, exiled from colonial Botswana, and those of Chinese refugees threatened with deportation and separation from their white Australian wives, reveal how legal rearticulations in the immediate postwar era created new, if quixotic, points of opposition for ordinary people to make their voices heard. As the British Empire became the Commonwealth, codifying the freedoms of the imperial subject, and ideas of universal human rights “irrespective of race, color, or creed” slowly emerged, and claims of rights long denied seemed to take on a renewed meaning. The sanctity of marriage and family, which played central metaphorical and practical roles for both the British Empire and the United Nations, was a primary motor of contention in both cases, and was mobilized in both metaphorical and practical ways to press for change. Striking similarities between our chosen case studies reveal how ideals of imperial domesticity and loyalty, and the universalism of the new global “family of man,” were simultaneously invoked to undermine discourses of racial purity. Our analysis makes a significant contribution to studies of gender and empire, as well as the history of human rights, an ideal which in the late 1940s was being vernacularized alongside existing forms of claim-making and political organization in local contexts across the world.

Keywordshuman rights; race; marriage; British Empire; family of nations; Commonwealth; Seretse Khama
Year2021
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Journal citation63 (3), pp. 655-684
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISSN0010-4175
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1017/S0010417521000177
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85109163704
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range655-684
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Jun 2021
Publication process dates
Deposited26 Aug 2021
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