renisa mawani on crossracial encounters and juridical truths in british columbia

25Jun10

Renisa Mawani, Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871–1921 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009).

Contemporary discussions of multiculturalism and pluralism remain politically charged in former settler societies. Colonial Proximities historicizes these contestations by illustrating how crossracial encounters in one colonial contact zone — late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century British Columbia — inspired juridical racial truths and forms of governance that continue to inform contemporary politics, albeit in different ways.

Drawing from a wide range of legal cases, archival materials, and commissions of inquiry, this book charts the racial encounters between aboriginal peoples, European colonists, Chinese migrants, and mixed-race populations. By exploring the real and imagined anxieties that informed contact in salmon canneries, the illicit liquor trade, and the (white) slavery scare, this book reveals the legal and spatial strategies of rule deployed by Indian agents, missionaries, and legal authorities who, in the interests of racial purity and European resettlement, aspired to restrict, and ultimately prevent, crossracial interactions. Linking histories of aboriginal-European contact and Chinese migration, this book demonstrates that the dispossession of aboriginal peoples and Chinese exclusion were never distinct projects, but part of the same colonial processes of racialization that underwrote the formation of the settler regime.

Colonial Proximities shows us that British Columbia’s contact zone was marked by a racial heterogeneity that not only produced anxieties about crossracial contacts but also distinct modes of exclusion including the territorial dispossession of aboriginal peoples and legal restrictions on Chinese immigration. It is essential reading for students and scholars of history, anthropology, sociology, colonial/ postcolonial studies, and critical race and legal studies.

And Eve-Darian Smith gives an insightful review of the book in the recent edition of Canadian Journal of Law and Society.



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