will jackson on kenya’s poor whites


Will Jackson, ‘Dangers to the Colony: Loose women and the “poor white” problem in Kenya’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 14, 2 (2013).

While a great deal of recent scholarship has focused on the problematic presence of so-called “poor whites” across the European colonial empires, comparatively little work has tackled their presence in Kenya. In part this may be explained by the force of Kenya’s contemporary reputation as a destination for socialites and aristocrats. Yet it also reflects the fact that, until 1939, attempts by authorities to minimise the “poor white” presence succeeded. This article argues that only after this point, when existing social control mechanisms fell redundant, did a “poor white” problem in Kenya emerge. Yet to understand “poor whites” simply in terms of an anomalous conjunction of (White) race and (low) class is analytically insufficient. What the evidence presented here shows is that endeavours to manage “poor whites” centred on the management of women. Deviance was gendered. “Poor white” men were doubtless problematic in the settler colony but women, as mothers, produced them. The disciplining of a White female subjectivity demanded the policing of female deviants first of all. While there is evidence of “poor white” men throughout the history of colonial Kenya, it was only during the years of the Second World War that “poor white” women came to government attention. The endeavour to control them, moreover, brought with it the discovery of a “poor white” problem and a racialised welfare project designed to resolve it.

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