Settlers telling self-justificatory stories: Maria Elena Indelicato, ‘Neither black nor white: colonial myths, Irish women, and Chinese men’s quest for respectability’, Interventions, 2022


Abstract: Settler colonies such as those in Australia during the nineteenth century were rife with myths. One myth in particular bears witness to a complex matrix of colonial relations, in which race and gender intersected in the definition of who could be counted as a “respectable” member of the settler population. “Neither black nor white,” the Chinese were invariably disliked by Aboriginal peoples. The present essay takes this myth of racial antagonism as the starting point for an analysis that disentangles the discursive strategies that white settlers adopted to assuage anxieties concerning their identity from the practices that Chinese migrants adopted to uphold their right to settle (in) Victoria. To do so, this essay first charts the liberal, British, imperial order that enabled the mass migration of Chinese men to Victoria, and then maps the counter discourses that were mobilized against the unbridled movement of those men. Second, it examines the measures that were taken to curtail Chinese arrivals (1854–1863) and, by using gender as heuristic, it deconstructs the concomitant myth that the Chinese were “sojourners.” Last, by approaching settler colonialism as a regime that capitalizes upon the aspirations of oppressed groups, this essay illustrates the ways in which ordinary Chinese men turned their characterization as passive recipients of violence into respectability by contraposing themselves against a third racialised and gendered population group: Irish women.

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