Yovanka Perdigao praises Crossing the Color Line:Race, Sex and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana for dismantling preconceptions of interracial couples in colonial Ghana.
Carina E Ray’s first book Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana both surprises and delights its readers as it navigates through the lives and politics of interracial couples in Britain and Ghana. It explores how such interracial relationships from precolonial to post-independent Ghana had an enormous impact in the making of modern Britain and Ghana.
The book highlights the evolving attitudes of both British and Ghanaian societies, and how each sought to negotiate these relationships. Despite one being familiar with the topics at hand, one is left surprised as the author explores the micro politics of disciplinary cases against colonial officers who challenged the British Crown by keeping local women; to the making of transatlantic networks in the eve of Ghanaian independence.
The book further dismantles any preconceptions one might have of interracial couples and the agency of Africans involved such relationship. Carina E. Ray presents numerous cases of harmonious couples who were united against their respective societies’ scorn. However she also demonstrates how Africans used such relationships to contest racial and gendered hierarchies of power. African women were often torn between the colonial enterprise and their societies, with each eroding their agency in different ways. However throughout time African women have managed to both challenge and escape the colonial grip and the burden of African traditions, thus reclaiming their voice and independence as demonstrated in the book.
The book also explores the making of black men and white women’s relationships in Britain, and the powerful impact it had beyond Britain down to the colonies. The attitudes of British society both at home and in the colonies denote how interracial relationships either at home or in the colonies were considered a threat to the expansion and consolidation of Britain’s grip in Africa. The author further demonstrates this as even in other parts of Africa such as Kenya, such relationships and the politics around it shook the British parliament and newspapers at the time. At large the book demonstrates how societies covet women’s bodies as sites to consolidate ideas of nation, racism, gender and power, but also how the regulation of sex and relationships regulates citizen’s lives as quoted here:
“Ideologies of affect have been an integral part of the disciplinary regimes through which imperial and liberal governments have sought to regulate their subjects and citizens”
Although interracial homosexual relationships are not as discussed in this book, the author does touch upon the impact of colonial law targeting homosexual relationships in today’s modern days. The fight for LGBTQ in Africa has been one that is fraught with challenges, and too often Western countries are quick to point fingers at African governments’ reluctance to grant equal rights. Carina E. Ray rightly so reminds us that many of the existing laws in Africa targeting LGBTQ people are residuals of the colonial era. She also points out how the language around interracial relationships prior to it being legalised and socially accepted, mirrors the way in which LGBTQ relationships are negatively perceived by some. It is a gentle reminder that legality is a construct of the powerful.
Overall besides the well-crafted arguments the author presents, the book’s strength also relies on the well-researched archives which demonstrate a rich history of family, empire, and anti-colonial resistance. The writing style is one that is easy to follow and very accessible. However the “tour de force” by the author lies in the many examples drawn with which she paints a complex picture of interracial relationships, far from the oversimplified image with which we are often presented.
Crossing the Colour Line is an essential guide to understanding modern Ghana and Britain as the intersection of empire, gender, and sex paint a unique picture of race relationships in these societies and the discourse around it.
Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana. Carina Ray. Ohio University Press. 2015.
Yovanka Perdigao is a writer inspired by issues of trauma, race and gender. She currently works as the Africa Research Institute’s Communications Officer and is an editor at the “Ain’t I a Woman collective”.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.