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Black and yellow perils in col

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Black and yellow perils in col

" Explain the obsession amongst European settlers in sub-Saharan Africa with 'black' and 'yellow' perils".


There was a general outrage at the concept of mixed race relations within colonial Europe, especially within Britain, who did not take the same line on the subject of assimilation as their French and especially Portuguese counterparts. Although mixed relationships between white males and coloured females were tolerated, similar such relationships concerning white women were not, as this raised imperial issues of race theory and Darwinistic eugenics.

A prime example of this was the reaction to the engagement of the son of the recently subjugated leader of the Ndebele to a Miss Kitty Jewell, an English woman. Indeed, "The proposed marriage seems to have been a trigger for a spate of articles raising, overtly now, the thorny issue of miscegenation". The controversy surrounding this inter-racial union was accentuated by the fact that not only did this take place in England itself, but also the fact that the African in question had been an exhibit at the 'Savage South Africa' exposition. This accentuated the fears that formed the basis for the paranoia concerning 'yellow' and especially 'black' perils in imperial Africa, and also enhanced worries concerning racial degeneration. The result of this and one or two other isolated incidents, was that women were forbidden to attend the majority of any subsequent exhibitions, if not nationally, then certainly in the London area.

The appearance of scientific racism in the second half of the nineteenth century, the basis for which was social Darwinism and anatomical measurement, enabled white colonists to justify their belief in their own racial superiority. Once this superiority had been established, the idea of maintaining this level of evolutionary advancement through the avoidance of sexual contact with other races became an all consuming concern." If European women, 'apparently of good birth' were to become tainted by sexual contact with black Africans, the imperial race would not survive" .

In an attempt reduce the possibility of inter-racial relations, and thus protect the purity of the race, exhibitions and dramatic re-enactments were often used within Britain to re-affirm racial boundaries.

" It was considered necessary to bring home to the viewer the inconceivability of a white woman actually entertaining the notion of a romantic liaison with a black man, while paradoxically the reverse was actually anticipated"

In South Africa the Dutch attempted to avoid racial impurity through the passing of the mixed marriage laws, which prevented white women from assimilating black partners or children to the Imperial race. This was partly in response to the fear that black men may try to marry white women in order to improve their social standing, and thus gain the same rights and privileges as the colonists.


Middle class women seen as responsible for the 'ploiferation and strengthening of the breed' were pursuing new opportunities in education and employment, and thus were 'shirking their imperial motherly duties'. With this in mind, 'new' women were often compared unfavourably with black women, (who despite being oppressed by their societies, still fulfilled their maternal and wifely obligations) in an attempt to chastise feminist tendencies within Britain. The issue of motherhood greatly limited female employment opportunities, especially in the colonies, and manifested itself in the form of anti-employment legislation and intentionally inadequate training for women.


In the early years of European Imperial involvement within Africa, the idea of a male white settler having sexual relations with a native woman (this was later to become known as the 'yellow peril') was considered to be perfectly acceptable, even in Britain. In some cases this was sanctioned to the degree that it virtually became part of Imperial policy, and the early stages of empire became a stage for sexual adventurers ( although not to the extent that many publications of the time would have us believe!). Indeed, the colonial Portuguese promoted the ideal of 'lusotropicalism', the Belgian administration accepted widespread concubinage and all the main colonial powers sanctioned Imperial brothels.

Although white women were often accused of destroying this multi-racial nature of empire, the Victorian purity campaigns within British colonies were a precursor to the encouragement of women in a colonial environment. As a rule, white men only brought out their wives once the European nations had reached the height of their colonial power, a policy that was encouraged to cement the established settler colonies. This colonial demand for white women was partially as a result of the realisation that early colonial beliefs that tropical climates could render women infertile were wrong, and partially due to logistical necessity, but was justified with reference to the 'yellow peril'; "The panic in the 1920's over fertility levels, depopulation and labour requirements was articulated around issues of morality".

As Imperial power approached its zenith, and the disparity between the levels of male and female colonial population began to diminish, the concern of white men's susceptibility to seduction by black women took on some significance. This was for a variety of reasons, notably the increased importance of the stable white Imperial family, and the recognition of the fact that with such a huge population disparity between the colonised and their colonisers, the white settlers needed to maintain a certain distance from the blacks to keep their mystique. In addition, the increased presence of colonial wives and single white ...

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