Empire, Gender, and Imperial Citizenship in British South Africa, 1853–1910

Friday, January 3, 2014: 11:10 AM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Charles V. Reed, Elizabeth City State University
During the second half of the nineteenth century there emerged from the experiences of colonization, the making of an Atlantic diasporic community, the liberal-humanitarian discourse of anti-slavery and educational “uplift,” and the development of missionary schools in Britain’s South African empire a “class” of Western-educated African respectables. These men invested their identities and status in a notion of respectability that centered on “civilized” behavior and dress, the value of the English language, cleanliness, education, the ballot box, and a certain paternalism toward their social inferiors (e.g. derision toward “traditional” chiefly elites). Neither collaborators nor proto-nationalists, these respectables of color imagined themselves to be simultaneously “native” and British and consequently made sense of their political and cultural universe in an idiom of Britishness and imperial citizenship, that is, an alternative vision of imperial culture whereby all “civilized” and loyal (male) subjects shared the rights and responsibilities of the British constitutional tradition.
My proposed paper will explore how the politics of gender informed these respectables’ conceptions of citizenship between the “birth” of the non-racial franchise in the Cape Colony, the 1853 constitution, and its symbolic betrayal with the Union of South Africa (1910). In particular, the paper will aim to understand the influence of so-called “traditional” African conceptions of gender, which are often conceived by scholars to be more egalitarian than European norms, and the ideal of domesticity and “separate spheres” introduced European missionaries.  By exploring the ways in which these cosmopolitan activists and intellectuals made sense of their worlds through a complex constellation of ideas and practices, it will highlight the role of African respectables in the making of a (gendered) British-imperial culture.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation