Moments of Danger: Race, Gender, and Memories of Empire

This essay arises out of a concern to understand how categories of racial, ethnic, and cultural difference-particularly between women- have been constructed in the past, in order to explore how these categories continue to be reproduced in more recent political and ideological conflicts. Until very recently, feminist theory relating to the writing of history has tended to emphasize questions of gender and their articulation with class, with the result that issues of "race" have been overlooked. Focusing on ideas about whiteness and the various constructions of white racial identity can offer new avenues of thought and action to those working to understand and dismantle systems of racial domination. The recognition that the lives of women of color are inescapably prescribed by definitions of race as well as gender can also be applied to women who fall into the category "white." This essay argues for a feminist theory of history that inquires into the construction and reproduction of racialized femininities. Focusing on images and ideas about white womanhood produced at particular points in the past, examples from the author's book Beyond the Pale illustrate a range of questions that flow from having a perspective of race, class, and gender. The essay looks briefly at the idea of historical memory, using a discussion of oral history to consider ways in which social memory of Empire is continually affected and transformed by cultural forms in the present. Finally, by taking apart various constructions of white femininity in two narratives of cultural conflict, the essay demonstrates how a historically informed and "antiracist" feminism might intervene differently in debates about contemporary politics.


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