Race, Sex, and Colonialism

This is part of our Campus Spotlight on Brandeis University.


I developed this course while finishing the research for my first book on interracial relationships in colonial Ghana, but the inspiration for teaching it came from the need to interrupt the binary way that many of my students thought and talked about historical interracial relationships. They either viewed them as paragons of racial egalitarianism and color-blind love, or as the epitome of racial domination and exploitation. While it’s easy to see why students—especially those in the United States or those who are familiar with the history of slavery and Jim Crow in the US—think in binary ways when it comes to interracial sexual relationships, what I have attempted to do with this syllabus is expand and complicate their thinking by exposing them to a geographically and temporally expansive set of case studies. I tweak the syllabus each time I teach the class not only in response to how students engage with the texts, but also in an attempt to integrate new scholarship so that students are able to discern the new directions in this dynamic field of enquiry.

—Carina Ray



Course Description

This upper-level elective course provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to study and analyze the similarities, differences, and contradictions that characterize histories of interracial sexual relations as they have unfolded in different political, social, economic, and legal contexts; time periods; geographical locations; and racial and gendered configurations. Students gain a deeper understanding of how race, sexuality, gender, and class intersected in ways that significantly shaped the history of colonialism, including its imposition and modes of rule, as well as resistance to it.

Our first set of readings includes foundational texts on race, sex, and colonialism that offer some of the theoretical and methodological tools necessary to engage our second set of readings, which critically explore the entanglements and intersections between race and sexuality in a variety of historical case studies from across the colonial world.

Close attention will be paid to the various methodological approaches our authors take and to the different theoretical insights that can be drawn from our diverse case studies to help us better discern the common and singular threads running through this geographically and chronologically expansive field of inquiry.



Required Books

  • Emily Clark, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic
  • Eileen Findlay, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920
  • Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire
  • Zakes Mda, The Madonna of Excelsior
  • Todd Shepard, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962-1979
  • Ann Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimacies of Colonial Rule



Class 1
Critical Approaches to Race, Sex, and Colonialism


Omi and Winant, “The Theory of Racial Formation”

Tayyab Mahmud, “Colonialism and Modern Constructions of Race: A Preliminary Inquiry”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”

Mytheli Sreenivas, “Sexuality and Modern Imperialism”

Robert J.C. Young, “Sex and Inequality: The Cultural Construction of Race”


Class 2
Comparative Approaches to Race, Sex, and Colonialism


Ann Stoler, “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies” (L)

Lisa Lowe, “The Intimacies of Four Continents” (L)


Class 3
Mythic Representations of Interracial Romance in the Making of the Atlantic World



Pamela Scully, “Malintzin, Pocahontas, and Krotoa: Indigenous Women and Myth Models of the Atlantic World” (L)

Rebecca Weatherston, “When Sleeping Dictionaries Awaken: The Re/turn of the Native Woman Informant” (L)

Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex”


Class 4


Mia Bay, “Love, Sex, Slavery, and Sally Hemings” (L)

Sara Kaplan, “Our Founding (M)other: Erotic Love and Social Death in Sally Hemings and The President’s Daughter” Jessica Millward, “‘The Relics of Slavery’”: Interracial Sex and Manumission in the American South” (L)

Ann McGrath, “Consent, Marriage and Colonialism: Indigenous Australian Women and Colonizer Marriages” (L)

Marisa Fuentes, “Power and Historical Figuring: Rachel Pringle Polgreen’s Troubled Archive”


Class 5
Deprovincializing the Quadroon: Myth, Migration, and Multiracial Lives in the Atlantic World


Emily Clark, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic


Class 6
Interracial Family Formations in Colonial India


Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire


Class 7
Centering the Colonizer: Nuancing an Old Story with New Methodologies?


Ann Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule


Class 8
Interracial Relationships in the Colonial Metropole


Lucy Bland, “White Women and Men of Colour: Miscegenation Fears in Britain after the Great War”

Marga Altena, “Standing Out to Fit In: The Marriage of Marie Borchert and Joseph Sylvester (1928-1955)”

Carina Ray, “The White Wife Problem: Sex, Race, and the Contested Politics of Repatriation to Interwar British West Africa”


Class 9
Race, Sex, and the Politics of Apartheid in South Africa


Zakes Mda, The Madonna of Excelsior


Class 10
Race and Sexuality Across the Imperial Divide


Eileen Findlay, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920


Class 11
Interracial Sex and Anticolonial Politics

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Ch. 2-3)

Carina Ray, “Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast”

Marc Matera, “Black Masculinities and Interracial Sex at the Heart of the Empire”


Class 12
Recolonizing Arab Sexualities in the (Post)Colonial Metropole

Todd Shepard, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962-1979


Class 13
Gender, Race, and Sex Tourism, Past and Present



Jennifer Morgan, “Some Could Suckle over Their Shoulder: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology, 1500-1770” (L)

Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, “Female Sex Tourism: A Contradiction in Terms?” (L)

Jan Pettman, “Body Politics: International Sex Tourism”


Week 14
Student-Led Mini-Seminars on Final Research Projects



Carina E. Ray is a historian of Africa and the Black Atlantic world with primary research and teaching interests in race and sexuality; comparative colonialisms and nationalisms; migration and maritime history; and the relationship between race, ethnicity, and political power. Her current book projects form a trilogy that takes up questions of race-making and blackness across the precolonial, colonial, and post-independence periods in Ghana. She is the author of Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana

Photo: Anonymous, Casta Painting, Mexico (c. 1750)
Published on March 1, 2018.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email