The Burden of White Supremacy

Containing Asian Migration in the British Empire and the United States

By David C. Atkinson

334 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3027-4
    Published: January 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3028-1
    Published: October 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4988-5
    Published: October 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3026-7
    Published: January 2017

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From 1896 to 1924, motivated by fears of an irresistible wave of Asian migration and the possibility that whites might be ousted from their position of global domination, British colonists and white Americans instituted stringent legislative controls on Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian immigration. Historians of these efforts typically stress similarity and collaboration between these movements, but in this compelling study, David C. Atkinson highlights the differences in these campaigns and argues that the main factor unifying these otherwise distinctive drives was the constant tensions they caused. Drawing on documentary evidence from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, Atkinson traces how these exclusionary regimes drew inspiration from similar racial, economic, and strategic anxieties, but nevertheless developed idiosyncratically in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Arguing that the so-called white man’s burden was often white supremacy itself, Atkinson demonstrates how the tenets of absolute exclusion--meant to foster white racial, political, and economic supremacy--only inflamed dangerous tensions that threatened to undermine the British Empire, American foreign relations, and the new framework of international cooperation that followed the First World War.

About the Author

David C. Atkinson is assistant professor of history at Purdue University.
For more information about David C. Atkinson, visit the Author Page.


"[A] wide-ranging and exceptionally well-researched volume that makes a major contribution to diplomatic history."--The Canadian Historical Review

“I highly recommend this book for historians attempting global or transnational projects as an exemplary display of this framework drawing upon scrupulous archival research in service of a persuasive and ambitious argument.”--American Historical Review

“Accretes a persuasive argument, challenging several recent works depicting a coherent political identity of whiteness in settler colonial societies in the Pacific.”--Diplomatic History

“One of the most insightful surveys on the global repercussions of exclusions available . . . Essential reading for scholars and students of empire, migration, diplomacy, and race.”--Britain and the World

“Redirects our thinking about mobility, globalism, and anti-Asian rhetoric at the turn of the twentieth century . . . Provides a strong comparative history without making blanket statements.”--Journal of American History

“Lucidly written and cogently argued, The Burden of White Supremacy charts new terrains in U.S. immigration and diplomatic history and will be an important read for scholars of transnational and global history.”--Pacific Historical Review