Mabruchismo: An Untold Story of Colonial Patriarchal Violence

leggi in italiano

by Andrea Tarchi, Euromix PhD Researcher, 1 July 2021

Libyan girls on an Italian colonial postcard.

Overall, Italians don’t think much about the country’s colonial past. Any recent event that seems to indicate a correlation with former colonial practices, such as the current crisis of immigrants’ detention, is brushed off by the media as disconnected from a time long gone.1 In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the world in 2020, an event changed this state of affairs, causing a rare media noise. It is June 2020, and several demonstrations in Milan, Italy, target the statue of famous journalist Indro Montanelli due to his involvement in a madamato relationship with an Eritrean minor during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.2 Madamato was the colonial concubinage, or forced cohabitation practice, that involved Italian men and Eastern African women throughout the Italian presence in the region. Even if madamato is the most researched form of violent intimate encounter that characterized Italian colonialism, it was hardly known by the general public.3 In a rupture with the usual public disregard for issues related to Italian colonialism, the debate that followed the 2020 protests undeniably pointed the finger at madamato, with a considerable number of relevant newspapers and news websites explaining the practice to their readers.

While this increase in attention is undoubtedly a positive outcome of the whole public debate on Montanelli and madamato, such focused rhetoric runs the risk of framing madamato as an exceptional practice specific to Italy’s colonial presence in Eastern Africa. This framing, in turn, risks hiding the fact that madamato was only one practical outcome of the pervasive patriarchal and racist structures of power that pervaded colonial Italy and that still influence Italian society.  For this reason, in this blog, I want to talk about another less known and hardly researched form of racist, patriarchal sexual violence: the practice of mabruchismo or colonial concubinage imposed on Libyan women by Italian army officers. Even if less practiced than madamato, mabruchismo exemplified the racist, patriarchal structures of power that characterized Italy’s colonial power in Libya. Given the increasing notoriety of madamato provided by the media noise around Montanelli’s statue, it is more important than ever to add this sad page to the history of violence and oppression that characterized Italian colonial history.


Libyan Concubines for Italian Officers

The term mabruchismo found its origin in the Arabic name Mabroukah, one of the most common first names given to Libyan women at the time. Its origin dates back to the beginning of Italian military presence in the Northern African territory in 1911. Although the Italian army’s military command had issued orders to respect the local population’s customs to sedate the fierce rebellion that welcomed Italian troops on their arrival, Italian officers started taking Libyan girls as concubines from the get-go. We see here the first contradiction that characterized Italy’s policies in the newly invaded colony. On the one hand, the army’s commander-in-chief Carlo Caneva wanted to convey rhetorical respect toward Libyan traditions by stating that “Libyan women are usually kept away from public life, and the indigenous are proudly jealous of them. Thus, everyone must abstain from any act towards them, which includes even looking at them.”4 On the other hand, however, the belief that “men, particularly soldiers, required an outlet for their (hetero)sexual energies and that the army must provide them with ‘safe’ sex”5 pushed the command to allow officers to take Libyan women as concubines. It is only 1916 when we find the first trace of mabruchismo in a circular order sent to the governor of Cyrenaica by an officer:

I have reason to believe that some officers who reside in the colony have hired indigenous women as concubines by either allowing them to live in their own house, or by settling them in a dwelling nearby, or by allowing them to still live with their families […]. The military discipline regulation deems unacceptable any form of concubinage. Such prohibition must be followed even more strictly in the colonial environment for obvious reasons regarding the officers’ dignity and decorum.6

Even if this order seems coherent with the Italians’ stance regarding the respect of Libyan women, it needs to be stressed that no officer was punished in Libya for taking women concubines before 1931. What was more pressing for the colonial administrators was not to enforce military discipline but to maintain the image of a colonizing power that was careful to the local traditions regarding the private sphere. Despite all the proclamations regarding respect of Muslim customs and Libyan women, the endorsement for mabruchismo continued through Fascism’s rise to power at least until the 1930s. The rhetoric and the policies of the first years of Fascist rule in Libya closely resembled previous liberal governments, with Italians portraying themselves as protectors of the Libyan population. Meanwhile, Fascism engaged in brutal military operations to repress the anti-colonial resistance. In the end, due to the military tactics of General Rodolfo Graziani, whose accomplishment would grant him the title of Vice-governor of the colony, coupled with heavy use of illegal toxic weapons, the resistance was wholly crushed.


The Prohibition of Mabruchismo in a Segregated Settler Colony

It is no coincidence that the first military punishments against mabruchismo happened only in 1931 when the colony’s militarisation slowly started to subside due to reaching the end of the repression of the Libyan resistance. The year 1932 would see the first waves of Libya’s mass demographic colonization, which entailed the deportation of Cyrenaicans who inhabited fertile lands to concentration camps and the arrival of many settlers.7 The new settler environment, coupled with Fascism’s turn to racist and segregationist ideology and policy in the 1930s, brought to an actual prohibition of mabruchismo. By 1931, we start to see Italian officers being reported to the colony’s military command for taking Libyan women as concubines:

A garrison commander in charge of a concentration camp for indigenous people found two officers engaged in romantic relationships with the concentration camp’s indigenous women.8

An officer, who was on duty in a concentration camp, fell into negotiations with an indigenous woman over the price to be paid for her daughter’s favors, acting therefore in a manner that was detrimental to an officer’s dignity.9

While on duty in a fort near a concentration camp under the Political Authority’s control, an officer started negotiating with a captive indigenous man the price to be paid for his daughter’s possession.10

It does not take long for Graziani, the Fascist military leader in the region and enforcer of Fascism’s segregationist policy in the new settler colony, to take action against a practice that is not admissible anymore. In this 1932 circular order intended as a response to the quoted reports, Graziani gives a complete picture of the regime’s new stance on mabruchismo:

I have repatriated four officers (one of them recently) because they made financial transactions (or anyway vigorously negotiated) to acquire indigenous women to keep them for themselves as concubines. This mabruchismo is one of the plagues that infested the colony. There are still some traces of it, or better still, some nostalgia; however, I intend to eradicate it.11

Graziani calls mabruchismo “one of the plagues that have infested the colony,” thus confirming that the repatriated officers were not the first to have concubines in the colony but only the first to be officially punished. Such development was due to the colony becoming a settler-colonial space, which entailed the need for the Fascist administrators to be less tolerant towards intimacies that crossed racial boundaries. Graziani played a role in the crackdown of both mabruchismo and madamato in Italian Eastern Africa.12 He was Fascism’s chosen man to end practices of interracial sex in the Italian colonies, where the racial purity of Italians was most at risk. The prohibition or tolerance of mabruchismo swayed according to the Italian administrations’ political plans and shifting ideologies, with a total disregard for local customs or Libyan women, no matter what the rhetoric toward them was.

Although not recordable through the voices of Libyan women absent from the archives, the exploitative character of mabruchismo is clear from the analyzed sources. We know from the sanctions to the officers that their parents sold some of them to the Italians, others must have been kidnapped, others again might have been former prostitutes or slaves looking for more economic security. We can assume that all these reasons, or a combination of those, might have brought them to leave their families much more than love or affection for the Italian officers that kept them as concubines, although that might have been possible as well. In the end, what is certain is that they were the recipient of colonial patriarchal violence by the Italian officers who bought them for sexual and domestic comfort while being used as political pawns by the various colonial administrations. Their exploitation was formally prohibited only when the Italian Fascist Party steered toward a racist and segregationist ideology, making interracial sex completely unacceptable in Italy and the empire.


Concluding Remarks

In response to the public debate over Montanelli’s statue and the memory of madamato, a journalist of the right-wing Italian newspaper Il primato nazionale wrote that “those condemning Montanelli alongside the custom of madamato, should praise at the same time the Fascist regime, as it put an end to this practice.”13 This reasoning highlights the ignorance that most Italian media and the public have on Italian colonial times. Mabruchismo and madamato were prohibited by the regime, not because of a sudden epiphany over their inherent violence. They were ended because the regime’s new ideological and material context could not allow these relationships any longer. In any case, the prohibition, tolerance, or even endorsement of these practices followed solely the colonizers’ political, ideological, and material needs, with a total disregard of the colonized women upon which they exerted their violence.

The public debate on Montanelli’s statue had the merit of highlighting the Italian public’s ignorance and hypocrisy over the country’s colonial past. By going over the less known and researched Libyan counterpart of madamato, this blog attempted to add a little more nuance and complexity to this ignored phase of Italian history. Before engaging in another fruitless and superficial debate over the memory of celebrities who engaged in colonial practices, it would be best for the Italian public to be aware of how even the darkest pages of Italy’s history created the country as it is today. The only way to do so is to put aside easy rhetoric and shallow debate to favor a nuanced analysis of the historical facts.



Barrera, G. 2004. ‘Sex, Citizenship and the State: The Construction of the Public and Private Spheres in Colonial Eritrea.’ In Gender, Family and Sexuality: The Private Sphere in Italy 1860-1945, edited by P. Wilson, 157-172. London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Bryder, L. 1998. ‘Sex, Race, and Colonialism: An Historiographical Review.’ The International History Review 20 (4): 806-822.

Campassi, G. 1987 ‘Il madamato in Africa Orientale. Relazioni tra italiani e indigene come forma di aggressione coloniale.’ Miscellanea di storia delle esplorazioni (12): 219-260.

Cresti, F. 2011. Non desiderare la terra d’altri: la colonizzazione italiana in Libia. Rome: Carocci Editore.

Del Boca, A. 2011. Italiani, brava gente?. Vicenza: Neri Pozza Editore.

Ponzanesi, S. 2012. ‘The Color of Love: Madamismo and Interracial Relationships in the Italian Colonies.’ Research in African Literatures 43 (2): 155-172.

Sòrgoni, B. 1998. Parole e corpi: antropologia, discorso giuridico e politiche sessuali interrazziali nella colonia Eritrea: 1890-1941. Naples: Edizioni scientifiche Italiane.

70 years Moluccans in the Netherlands: the ‘painful problem’ of mixed marriages and relationships

lees in het Nederlands

by Betty de Hart, Euromix Principal Investigator, 11 June 2021

Source: Het Parool, 11 May 1951


In May 1951, the local council of the town of Huizen in the Netherlands adopted a local police regulation (Algemene Politie Verordening) prohibiting town girls from hanging out at the gates of the camp where recently arrived Moluccan colonial migrants were housed. The newspaper article in Het Parool reporting on this regulation quoted the town mayor saying that he got ‘nauseous’ by the 15 and 16 year old girls, who sought contact to the ‘Ambonese’.

In light of the various events organised this year to commemorate the 70-year presence of Moluccans in the Netherlands, it seems appropriate to go further into the way these colonial subjects were received, especially in relation to the regulation of mixture. As will be demonstrated, the local regulation in Huizen was not exceptional, but part of a pattern of regulation of mixed relationships and marriages between Moluccans and Dutch nationals, that was framed in terms of ‘racial mixture’.


Moluccan migration to the Netherlands

The end of the Second World War not only brought an end to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands but also to the Dutch colonial power in Asia, although the Netherlands had a hard time accepting this. Indonesia had declared its independence in 1945. As the Netherlands refused to accept this, what followed was a bloody colonial war, until in 1949 the Netherlands finally had to accept Indonesia’s independence.  Subsequently the KNIL, the Royal Dutch Indisch Army, was dissolved and in the years 1950 and 1951 more than 17,000 former KNIL-military personnel, their families and other Moluccans were transported to the Netherlands. Before independence, they were considered ‘loyal’ colonial subjects, but after independence, Indonesian citizenship was forced upon them against their wishes, Hence, they were not Dutch nationals, but Indonesians, and years later they were considered to be stateless. Both sides expected their stay in the Netherlands to be only temporary.

The Moluccan families were housed in camps spread across the Netherlands, often in small towns and rural areas, in old monasteries or former concentration camps where Jews were jailed during the war, separated from the rest of Dutch society.1 Their integration was considered problematic, not merely in terms of economic and social integration but also as an issue of morality.2 One of the issues of concern was intimate relationships with Dutch men and women that developed. Especially those between Dutch women and Moluccan men worried authorities, as the Parool article exemplifies.


Keeping Dutch girls away from the camps

More than just concern, the mayor of Huizen, Van Driel, expressed aversion towards the girls from Huizen who sought contact with the Moluccan boys. Van Driel was a trained legal scholar and former lawyer, politically affiliated with the Anti-Revolutionary Party. His concern with the moral behavior of Dutch minor girls is resonant of the ‘morality movement’ before the Second World War, consisting of social and political elite groups that worried about ‘moral decline’ in Dutch society, especially working-class youth.3 Van Driel aimed to prevent Dutch girls from entering the Moluccan living areas, and he was not alone.

In fact, the need to prohibit Dutch minor girls from entering Moluccan living areas was part of a nationwide policy. It was debated in the Dutch Second Chamber and Senate and the concern was shared by politicians with and without a confessional background.

The debate on Dutch girls and the Moluccan living areas continued for years. The Parool article was from 1951, when the Moluccans had just arrived. Years later, in February 1958, Luijckx-Sleijfer, member of the Senate for the Catholic K.V.P. worried that prohibition for Dutch minor girls to enter the Moluccan living areas did not suffice to make an end to these ‘undesired visits’, as such prohibitions were difficult to enforce even though the police was surveilling the camps on a daily basis. This was also, the Senate member pointed out, because:

They [the minor girls] show in their visits an obstinacy that would fit with a better cause. 4

The Senate Member suggested that criminal prosecution of the girls might help.

Minister Marga Klompé

The first female Minister in the Netherlands, Marga Klompé (Catholic Party), of Social Affairs, took over this suggestion that she said to encourage.5 A year earlier, in a memo to the council of ministers, she had expressed concern that letting go of the thought that the stay of the Moluccans would be temporary would result in what she called ‘racial mixture’ (rassenvermenging’).6 She also warned that caution remained necessary and that she would do everything possible to prevent undesired circumstances. She pointed out that this was also a task for the parents, the social workers and the camp elders.7 Sometimes the parents of the young women themselves asked the police or Ministry of Justice to keep their daughter from entering the camps.8 Hence, in regulating mixed couples, sometimes the state and the parents worked together to prevent the couple from being together.

Media reports as well as studies based on archival research demonstrate that the concern was not just about ‘indecent’ relationships between minor Dutch white girls and Moluccan boys, but also about mixed marriages. Newspapers reported on such mixed marriages under headings such as ‘painful problem’.9 Social workers intended to warn the girl’s parents so that they could intervene. These marriages were seen as doomed to fail and seen as forced – meaning that the girls got pregnant. A researcher who interviewed thirty inhabitants of the southern town Vught in 1958 found that almost all opposed marriages with Moluccans. The researcher added:

I share the opinion of the mission with its century-long experience, that mixed marriages are undesirable. Not as a form of caste-policy, but out of pity with the descendants of such marriages. There are already large numbers of people on the world categorised as ‘displaced persons’.10

A growing number of mixed marriages was seen as a threat for the future. For instance, in 1956, Johan Scheps (Social Democrat PVDA), reflecting on the future of the Moluccans in the living areas, saw mixed marriages as a threat and a possible cause of social unrest:

At the moment it is quiet in the camps to a certain extent. In a way, except for the struggle on self-determination, nothing is going on. The number of mixed marriages is still manageable. The white woman is still warmly welcomed in the circle of Ambonese camp inhabitants. But how will this be in the future?11

The problem of contact and marriages between Dutch girls and Moluccan boys was framed in terms of racial mixture, years after the Second World War was supposed to have done away with thinking in such terminology of biological race.12 Also striking is the relevance of gender: only relationships and marriages between Dutch girls and Moluccan boys were considered a problem, not the reverse combination. This is in line with our findings in the Euromix project as well as academic literature: there is an obsession of state authorities with mixture by white women, as women represent the nation, their relationships and behavior are problematised as endangering the nation.13 Finally, the discourses blame the Dutch white girls for their obstinacy, apparently; they are seen as the initiators, seeking out contact with the Moluccan boys, rather than the other way around. We learn nothing about whether the Moluccan boys welcomed this attention or how they responded. This is again in line with what we found elsewhere: that the white woman is to blame for mixed relationships; contrary to the socially ascribed gender roles in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as racialised boundaries, she does not remain passive but is exerting improper behavior by initiating these relationships.


Preventing and supervising mixed marriages

To deal with these issues, the Comissariaat Ambonezenzorg (Commission care for the Ambonese, CAZ) was established, as a national state institution that played an important role in formulating a policy that resulted in government intervention in private relationships, described by historian Charlotte Laarman.14 The Commission was not established especially to deal with mixture, but mixture was seen as an important part of their task. Laarman describes the attitude of the Commission as paternalistic; every Moluccan was supervised by a social worker of the Commission. Hundreds of reports were drafted by social workers on such mixed couples.

Mixed marriages and relationships, especially those of Moluccan men and Dutch women, were a major cause of concern. The CAZ tried to prevent such relationships. Discouraged marriages and couples that married anyway came to be supervised, sometimes for a duration of several years. As a rule, they were seen as problematic cases, even if there were no health issues, criminality or other problems: being mixed was their problem.

It was the Commission’s conviction that mixed families needed guidance. As ‘problem cases’, they were under surveillance with regular visits by social workers. Marriages between Moluccan women and Dutch men were not reported, because they were considered Dutch families and also because they often lived outside the camps. Contrary to families of white women and Moluccan men, the families of Dutch white men and Moluccan women escaped state surveillance.

If the family ‘behaved Dutch’, this was evaluated positively: with racialised notions of being clean, saving money, speaking Dutch.15 Nevertheless, there was always the assumption that problems would arise at any moment, as the husband may no longer accept the Dutch cultural dominance of his wife. If the Dutch woman adapted to Moluccan culture, e.g. by learning the language, cooking Moluccan meals and having contact with Moluccan women, this was considered problematic, put into terms like ‘fanatic’ and ‘creepy’.16

On the other hand, the commission was not concerned about the legal consequences of marriage for the Dutch women, who lost their Dutch citizenship from the moment they married their Moluccan husband.17 When lawyer W. Schols, CAZ-director for the Southern district pointed out this legal consequences, his letter was put aside after commenting: ‘It is not our task to interfere’.18


Concluding remarks

As demonstrated, the Moluccans were faced with different types of regulation of mixture: they were housed in living areas segregated from the wider Dutch population, and their intimate relationships and marriages were surveilled by police and social workers. Local and national authorities were involved in efforts to prevent ‘racial mixture’. In this respect, they were treated very differently from the other major group of colonial migrants from Indonesia, the Indische Nederlanders, Eurasians of mixed descent, who were the target of assimilation policies.19

As always, in spite of all these state efforts to prevent them, mixed marriages and relationships happened frequently and from an early stage. The Moluccan community that was brought to the Netherlands, was already ‘mixed’, as around 1 in 4 of the marriages was with a non-Moluccan wife from Indonesia. After their arrival in the Netherlands, one-third of all marriages concluded in Moluccan living areas, until 1959, was with a Dutch men or, more frequently, women.20

A 2020 Central Bureau of Statistics study of Moluccans in the Netherlands revealed that a minority of Moluccans has a partner who is also Moluccan. Not more than just over 10% of the grandchildren of the first Moluccan generation has three or four Moluccan grandparents.21 Such relationships may not be problematised as in the 1950s, it seems that they continue to be interesting enough to be counted.

Recently, the mayors of municipalities with a high number of Moluccan inhabitants called upon the national government to acknowledge the harm done to them and to invest in the Moluccan community, including the mayor of Huizen.22

The obsession with white women and interracialized relationships: the case of political leader Sigrid Kaag

lees in het Nederlands

by Betty de Hart, Euromix Principal Investigator, 2 April 2021


In the run-up to the Dutch elections on 17 March 2021, with four female party leaders, Dutch media discussed the sexism and hate messages that they faced on social media. This happened in response to opinion magazine De Groene Amsterdammer’s analysis of the large number of hate messages that female politicians receive. De Groene concluded that women more than male politicians were attacked in very personal ways: with comments on their gender, their looks and the dresses they wear, as well as their families.1

Sigrid Kaag, leader of the progressive-liberal D66, received most hate messages; one-fifth of the reactions she received was hateful and sexist.2 In her own words, this was because she represents everything that is the ultimate horror to part of the public: a powerful woman, a cosmopolite, married not to just any foreigner, but to a Palestinian, Muslim husband. She was faced with fantasies about her sex life and complot theories on her collaboration with Islam. She has been labeled a ‘terrorist-lover’ and ‘Palestinian hugger’.

Obviously, she was not the only female politician meeting with the combination of sexism and racism. Especially black female politician Sylvana Simons (BIJ1) who has suffered severe harassment continuously for years since she publicly spoke out against racism for the first time in 2015 on national television, and Kauthar Bouchallikht (GreenLeft) who is of Moroccan descent, Muslim and wears a headscarf, were the targets of racist hate reactions.3 On the other hand, they also received a lot of support and both were elected and are now Members of Parliament.

This blog, however, focuses on Sigrid Kaag, in order to explore how the attacks on her can be explained from her having a mixed family. It addresses the question what these attacks reveal about the obsession with white women in mixed relationships, especially those with Muslim husbands.

Dutch media on Sigrid Kaag’s mixed family

Kaag became leader of the political party D66 in 2020, six months before the elections took place. During the campaign, resulting in her party gaining four more seats in parliament, she presented herself as a ‘new kind of leader’: positive, progressive, and inclusive. She was not shy in speaking out against racism, for instance during the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as against sexism. For instance, on International Women’s day, she publicly criticised prime minister Mark Rutte for frequently interrupting female cabinet ministers, more than the male ones during cabinet meetings.4 In addressing racism, she regularly referred to her Palestinian husband and their four ‘mixed descent’ children, bringing in her own experiences with racism. She said that she looked at society through the eyes of her children and husband.5

The hateful attacks started when she became Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. in 2017. Her political loyalty was put into question because her husband is Palestinian, especially by extreme-right parties and online posts. Hateful attacks were uttered mainly on social media. However, it is striking how frequently the mainstream news media too mentioned her Palestinian husband, even where it is not relevant to her politics. For instance, she was questioned about the division of tasks between her husband and her in the upbringing of their children and the fact that the children used her and not her husband’s last name in job applications.6

In the final TV debate the night before election day the extreme-right political leader Geert Wilders called her out as a ‘traitor’ because she had worn a headscarf during a visit to Iran as Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.7

At several instances, she explained the critique she met with on social media from being a member of a mixed family. Answering the question on what she did wrong, she said: I married Anis (her husband).8

In short, while some tried to question her loyalty to the nation because of her mixed family, Kaag herself aimed to present herself as someone with a broader perspective on race and diversity, stemming from her positionality as a white woman having a mixed family.9 Considering the electoral gain for her party, this appealed to part of the voters.

In the Dutch context, it is exceptional that politicians, or any other public figures for that matter, speak out about being a member of mixed family and, from that standpoint, reflect on racism and discrimination in Dutch society.10 Although there are few, she is not the only Dutch politician putting forward their mixed relationship in building a political profile. An example is Niels Van den Berge (GreenLeft) who stated: ‘Since I have been married with a fantastic woman of color, discrimination and exclusion are close by. I see what it does to her and to other Dutchmen of color’.11 Another is Pieter Omtzigt of the Christian-Democrats (CDA) whose wife is a Syrian-orthodox from Turkey and also a politician in the same party.  However, Kaag has been the only one who was so publicly and frequently attacked because of her mixed family.

Gender and crossing group boundaries  

Even though white men also violate racialised group boundaries when they engage in interracialised relationships, this is legitimised by white male privilege. From this perspective, it is not surprising that Kaag, as a white woman, is the politician facing the most hostile reactions from the Dutch public.

This is because women ‘embody’ the boundaries of the nation, carrying the ‘burden of representation’ as ‘symbolic bearers of the collective identity and honour’.12 The reaffirmation of boundaries of whiteness thus requires the surveillance of white women’s behavior.13

Hence, white women transgressing racialised borders are seen as the greater threat to white identity. Women are particularly likely to experience gender backlash in domains where gender roles are highly salient, such as in the domain of sexual behavior and partner choice. 14 Consequently, the costs of crossing racialised group boundaries are higher for white women than for white men. The hostile reactions that Kaag received can be understood as a form of social punishment for her ‘deviant’ partner choice.

In our Euromix research project, we have established that regulators (e.g. legislators, politicians, bureaucratic national and local authorities, police) across time and place were obsessed with relationships of white women and racialised men. Even if their numbers were low, such relationships incited anxiety, anger, hostility and violence. Discourse and news-media largely focussed on such relationships while state officials tried to discourage them through regulations ranging from prohibitions of interracial marriage, relationships and sex, to premarital counselling ‘warning’ white women of the dangers of marrying ‘other’ racialised men.

In the Netherlands, too, newspapers and popular culture have largely focussed on relationships of Dutch white women and racialised men.15

Even one marriage could incite a huge amount of public and media attention surveilling and scrutinizing the couple’s every move.16 On the other hand, we have found an absence of attention for black women in interracialized relationships.17 In conclusion, the considerable amount of media attention that Kaag received, apart from the more general sexism directed at female politicians, can be attributed to this obsession with mixed relationships of Dutch white women through which the gendered and racialised boundaries of the Dutch nation are drawn.

Marrying a Muslim   

Another reason for the hostile response is that Kaag’s husband is of Palestinian and Muslim background. Although he is a self-identified atheist, he is socially classified as Muslim, because of the stereotyped and orientalist conflation of Arab countries, and people, with Islam.

The obsession with Dutch women marrying Muslim foreign men is hardly new and goes back to the colonial period of the Dutch East Indies. It was particularly strong in the 1960s and 1970s when labor migrants from Turkey and Morocco were recruited to work in the Dutch industry and some of them married Dutch women. Although the actual numbers of such marriages were quite low, the Dutch government developed premarital counseling in order to warn Dutch ‘girls’, as they were commonly called, of the dangers of marrying Muslim men.18

In the current Dutch debate, in which Islamophobia is omnipresent, it is especially women who face the repercussion of the Dutch obsession with Islam.19 Islam is presented as backward, static and traditional, while ‘Western culture’ is constructed as modern, dynamic and progressive.20As Dutch white women who married a Muslim did so willingly and intentionally, the liberal and emancipated inclinations attributed to Dutch women as representing Dutch modern culture, now turn against them: their choice for a Muslim husband demonstrates their stubbornness and naivety; against better judgement, they ‘dabble’ into such a marriage, which will undoubtedly turn out to be a disaster. They lose the qualities attached to ‘us’ and are attributed the qualities of ‘them’, resulting in a loss of social status.21

Although Kaag is a woman in a privileged position of political power, she is attributed these characteristics and consequently othered. As a woman married to a Palestinian, she becomes aligned with terrorism (‘terroristenliefje’) and Islam. Her ascribed identity becomes dependent on that of the stereotyped, racialised identity of her husband, and her loyalty questioned. Her social punishment is that she is no longer considered ‘truly’ Dutch and no longer considered one of ‘us’.


The negative reactions that Sigrid Kaag met with were not only because she is a female political leader but also part of her social punishment for being a white Dutch woman with a mixed marriage, for marrying the ‘wrong kind’ of man. It is part of gendered and racialised boundary work that excludes such women from those who reproduce the nation. It shows that mixed families and relationships continue to be problematized until today. The social punishments, with continued online-harassment, remain severe.

Whether Kaag’s positionality as a white woman with a mixed family also results in a different kind of politics, is a different matter, as some critics have pointed out.22 In the end, that is a matter of political choice.

Black Women and Interracialized Relationships

By Nawal Mustafa, Euromix PhD Researcher, 19 March 2021

SOURCE: Lambeth Archives.


The end of the Second World War signified the start of the large-scale migration from former British colonies and Commonwealth countries to the United Kingdom. The increasing numbers of the newly arrived immigrants were not something new. In fact, there was an increase in the number of “coloured immigrants” since the First World War.1 As a result, people who are differently categorized based on race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background had the ability to engage with each other in close proximity. They would encounter each other at work, in living quarters and in places of leisure.

My PhD research focuses on romantic relationships that were formed between black and white people in the period 1950s-1970s in the United Kingdom. Particularly, I aim to centralize black women in interracialized relationships because I found that their stories often do not expand beyond the scope of a footnote or a paragraph in studies about interracialized relationships. Even when neglected or forgotten, black women remained resilient, vocal, and demanded attention by popping up in places where they are least expected.

Black British studies and research focus mainly on Black men and women’s studies and research centralized the experiences of white women.2 In the field of (Critical) Mixed  Race Studies a similar tendency can be seen.3 There is an absence in the archives and a lack of research that centralizes the experiences of black women. The category of black women is a category within a category. It is the entanglement of race and gender. By focusing on the experiences of black women in interracialized relationships, my hope is to further complicate and enrich the concepts of race and gender.

Black and British

There is a re-emergence of efforts to capture and document the experiences of black people in Britain. An example is the critique of the centralization of the Windrush generation as a symbol of the arrival of black people to the metropole and the start of British multiculturalism.4 The term Windrush is derived from the ship MV Empire Windrush, which docked in Tilbury on 22 June 1948.  It carried 492 passengers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other islands. These passengers were looking for job opportunities in the metropole where there was a shortage of labour. Although this specific moment is important in the Black British history, it should be conceptualized and placed in a more comprehensive historical trajectory that includes Black Romans, enslaved African people in Britain, historic black seafarer communities and colonial students as well as black servicemen in the two world wars. By broadening the scope and excavating the long history of encounters between black people and the white British, historical facts that have become “truth regimes” concerning black people’s history in Britain can be challenged. This will show what is canonized or is seen as important for the formation of national identity, is created through processes of selecting, editing and omitting certain facts and experiences.

As a result of these processes, academic literature and archival materials that focus on the history of Black and British post-second world war largely failed to include the experiences of black women in the metropole. The racist encounters the new immigrants faced led to the formation of unifying categories. During the Notting Hill riots of 1958, white youth attacked everyone who they perceived to be black, including black women.5 People started to organize and resist their conditions and the racist violence under an umbrella of a unifying blackness.6 For instance, the category of the West Indian was used by all who came from different Caribbean Islands. The in-group differences mattered less when one is being attacked based on one’s perceived racial identity. As a result, the knowledge and insight that can be gained by studying the similarities and differences between black people when race, class, gender, and sexuality are accounted for are lost. Instead, using an intersectional approach when researching the “black experience” would particularize and show the multicity of identities.7

Racialized and Gendered Sexual encounters

The women and, to an extent, the men I write about are wayward adventures.8 They were resilient and courageous enough to travel to countries they only knew through schoolbooks or stories told by relatives. They were people with “a vision of hope sustained through centuries of exploitation”.9 They were not naïve, nor did they fully believe in the mother country’s promise of richness. They were aware of race and gender dynamics as well as economic exploitation. They were brave in a way that is hard to re-imagine. They made choices that would change the course of their life forever. The complexity of their realities and the racism they faced was beyond unemployment or struggles with housing and included social interactions.

I am interested in finding small acts and instances that unsettle what we think we know about the lived experiences of the newly arrived immigrants, especially the women. As Anne Stoler has argued, the regulation of the sexual economy was part of the colonial enterprise’s management ethos.10 It was also a crucial part of the structure of the slave society. Therefore, there has been a historical obsession with the sexuality of black men and women in general. Nonetheless, gender and class influence the ways in which sexual relationships are regulated. Black women know a long history in which sexual exploitation was part of their subjugation. They produced laborers for the plantations while enslaved since the children they had with black men, and with white men were seen as the property of the slave master.11 Along the same line, during the colonization period, white colonizers who already had extremely sexualized notions of non-white women were encouraged to “go native” and have relationships with the daughters of the chieftains they interacted with.12 In comparison, the sexuality of (middle-class) white women, as the bearers of the nation, was regulated more closely. For instance, during the first part of the colonization, white women were not allowed to travel to the colonies.13

The archival materials I have been using in my research show that many newspapers, tv shows, and radio items that discuss mixed couples and interracial dating often start with whether one would allow their daughter to date a black man. Furthermore, the survey for the Gallup International Poll of 1964 in the United Kingdom questioned whether white families would be willing to accept “a coloured man as a son-in-law”. 71% indicated that they rather not have a coloured man as a son-in-law or that they thoroughly disliked the idea. The reversed question of whether white families would (dis)approve their son’s marrying “coloured women” was also asked in the Gallup Poll of 1964. 70% of the interviewees stated that they would rather not have a “coloured woman” as a daughter-in-law or that they would completely dislike it.14 This was the first poll since 1937 where the question of interracialized relationships was raised. The poll reflects the societal issues that the public was concerned with; racial imbalance in society. Moreover, prior to the 1964 poll, questions about race were asked but not explicitly linked to interracialized intimacies. It is also striking that the relationship between black women and white men was included as a question to the poll, because the concerns regarding interracial mixing usually referenced relationships between white women and black men.15

The poll’s outcome indicates that interracialized relationships are considered a problem regardless of the race of the women. However, through newspapers, TV shows, and books, the public imagination indicates that there is hierarchization in the type of interracialized relationships that are deemed to be a problem. The fascination in popular culture and media show that there is an emphasis on relationships where the woman is white, and the man is black. The hyper focus on this specific constellation of interracialized relationships shows that white women are trapped in the traditional role ascribed to them. They have to secure the continuity of familial ties and, in extension, are burdened with reproducing the nation. White women became hyper visible, and their sexual escapades are of the interest of the nation.

In contrast, even though there is an awareness that black women in interracialized relationships are under-researched,16 the sexual encounters of black women do not necessarily threaten the (white) nation.17 Therefore, they seemed to be less of a problem and are less heavily policed. Whenever I came across references made to black women in the official government documents related to mixed relationships, it was to state that the lack of their availability is the reason for the rise in interracialized relationships. However, between 1952 and 1961, 93.500 black women arrived in the metropole, this is approximately 39.3% of the total number of new immigrants.18 These numbers contradict the assumption that immigration was dominantly a male endeavour; furthermore, they show that the so-called rise of interracialized relationships between black men and white women cannot be explained away by the lack of the availability of black women.


Although for different reasons, both white women and black women are expected to be the gate-keepers of endogamy, while white men in particular and black men to a certain extent are expected to engage in relationships beyond the colour line by virtue of their maleness.19 The consequence for black men who engage in interracialized relationships is that they are often surveilled and targeted by the police whereas white men have little or no consequences at all when they transgress. However, I am interested in how the relationships of black women developed beyond the gaze of the state. Much attention was given to the policing and the surveillance of the sexuality of black men. I argue that this created a space for black women to pursue their desires. Were they able to escape the notion of respectability by transgressing the boundaries of both race and gender? I hope to move away from homogenizing black women’s experiences in the post-war UK with my research. I wish to shed some light on the complexity of how desire was manifested and experienced by black women who refused to be monolith and dared to date outside of the race even with the looming danger of being fetishized.

Black Lives Matter and ‘mixed’ couples and families in the media

lees in het Nederlands

by Betty de Hart, Euromix Principal Investigator, 16 October 2020

Why this blog

In the past months of the Black Lives Matter protests and the many discussions that followed in the US and in Europe, including the Netherlands, ‘mixed’1 or interracialized couples were significantly more visible in the media than normally. This media presence was also of a different nature than usual, as normally, media representations of mixed couples are, at least in continental Europe, about cultural differences and reactions by family and friends rather than structural racism.

Numerous media articles addressed the position of those families within the debate on racism, from the perspective of one or both partners or parents, or from the perspective of youngsters of mixed descent. This blog aims to critically analyse this media coverage, in order to address the complex positioning of mixed couples within this racism debate. A caveat is that we do not know how these news stories came about, whether the couples and partners volunteered to tell their stories or what questions journalists posed to them, or the extent to which they were aware of the context in which their stories would be presented. The analysis is based on a collection of US, UK, Dutch and Belgian media reports (mainly newspaper articles available online), without claiming to be exhaustive. Evidently, the context in these countries is very different: in the USA and the UK it is common to talk about issues of race, racism and ‘interracial’ couples. In the Netherlands and Belgium this debate has only just started.


“Mixed couples bring the color-blind world closer”

Although mixed couples have been historically problematized and pathologized, in dominant discourses of a colour-blind world, mixed couples are perceived as the solution to racism. If we all fall in love and marry ‘across the color-line’, the argument goes, racism will disappear. This discourse was brought forward during the Black Lives Matter debate in the US newspaper Washington Times. In its editorial, this newspaper stated:

There is no racially charged lecture, demonstration, riot or war that can better melt hearts hardened by racism than the innocent eyes of a child born form the love of an interracial couple. One look is all it takes to rediscover a simple truth that no one can reasonably deny: all lives matter.2

This highly problematic argument is assimilationist, denies the racism often directed at interracial couples and children of mixed descent, and ignores power structures and institutional racism. Such arguments also deny the historical fact that mixed relationships do not equal anti-racism. As an obvious example, in the colonial past mixed relationships occurred frequently, but only between white men and colonized women as relationships of power and submission that served the colonial racist system. and kept the color-line in place.3

Against this background, one may observe the increased media attention for mixed couples during the Black Lives Matter debate with some suspicion. They may be put forward as proof that racism, if it exists at all, will soon disappear. In an alternative representation, mixed couples may be seen as ‘bridges’ that foster understanding between communities, and are more ‘accessible’ to the public (read: white audiences) who are thought to relate more easily to the experiences of a white person married to a black person than the racism experiences of a black man or woman. In this respect, a Dutch TV news broadcast on BLM featuring a Dutch white woman in a mixed family in the US, her children of mixed descent but not her black husband, and several other persons of mixed-descent explaining the meaning of BLM and their experiences with racism appeared somewhat awkward.4 It is similar to advertising wanting to become more ‘diverse’ by picturing mixed families and persons of mixed descent, but no black families.5 Hence, the strikingly frequent presence of mixed couples in the BLM debate is not in itself positive; it matters how their experiences are voiced and what message is brought forward.


White partners not always allies in anti-racist struggles; black partners largely absent   

When the experiences of mixed couples are presented, the different positioning of the white and black partners on the one hand and parents and children on the other hand becomes clear. First of all, not all white partners are anti-racist; they may deny the existence of racism or even make racist comments themselves; in short, the white partners are not necessarily allies in anti-racism struggles. Although there is some US and British research to testify that, compared to other white people, white partners in mixed families, especially white women, are more often aware of racism this is certainly not self-evident. 6 During BLM, several youngsters of mixed descent testified how they were painfully unable to talk with their unwilling white parent and wider white family circle about their experiences with racism; they were not supported, and their experiences ignored or denied.7

As some white partners confessed, the murder of George Floyd and the BLM protests that followed served as a wake-up call. While they had either ignored or denied the existence of institutional systemic racism before, they felt they could no longer do so and had to speak up, especially those who were parents of mixed-race children.8 It seems that white partners speaking up is one of the reasons why mixed couples have become visible in the BLM debate. However, there are also those who did this before BLM, such as Dutch Minister Sigrid Kaag, who is a white Dutch woman married to a Palestinian husband.9

With regards to mixed couples and the BLM debate, the black partners were less present, and if they were, this was almost always as part of a couple rather than alone. An exception was the essay in the Dutch magazine Oneworld by Valerie Ntinu who explained why, as a black woman in a mixed relationship, she valued the negative reactions towards her white partner by black family and friends differently than negative reactions by white family and friends, because the former came from their experiences with racism.10 In the Dutch and Belgian context, black women who intervened in the debate could count on negative or even aggressive reactions from largely white audiences. This happened to Peggy Bouva who in a podcast on the enslavement of her ancestors in Surinam, together with journalist Maartje Duin expressed doubt whether she would be happy with her daughter entering a mixed relationship with a white partner.11 Her opinion was considered ‘reverse racism’ (racism from black to white). This label, however, flagrantly denies the experiences that she retold: Peggy had interracial couples in her family of which the white partner denied the existence of racism. Sabrine Ingabire who said in an interview to no longer want to date white men, had done so in the past, but got fed up with their racist comments on her looks and sexuality.12 The testimonies of these women were unwelcome because they disturbed the myth of colour-blindness that mixed relationships are supposed to exemplify to a liberal white audience.


The need for black-white couples to talk about racism together

Most media reports mixed couples and families’ experiences with racism and the need to talk about racism within mixed families; between the partners and between parents and children. In one such article, actress Tika Sumpter of the TV-series “Black-ish” called on other black women in mixed families to talk about racism with their white partners:

Dear Black interracial couples with a significant other who is White (raises hand),” she said. “We DO NOT need to protect them. I promise, they will be A. OK. They need to continue to fight for us. If they get offended when you talk about racists. You have a bigger problem on your hands.13

These articles do not start from color-blindness, but on the contrary stressed that being non-racist is not the same as anti-racist.14

Most interviews were with parents talking about the racism that their children experienced and how they dealt with it as a couple. Having “The Talk” (preparing the children how to respond to racism they would experience as they grew older), is well-known in the US but not in the European context, Now,  “The Talk” occurred across Europe, marking the shift from a culturalist to an anti-racism discourse.15


Young people of mixed descent

Young people of mixed descent were represented as feeling a need to position themselves within the BLM debate. Some were wondering whether they could speak up at all about racism, as they felt they were considered ‘not black enough’.16 An image circulated on social media saying: Mixed black folks. You have the right to speak out about black issues because you are black.

For others, the BLM movement also served as a wake-up call. In the Netherlands Johan Fretz, a publicist and comedian of mixed Surinamese-Dutch descent, drew considerable attention with an essay in which he admitted that he used to ignore racism, but now realised that he could no longer do so; he vowed never to be silent again.17 His essay was widely shared on social media and considered honest and brave.18

In other stories, the intergenerational aspect comes forward, of youngsters of mixed descent acknowledging the racism that their black parent must have experienced their whole life, even if they hardly ever talked about it. Such news reports reflected on the different ways of addressing racism across generations.19


Concluding remarks 

In the months in which the BLM debate was at its height, mixed families and couples were more present in the media than in decades before and outspoken about racism. For the European context, this signifies an important shift from a culturalist discourse about mixed relationships to a discourse about anti-racism. However, at times, the presence of mixed couples was used to confirm the dominant discourses on ‘color-blind’ futures and of building ‘bridges’, Other media representations deviated from this dominant discourse and challenged it as a myth, by emphasizing systemic racism.

The observation that the white partners of mixed couples were most prominent raises questions about whose voices are being heard. This is all the more important as black women who questioned the image of mixed couples as racism-free zones received negative and aggressive reactions. It demonstrates that continued critical intervention by members of mixed families is needed to contribute to the much needed debate on their position in the BLM and anti-racism struggle.

Mixed (race) couples through the Brexit looking glass

Mixed (race) couples through the Brexit looking glass1

by Elena Zambelli, Euromix Post-doctoral Researcher, 21 September 2020

Does race2 affect how people perceive the impact of Brexit on their everyday lives? And if does, where is this difference discernible, and what does it say about perceptions of belonging to the place which is, or becomes, home? Briefly, my research shows that race does indeed shape how people perceive the impact of this political decision on their lives, and their narratives reveal the workings of political affectivities sedimented through centuries of European and British colonial and imperial history.

Over the past three years, I’ve been conducting ethnographic research on the role of law in reproducing racialized hierarchies of power between and amongst citizens and migrants in Europe, and specifically in different urban sites across the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. Each of these countries shares a history of colonial domination of different parts of the globe, and involvement in the trade of enslaved people (albeit across different routes); in recent years, they’ve all adopted increasingly restrictive migration policies, within a political context largely dominated by right-wing political formations holding hostile views towards migrants and asylum seekers. Against these shared historical traits, each country’s colonial and imperial history is specific, inasmuch as specific are the forms in which race gets to be politicized (or not) in public debates.

Brixton Road, London, April 2019.

In the UK, the decision to withdraw its membership from the EU (i.e. ‘Brexit’) has been deeply influenced by the wish to ‘take back control’ of the country’s frontiers – a desire that some scholars have interpreted as an expression of a peculiar, ‘postcolonial melancholia’3 for Britain’s lost imperial prestige and power. At the institutional level, this popular decision has been particularly thorny to deal with, opening a long period of political uncertainty which, at the time of writing, has not been entirely solved yet.4 Amidst massive street and online protests against the departure from the EU, and reports of intimidation, abuse and violence against MPs over their handling of Brexit,5 violence against EU citizens, and British and migrant people who are classified and/or identify as Black or as People of Colour (PoC) escalated.6 It is during this time that I undertook fieldwork in England, mostly in the South East and London regions, and in some major cities in the South West (Bristol) and North (Liverpool, Manchester).

In my research, I’ve been exploring the racialised workings of the law by looking at the everyday experiences of ‘mixed (race) couples’ – i.e. couples constituted by partners whose bodies, heritage and/or nationality are socially ascribed to supposedly distinct ‘racial’ categories. More narrowly, I’ve focused on mixed (race) couples consisting of a partner ascribed to ‘whiteness’ and one to ‘blackness’. Interviews with them have always begun with questions on whether and how they related to the ‘mixed’ and ‘interracial’ couple labels. Subsequently, they’ve been invited to share their couple experiences in different domains – relations with kin and friends, pathways to living together (particularly if this entailed the migration of one of them), neighbourhood and school choice, mobility and safety; and to reflect on whether and how they considered that race had affected these experiences in some ways. I’ve also always included context-specific questions; in England, these concerned the impact of Brexit on their lives. To my surprise, few talked at length about the latter issue. Possibly, such brief commentaries reflected what journalists epitomized as ‘Brexit fatigue’ – a form of saturation with the dragging political debate over how to deal with the poll’s results. However, when partners did speak about it, they did so in diverging ways, expressing – as I contend – their differently racialized socialization and positionality.

White British and EU nationals associated Brexit with the anticipated loss of the freedom of movement ensuing from possession of EU citizenship. For the first, this amounted to losing the possibility to move in and across the EU at will; for the latter, it constituted a challenge to their permanence in the UK. For both, Brexit appeared to represent a radical rupture with the unrestrained mobility in space and permanence in place which they had been enjoying in virtue of their race and nationality. For British and migrant Black and mixed-race partners, however, Brexit was in itself a largely ordinary event; a cyclical manifestation of the structural racism permeating the UK state and society. Hence, even if at the core of the xenophobic rhetoric underpinning part of the pro-Brexit camp stood a largely white group of European immigrants, they recounted feeling challenged again in their right to feel at home in the UK.

In couples constituted by at least a first-generation migrant, this different perception of the meaning and impact of Brexit mapped onto attitudes towards the reliability of the documents supposedly enshrining their right to stay in the UK after Brexit (e.g. British citizenship; Permanent Residence Certificate). Whereas white partners largely looked at these papers as a property which, once acquired, would be inalienable, Black and mixed-race partners were far more uncertain about their long-term validity – a perception that the ramming ‘Windrush scandal’7 could not but exacerbate.

Finally, for partners in same sex mixed (race) couples, post-Brexit UK was associated with the risk of exacerbating homophobia and misogyny typically characterizing ethno-nationalist political projects. For Black and mixed-race partners, however, this anticipated danger was compounded by the racisms they had been, and still were, incessantly exposed to.

These observations do not have the ambition to portray an average mixed (race) couple’s perception of the effects of Brexit neither on its present life, nor on its orientation towards the future. What they can provide, is rather a glimpse of how partners’ differently racialized socialization and positionality can be revealed by looking at how they engage with contemporary political events, in the relentless shadow of colonial and imperial relations of power sedimented in history. Future research will possibly explore whether the differences here foregrounded will bear an impact on couples’ more or less constrained choice of where to make, and feel at home.

Tearing Down Statues in Italy and the Public Debate on the Country’s Colonial Past

leggi in italiano

by Andrea Tarchi, Euromix PhD Researcher, 17 July 2020

Indro Montanelli in Ethiopia in 1936.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, by the hands of the police, has sparked a wave of transnational protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests, which initially targeted the systems of racial inequality and police brutality specific to the USA, soon crossed the Atlantic and found their articulation in the European context. While the protests primarily addressed the contemporary structural racialized inequalities that find their roots in Europe’s colonial history, they also targeted a specific symbolic field. In particular, they focused on the statues that still value and celebrate individuals who have played a vital role in the institution and proliferation of the slave trade and colonial economies. This is not the first time that statues have come under attack by protesters – the most famous case being the Rhodes Must Fall movement that sparked in 2015.1 The difference is that now statues are being taken down, as exemplified by the now-famous case of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.2 This wave of protests against symbols of colonialism and slavery reached Italy as well, specifically targeting the statue of a famous Italian journalist, Indro Montanelli, who engaged in a concubinage relationship with an Eritrean minor during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. Montanelli’s story, as much as the narrative behind his statue and the protests that it ignited, represent an extremely telling cross-section of Italian society and its relationship with its colonial past.  In light of the worldwide call for racial justice that followed the killing of George Floyd, Italy’s public debate on the statue of Montanelli sheds light on the lack of the country’s self-reflection on its colonial past and the effects it still has on its contemporary systemic inequalities.

Colonial Concubinage: The Symbol of Colonialism’s Intersectional Violence

During colonialism, white upper-class military officers and colonial officials often engaged in sexual relationships with racialized women in the colonies, in a practice that was widely endorsed for centuries as a means to provide affluent white men away from home with a sexual outlet more dignified than prostitution. As the practice was so exemplificative of the racial, gendered, and class-based power relations inherent to colonial settings, it was widespread throughout colonies on different continents and at different times. The cases of concubinage studied in the contexts of Spanish (McKinley 2014), Dutch (Ming 1983, Stoler 2002), and English (Ballhatchet 1980, Hyam 1986) colonies are just some examples of the research that testifies to how diffuse the practice was. The Italian colonies made no exception, as attested by the research conducted by Sòrgoni (1998) and Barrera (2002) on the specific form of concubinage between Italian officers and Eritrean women known as madamato. As for the other colonial contexts, mixed relationships of concubinage were endorsed by Italian colonial administrators, who often pushed army officers to take a local woman as a concubine as a means of sexual and domestic comfort.

One of such officers deployed in Eastern Africa during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935-1937) was Indro Montanelli, a Tuscan officer who eventually went on to become one of the most celebrated journalists in Italian history. The then-24-year-old lieutenant was instructed by his superior to “lease”3 from her parents a 12-year-old Bilen child named Fatima (but renamed by Montanelli himself Destà) as a concubine. After rising to fame in post-Fascist Republican Italy, Montanelli reminisced about his concubine on multiple occasions without disowning his behavior as a white male colonizer toward his racialized concubine. In one occasion, when asked by a television host, he boasted in derogatory terms about “having chosen a pretty plaything,”4 while in an advice column he later characterized his critics as “imbeciles, for not recognizing that a girl in tropical countries at fourteen is already a woman, and after twenty she is an old hag.”5 Unsurprisingly, these statements provoked criticism from activists and intellectuals alike, with the event being broadly considered in the Italian media discourse as a stain in the career of a brilliant man. This stain, however, did not stop the municipality of Milan from erecting a statue in his honor in the historical center of the city in 2002, one year after the journalist’s death.

Predictably, the statue has created plenty of criticism from various feminist, LGBT+, and anti-racist activist associations throughout the years, given the journalist unapologetically blunt recounts of his sexual relationship with the Eritrean child. Such criticism sharply resurfaced on June 13, 2020, as part of the worldwide protests ignited by the killing of George Floyd. The statue was ‘vandalized’: at its base, a group of students who claimed the action, wrote ‘racist, rapist’ (razzista, stupratore), and they covered it with red paint. In a video they subsequently published, they asked for the ‘knocking down’ (abbattimento) of the statue.6 Protesters identified the statue of Montanelli as the celebration of an individual who unapologetically exploited and exerted sexual colonial violence on a racialized child. As for the statues in Bristol and the USA, Montanelli’s statue represents a symbol of the racist and patriarchal legacies of colonialism in the eyes of the protesters.

Why It Still Matters: the Italian Public Debate on the Memory of Colonialism

The activists’ action prompted a public debate on the value of the statue and of the journalist himself. Defenders of the value of the man which the statue celebrated mainly make use of an old argument that researchers of Italian colonialism know very well. Such an argument revolves around the minimization of the link that binds contemporary Italian society to its colonial past. In this case, its declination conveys a normalization of the practice of concubinage during colonialism, which was encouraged by colonial administrators. Along these lines, Marco Travaglio, an influential contemporary journalist, argued that Montanelli was “a son of his time” and that it is wrong “to judge historical events with eyes belonging to many decades later.”7 Another first-rate columnist such as Beppe Severgnini weighed in to underline how “that story – not exemplary, of course – does not represent the man, the journalist, the things he believed in and fought for.”8 The protest was short-lived, and it has never reached the critical mass required for toppling the statue. Similarly, the public debate around the value of the statue and its historical meaning for our society died away in a matter of weeks. However, both the protest and the debate that it ignited highlights the still relevant disconnect between Italy’s colonial past and its contemporary society.

On the one hand, the protest in itself is telling of the quality of Italy’s public discourse over its colonial past and postcolonial present. The target of the Italian activists’ iconoclastic fury has not been as one would expect: figures such as Benito Mussolini, for its colonial and imperial politics and the issuing of racial laws, or even lesser figures of the Fascist party such as war criminal Rodolfo Graziani, the architect of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Libyans and Ethiopians (Del Boca, 2005), have not been touched by the protest. It has been said that Italy is littered with Fascist monuments, which make it daunting to address them, or even, that they are so ‘fused’ with the context that they have become almost normalized, invisible.9 On the other hand, the public debate exemplified by the two cited articles consolidates the reality of detachment of today’s Italy from its past horrors. In his defenders’ view, what Montanelli did before he became what he was famous for, the racist acts that he committed at a historical moment when they were socially acceptable, should not tarnish the public’s view of him. The absorption of a part of Italy’s Fascist past, such as its infrastructure and public welfare legacies on one side, and the collective removal of its horrors on the other, are part of the same removal of the Fascist and colonial memory from the Italian public discourse. As written by the first Italian postcolonial scholar, Angelo del Boca, racism in Italy is “a product of the total denial of colonial atrocities, the lack of debate on colonialism, and the survival, in the collective imaginary, of convictions and theories of justification” (Del Boca 2003, 34).

The lack of public debate on Italian colonialism and its legacy is continuously expressed in the material and discursive systems of power that reproduce the hierarchies and meanings of patriarchy and white supremacy. Moreover, it links such systems of power to what Lombardi-Diop called “the nonraciality of postcolonial Italy” (Lombardi-Diop 2012, 176), according to which Italians see themselves as “racially unmarked” and are therefore seldom aware of their racial privilege vis-à-vis racialized people. Within this context, the matter concerning Montanelli and its statue is telling on multiple levels. While it underscores the “colonial aphasia”10 (Stoler 2011) of Italian society and its inability to weigh its colonial past appropriately, it also underlines just how much Italian society has incorporated colonialism’s legacy within its contemporary power structures. On another level, the temporary relevance of the protest that stands like an island of self-awareness in an ocean of silence and denial reveals the infertility of the Italian public debate with regards to its racist past and present. The story of Montanelli and Fatima, although exemplificative of the intersectional axes of oppression of colonialism and its contemporary legacy, cannot be the only point of public discussion in society that still regards its colonial past as marginal. A broader debate, in which Italy’s colonial history is put at the forefront of the analysis of the intersectional axes of oppression that still haunt Italian society, was and still is sorely needed.



Ballhatchet, Kenneth. Race, Sex, and Class Under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and Their Critics, 1793-1905. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980.

Barrera, Giulia. “Colonial Affairs: Italian Men, Eritrean Women, and the Construction of Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Eritrea (1885-1941).” Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University (Evansville, Ill.), 2002.

Del Boca, Angelo. 2003. “The Myths, Suppressions, Denials, and Defaults of Italian Colonialism.” A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present, edited by Patrizia Palumbo, 17-36. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Del Boca, Angelo. Italiani, brava gente?. Vicenza: Neri Pozza Editore, 2011.

Hyam, Robert. “Concubinage and the Colonial Service: The Crewe Circular (1909). The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 14(3), (1986): 170–186.

Lombardi-Diop, Cristina. 2012. “Postracial/Postcolonial Italy.” In Postcolonial Italy, edited by Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Caterina Romeo, 175-190. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McKinley, Michelle A. “Illicit Intimacies: Virtuous Concubinage in Colonial Lima.” Journal of Family History 39, no. 3 (July 2014): 204–21.

Ming, Hanneke. “Barracks-Concubinage in the Indies, 1887-1920.” Indonesia, no. 35 (1983): 65-94

Sòrgoni, Barbara. Parole e corpi: antropologia, discorso giuridico e politiche sessuali interrazziali nella colonia Eritrea: 1890-1941. Napoli, Edizioni scientifiche Italiane, 1998.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. (University of California Press, 2002), 44-45.

Stoler, Ann Laura. “Colonial Aphasia: Race and Disabled Histories in France.” In Public Culture 23, no. 1 (2011): 121-156.

‘Metissage’: understanding racialisation in the history of regulating ‘mixture’ in France

lire en français

By Rébecca Franco, Euromix PhD Researcher, 15 April 2019

Poster from 1968 promoting anti-racism and solidarity with immigrant workers

Since the 1990s, ‘métissage’ [mixture] is often used in French public and political discourse as the ultimate end and means of the post-racial dream.1 Métissage is a specifically French concept that is invoked to talk about the cultural and ‘ethnic’/‘racial’ mixing that is indicative of the integration of different (non-white) groups in the French national identity. At the same time, however, the French political and social dialogue is filled with concerns about the descendants of (post)colonial migrants, especially about the residents living in the marginalised suburbs known as the ‘banlieues’. These citizens have made political claims to redress racialized inequality. However, they have faced rejection by the government based on the argument that this reinforces particularistic notions of identity, which is in the French tradition of universal Republicanism seen as ‘unfrench’.

So what is going on here? In the country of ‘liberté, egalité et fraternité’, everyone is supposed to be equal.  So, racialized inequality is not seen as a valid basis of political claim-making. And yet, the descendants of the people whose labour and resources helped build the country are marginalised on the basis of racialized logics. Freedom is circumscribed, equality differentiated, and brotherhood conditional.

In this blog, I will go into the difficulties of understanding and talking about the role of ‘race’ and processes of racialisation in France. Through this, I explain and motivate my research on the regulation of ‘mixture’ at a time in which many (post)colonial immigrants moved into France.

The banlieue

Let us first turn to the current situation of the descendants of postcolonial immigrants in France so to comprehend what is at stake. According to the decolonial intellectual Mbembe, the French state has refused to address the issue of ‘race’, while simultaneously engaging in practices of racialisation at multiple levels of society.2 This becomes apparent in the issues surrounding the ‘banlieues’. The French marginalised suburbs are heavily populated by French citizens of African descent: some first generation, but many residents have been in France for multiple generations. The ‘banlieusard’ [the residents of the banlieue] is seen as ‘savage’ in the same way as was done in the colonies.3 They are often cast aside as threats to the nation, as foreigners – although they are French citizens.

The residents of these urban zones have challenged amongst others racism, spatial marginality, racialized police brutality, and lack of opportunities,4 as they fight for a place in postcolonial France.5 Fed up with the marginalisation their (grand-)parents have had to deal with, they struggle for recognition, dignity, and equality.

On the side of the state and ‘mainstream’ media, however, the banlieues are represented and discussed as a hotbed of crime, despair, and unrest. The problems in the banlieues are more often discussed as proxy of the problem of ‘immigrants’ than to address issues of residents. Accordingly, the urban zones are problematized as threats to national security, and policies have mostly revolved around repression rather than solutions.6 In response to the formations of group identities, government is concerned with what they call ‘communautarisme’ [pejorative term for ‘segregation’ based on group identity], as the residents are accused of refusing to integrate.7

Negating ‘race’

The French authorities and politicians often use this rejection of communautarisme as an argument to negate the particular experiences of marginalisation based on markers of identification, such as ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’. Whereas the term only really gained currency in the 1990s – as the ‘dangerous’ alternative to métissage – it is today vilified for testifying as the rejection of French universalism.  In this same vein, ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’ is not a legal category nor included in the census in France. The argument is based in the French Republican idea that universalism and equality are the integral tenants of French society.8

In an op-ed in response to the referendum in Switzerland on the banning of minarets in the newspaper ‘Le Monde’, the then-president Sarkozy asserted: ‘National identity is the antidote to tribalism and communautarisme. […] Métissage is the willingness to live together. Communautarisme is the choice to live separately.’9 Whereas communautarisme is rejected, métissage is promoted as proof of French universalism. Through this, métissage indicates tolerance (on the side of the state/French society), while communautarisme indicates intolerance (on the side of the ‘other’). In both concepts, however, the historical dynamics of power, are negated, and so through this discourse the French state becomes absolved of responsibility.

The rejection of specific markers of identification, such as race, as a category of analysis, solidarity and political claim-making, then, becomes hazardous if we consider the ways in which they have played an essential role in the making of modern France. Accordingly, the politics of ‘colour-blindness’ has been criticized for negating the historical, institutional, and structural inequalities based on such markers of identification.10

So, how can we try to understand the processes of racialisation in the French context?

Researching race and mixture

The difficulties in understanding and researching racialisation in general, and France in particular, lies in the flexibility of the concept of ‘race’ itself. Stuart Hall has argued how ‘race’ is a floating signifier, as it has disparate meanings that can be activated in specific contexts. Similarly, ‘race’ can operate under covert signifiers that invoke ideas of race without enunciating them. Covert racialisation is not limited to the French context by any means. However, the French context in which the official narrative of France is that is has never ‘done’ race because of its investment in universalism, makes it ever the more important to consider the flexibility of race.

Critics of the French narrative of their exceptional equality and universalism have argued that ‘inassimilability’ was used as a covert for exclusion on ‘racial’ terms. This played a role under colonialism: subjects could in theory become citizens, if they were ‘evolved’ enough, spoke perfect French, and acted like ‘real Frenchmen’. In reality, this was close to impossible.11 In this way, difference is evaluated against the universality of France.

In other words: France is seen as universal perfection. Everybody is equal, except if you cannot adhere to that French perfection: then, you are ‘inassimilable’, different, unequal (and can be colonized).

In this light, the (renewed) interest in métissage as a marker of integration and the goal of post-raciality warrants a closer examination. In French, unlike the English terms ‘miscegenation’ and ‘hybridity’, the notion of métissage indicates both ‘racial’/’ethnic’ mixture as cultural meanings of mixture (unsurprisingly, given the historical connection between assimilability in cultural terms and racialized exclusion). Whereas mixed couples are seen as a measure of integration, the concept métissage itself does not explicitly talk about race as it is made devoid of its biological meaning in today’s context.

Still, the regulation of ‘mixture’ and mixed relationships have played a central role in the creation of identities and in ordering society along these identities. ‘Mixture’ presupposes the existence of two different parts. So, the way in which ‘mixture’ of people is regulated can help show how boundaries are created and enforced. The regulation of ‘mixture’ as a way to create and regulate the native and the foreign, white and non-white, colonizer and colonized, has a long history. Reading this history back into its contemporary use can help understand why and how the investment in color blindness negates the state’s responsibility in racialized regulation of belonging.

History of ‘mixture’

Several scholars have looked at the ways in which mixture was regulated at different moments in French history across the French colonial field. In colonial times, the authorities promoted ‘mixed’ relationships when it was seen as a practical solution to men’s desire, but it became mostly vilified when scientific racism became popular at end of the 19th century.12 ‘Mixed race’ children (metis) were seen by the authorities as unrooted and problematic, as the fear for a ‘monstrous metis’ as a rootless danger was perpetuated through art and literature. Interestingly, a decree in the 1930s for ‘metis’ in the colonies made ‘mixed race’ a condition to obtain French citizenship through that decree.13 This illustrates how the regulation of ‘mixture’ reveals the underlying racial logics of otherwise universalist jurisdiction (at least on paper). At the same time in the metropole, immigration was promoted only insofar as immigrants were deemed assimilable to the French in terms of having families with the French population.14

Just before independence in West Africa, Leopold Senghor, a Senegalese intellectual and later first president, used the concept of métissage to advocate for cultural hybridity as an alternative to nationalism. For multiple reasons that essentially revolved around the French government’s rejection of an equal federation with African states, the notion of métissage lost currency over the course of decolonization of West Africa.15

In France, research and discussion on ‘mixture’ only pops up again in the 1980s/1990s. These works and political discussions discuss the meaning of mixture in terms of integration of second-generation immigrants. Besides, the fear for ‘mariages blanc’ [white marriages, i.e. sham marriage for documents] made mixed (nationality) families and couples hypervisible.

Generally, regulatory practices and discourses depended on the specific ‘needs’ of the different authorities at that moment in time and space, which were not always cohesive. Tracing the histories of the regulation of ‘mixture’ shows a fragmented field of anxieties, regulations, and governmental practices that crafted, protected, and contested racialized categories and belonging. The discourse about métissage today, thus, is a continuation of the uncomfortable history, rather than a break from it.

There is, however, little literature and attention the regulation of ‘mixture’ in the period between WWII and the 1980s. During the 30 years of the trentes glorieuses (1945-1975), France underwent massive change. It transformed from an Empire to a modern European nation-state (although they still had and still have foreign territories). At the same time, many Northern Africans and Sub Saharan Africans moved into the French metropole, as they transformed from colonial subjects, to differentiated citizens, to postcolonial immigrants. Whereas this period is remembered as a time of open immigration, the regulation of immigration and belonging is more complex and fragmented. During this period, the postcolonial borders of contemporary France were crafted. Research into the regulation of mixture during this time can help understand how racialisation played a role. Accordingly, it can contribute to a more critical understanding of the contemporary discussion on métissage, communautarisme, and belonging of the descendants of postcolonial immigrants.


If today métissage is seen as an unproblematic solution, then political claims based on racialisation are rejected and the responsibility of the state is negated. Since talking about ‘race’ is seen as ‘unfrench’, and therefore explicit measures to tackle the issue of racism is seen as ‘unfrench’, then perhaps we need to open up the narrow way in which the role of ‘race’ and racialisation in French history today is remembered and understood.

Research on the historical regulation of ‘mixture’ is a fruitful line of inquiry because it can help reveal how the boundaries have been created, maintained and contested. Reading the history of the regulation of ‘mixture’ back in to today’s discussions can help understand the false dichotomy between métissage and communautarisme, as processes of racialisation become apparent.

An Exceptional Marriage Upsetting Colonial Orders?

lees in het Nederlands

by Betty de Hart, Euromix Principal Investigator, 11 October 2018

In the late nineteenth century, on 22 January 1889, Oei Jan Lee married Christina van Wijk in Leiden, a university town in the Netherlands. Oei Jan Lee, or as he wanted to be called, Johan Lee, was of Chinese descent, born in the Dutch East Indies (nowadays Indonesia) and his wife Christina was a Dutch white woman, born in the Netherlands. Johan Lee had studied law at Leiden university and in 1889, he obtained his PhD on the topic of Responsibility of the vendor for hidden defects of the good.1 The couple had met through her father, who was a teacher, where Johan Lee had been staying. After the marriage, they had a short announcement in the local newspaper to thank for the interest in their marriage, as was common usage for couples of their class.

Their marriage was considered a ‘mixed’ one. This is the popular term for what was an interraacialised marriage: between partners of two groups that were considered distinct, racialized groups by society, at this particular time and place. The term interracialized points to the constructed, arbitrary nature of references to these relationships and their offspring, and explicitly departs from assigning essentialist status to them.2

No respect for the ‘white race’

Their marriage drew considerable media attention in the metropole as well as in the Dutch East Indies. The colonial press was especially interested because the couple was expected to establish their life there. Such a marriage between a woman who  was considered ‘European’ and a man who, as a Chinese, was categorised as a ‘foreign oriental’ was not only perceived as rare and remarkable, but also as a threat to the colonial racial and legal order. This is what the colonial Bataviaansch Nieuwsblad  wrote about the marriage, blaming Christina’s father:

[Because] a small burger in the Netherlands by marrying off his daughter shows to have thrown away all respect for his religion, for the white race and the nation and the family, to which he belongs (,..).3

Source: Bataviaans Nieuwsblad, 9 March 1889. Commenting how Christina’s father lost respect for his religion, ‘white race’ etc. 

This news report shows how this interracialized marriage of an individual couple was seen as a matter of general interest: endangering religion, the ‘white race’ and the people; it was seen as degrading all of them. It was also common discourse at the time that such a marriage was not seen as a matter of choice by the white woman herself, but rather something that happened to her, because she was naive, was chosen, or, in this case, ‘married off’.4

The excerpt cited here was a response to an earlier commentary by translator of the Chinese language P. Meeter in the Javabode, who welcomed the marriage as proof that Chinese ‘did not fall back to the same level as the natives’, as some had alleged. Under the heading ‘European or Chinese?’, Meeter described Johan Lee in a positive light; not only had Lee married a ‘Dutch lady’, he had studied law, and had applied for naturalisation.5

Although this may sound positive, Meeter believed in a racial hierarchy with the ‘natives’ at the bottom of this hierarchy. He also used racial language in linking the topic of Lee’s dissertation to his ‘Mongolian descent’. This fits with the negative colonial discourses on the Chinese community in which they were depicted as money brokers exploiting the weaker ‘natives’.

The Dutch East Indies had a racial hierarchal order inscribed in law. In 1848 article 109 of the Government Regulation for the Dutch East Indies introduced a legal distinction between ‘Europeans and their equals’ (Europeans, Christians and all non-natives), and ‘natives and their equals’ (natives, Arabs, Moors, Chinese, Mohammedans and heathens).

Meeter addressed he question whether Oei should be considered ‘Chinese’ or ‘European’. Marrying a ‘Dutch lady’ or ‘a full-blooded Holland girl’ as some media called her 6 was not the only thing that Johan Lee had done to upset this colonial order; Lee claimed equal treatment as European in different ways.

The legal consequences of being Chinese  

Lee had already applied for Dutch citizenship in 1886, three years before his marriage, but the request was denied. The Director of Justice of the East Indies was of the opinion that although Lee’s naturalisation was legally possible, it went against the ‘spirit of the law’ to naturalize persons of a ‘completely different race’ and ‘completely different way of living’. A Chinese could never de facto become Dutch and it was in the interest of the colony to keep the different groups apart. The Minister of the Colonies J.P. Sprenger van Eyk (1884-1888)7 agreed that naturalization should be denied, because Lee would still retain the status of ‘foreign oriental’, and if not, naturalization would result in circumvention of the other procedure, the individual request for ‘equality to Europeans’.8  Hence, although the Netherlands government never had racial criteria inscribed in nationality law (as in the United States)9, they applied racial criteria in practice. Consequently, for Chinese, naturalization would remain problematic and an issue of political debate for a considerable period.10

In the colonial order, to be categorised as Chinese had distinct legal consequences. The Chinese had to live in separate living areas under supervision of Chinese leaders and only in exceptional cases could they live in areas designated to Europeans, or where the Indonesian population lived. In 1872, it was expressly forbidden to dress differently than what was considered to be according to the Chinese ‘landaard’ (‘national character’). Furthermore, an 1863 Act restricted mobility of the Chinese and ‘natives’ by an obligatory pass system. The rules to separate living quarters and the pass system remained in place until 1919. These rules demonstrate how blurred racial lines in the colony actually were; keeping the Chinese legally apart was a way to make racial distinctions be displayed openly and more distinct.11

Lee, however, did not obey these rules. For instance, in 1889, a few months after this marriage, newspapers reported that he had attended a session of a local court, ‘fully dressed as European’, and wondered how the colonial authorities would react to this violation of the dress code.12 He also converted to Christianity and that too was reported in the newspapers.13

Source: Algemeen Handelsblad, 21 April 1889. Reporting on Lee’s visit to the court ‘fully dressed as European’

Where did a mixed couple belong?

It can be assumed that these rules would also affect Lee’s wife Christina, although this was hardly mentioned. It raises the question where, as a mixed couple, they were allowed to live, and how Christina was supposed to dress. Meeter also wondered how the couple would be treated by the Indisch society, and how she would endure the whispering and giggling by ‘particular Indies ladies’ about their unusual union. He also indicated that, as a European woman, she would feel uncomfortable, if he would be obliged to dress as Chinese.

This implies that a European woman would only be interested in a man who looked European, in other words, who performed Europeanness, even if he wasn’t. The reference to particular ‘Indies ladies’ is a racialised and gendered discourse, which was well-understood as a reference to European women of mixed decent who were held responsible for prejudices in colonial society.14

Johan and Christina’s arrival must indeed have created quite a stir in the colony. One newspaper resisted a possible treatment as European, as Lee, in their opinion, was still young, and had done ‘nothing at all’ to serve the general interest. The report continued:

If it would be enough to master the Dutch language and complete an academic education in the metropole, this would be followed by countless requests by well-off Chinese.15

The author claimed it was not necessary to spell out the consequences, as they were clear to all those familiar with the colony, so it is believed that the government would refuse the request.

Finally European…

In 1891, two years after the marriage, Lee was granted equal treatment to Europeans.16 In 1892, he applied for Dutch citizenship once more. By then, he was an attorney at the Indisch Supreme Court. This time, his request was granted and the Director of Justice and the Council of the Indies advised positively. They concluded that he had ‘not fallen back’ to the Chinese way of living and customs, and considering his job, his marriage to a European woman, and his social position he could be considered European. Naturalization then, confirmed ‘the truth’ of what he was. Lee was naturalised by law of January 2nd 1893 (St. 1893 no. 9). Nevertheless, this was considered the exception that confirmed the rule, which remained that ‘foreign orientals’ could not naturalise. Naturalisation for Chinese remain problematic for years after Lee.17 In the end, although he did everything he could, it is questionable whether Lee upset the colonial order, especially because he remained the exception, with the colonial racial legal order firmly in place up till decolonization.

At some point, Johan and Christina returned to the Netherlands. Lee died in The Hague in 1918, Christina in 1941. Their life events no longer drew media attention. However, it is likely that their life as an interracialized family in The Hague will have been highly affected by the racialized discourses on the Chinese that travelled back and forth between the colonies and the metropole. Retelling their story, as far as possible based on the available sources, gives some insight in how they were affected, and how they responded.


How to cite this blog post (OSCOLA):

Betty de Hart, ‘An Exceptional Marriage Upsetting Colonial Orders?‘ (11 October 2018) <> accessed insert date.