Confronting the "bulwark of white supremacy": the African American challenge to White Australia, 1941-1945

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African American interest and presence in Australia during the Pacific War was a significant if largely forgotten aspect of a conflict in which racial and colonial issues loomed large. Linking domestic and international manifestations of white supremacy, Black leaders compared Australian racism to segregationist practices in the American South and elsewhere. Arguing that the White Australia Policy contradicted the democratic principles for which the United States and its allies claimed to be fighting, they condemned Australia as a “bulwark of white supremacy.” Yet, the African American critique of White Australia was marked by contradictions, as Black Americans betrayed an underlying acceptance of many of the civilizationist assumptions embedded in European colonialism—including in Britain’s White dominions. By examining this neglected aspect of the twentieth-century transnational struggle against racism and colonialism and exploring the complex intersection of race, nationality, and class that shaped the struggle, this article develops our understandings of the emerging contest against white supremacy that was provoked by global war and the rising tide of anticolonialism that transformed the postwar world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-102
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of African American History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • African American History
  • world war -- 1939-1945
  • Australian history


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