The Burden of White Supremacy

Containing Asian Migration in the British Empire and the United States

By David C. Atkinson

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3027-4
    Published: January 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3026-7
    Published: January 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3028-1
    Published: October 2016

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

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

About the Author

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


The Burden of White Supremacy is a very well researched, lucidly written, and important work of scholarship that promises to play a significant role in advancing the emerging trend of exploring the intersection between immigration politics and diplomacy. It helps consolidate and enriches the literature on the 'white Pacific,' which is characterized by racialized settler-colonialism and interimperial interaction and competition. And, perhaps most importantly, it situates the United States’ story inside a broader Anglophone frame.”--Paul Kramer, Vanderbilt University

The Burden of White Supremacy is a remarkable piece of scholarship, as gracefully written as it is deeply researched and cogently argued. In exploring the anti-globalizing politics of whiteness, David Atkinson seamlessly weaves together several major interpretive threads--settler colonialism, American foreign relations, trans-imperial politics, race relations, immigration, and ethnicity--to create an original perspective that complicates and refines the transnational turn in historiography.”--Andrew Preston, Cambridge University