Transpacific Brown

Christopher B. Patterson, The Social Justice Institute, University of British Columbia


Nation, Ethnicity, Intimacy, and Sexuality


In North America, “brown” often signifies racial groups who hail from the Global South, but who don’t fall under signs of blackness or Arabs: Latino/a/xs, Filipino/as, and South Asians (Sharma). At the same time, races seen as “yellow” or “white” were once conceived of as brown (Japanese, Koreans, Italians) and brownness has been a significant marker within communities-of-color (“brown” African Americans). Once we broach the confines of America and into Asia, entirely different racial formations emerge, wherein brownness plays a role: the “brownness” of mest+D20izo/as in the Philippines, the colour “brown” to signify Malays or Southeast Asians more generally, and American military operations that brought together “brown brothers.” How has brownness operated within the transpacific as a marker of particular bodies, and as metaphor? This presentation conceives of a transpacific brownness in relation to other forms of brown to produce a storied manifest for brown theory. By activating “the transpacific” as both the imperial relations among Asia, Oceania, and America, and as an epistemological paradigm that navigates the disciplinary logics produced through these encounters, I treat brownness in the transpacific to untangle a story of how some people in Asia went from resembling a wild and uncontainable threat to a form of brownness that became necessary for the reproduction of the global north. In other words, the story brownness tells is about how some people in Asia and Oceania were shaped as “domesticatable."

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