The White Man's Burden and Brown Humanity: Colonialism and Ethnicity in British Malaya

In: Asian Journal of Social Science


Ethnicity is one of several boundary phenomena (another is class) marking out groups within society. Ethnic identity may be perceived according to a variety of terms such as race, culture, religion, language or according to the place of origin of the group's members. In the colonial context the most obvious boundary was between Europeans and non-Europeans. Cast into an alien environment, Europeans acquired a self-awareness and a corporate sense, and the first part of this paper deals with this colonial experience, including the alienation of the individual, the growth of white tribalism and the emergence of a colonial ideology which was partly common to the empire as a whole and partly peculiar to Malaya. I then turn to examine European perceptions of non-Europeans (especially Malays) and the way ethnic attitudes affected colonial administration. I conclude by briefly considering the British influence upon the Malay's image of themselves.

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