Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Crossing the Color Line
Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana

By Carina E. Ray

Winner of the 2016 American Historical Association’s Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history · Finalist for the 2016 Fage and Oliver Prize from the African Studies Association of the UK · Winner of the 2017 Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize

“A fascinating exploration of sex across the color line in colonial Ghana. This book is a brilliant addition to the literature on sex, gender and empire.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law, New York University

“In this creatively and brilliantly conceived book, Carina Ray uses the story of interracial sexual relationships between European men and African women in the Gold Coast and African men and European women in Britain as an entry point into a much broader history of racial and gender relations.…Crossing the Color Line is tier-one scholarship, capable of directing a new course in historical research on sex, gender, race, diaspora, empire and identity formation.”


Crossing the Color Line has already made its mark in African and African diaspora studies.…There can be no doubt that this is an important book.…Many authors claim to be bringing colony and metropole into a single analytical field, but few of them really succeed in highlighting transnational dynamics without forsaking detailed knowledge of social relations in specific times and places. Ray’s book is one of the successes.”


“A book that offers a rare glimpse into the intimate world of mixed race couples in colonial Africa....[Crossing the Color Line] is truly innovative. Whereas historians of the transatlantic slave trade had previously written about the instrumental nature of interracial marriages on the Gold Coast, Ray seeks out the forces of attraction, desire, and love that brought these men and women together, and goes further to demonstrate how ferociously they sought to maintain their unions, even in the face of humiliation and penury.”

Canadian Journal of African Studies

Interracial sex mattered to the British colonial state in West Africa. In Crossing the Color Line, Carina E. Ray goes beyond this fact to reveal how Ghanaians shaped and defined these powerfully charged relations. The interplay between African and European perspectives and practices, argues Ray, transformed these relationships into key sites for consolidating colonial rule and for contesting its hierarchies of power. With rigorous methodology and innovative analyses, Ray brings Ghana and Britain into a single analytic frame to show how intimate relations between black men and white women in the metropole became deeply entangled with those between black women and white men in the colony in ways that were profoundly consequential.

Based on rich archival evidence and original interviews, the book moves across different registers, shifting from the micropolitics of individual disciplinary cases brought against colonial officers who “kept” local women to transatlantic networks of family, empire, and anticolonial resistance. In this way, Ray cuts to the heart of how interracial sex became a source of colonial anxiety and nationalist agitation during the first half of the twentieth century.

Carina Ray is an associate professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis University. She is coeditor of Navigating African Maritime History and Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan and series editor for New African Histories.   More info →


Introduction and Table of Contents


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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: October 2015
14 illus. · 364 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: October 2015
14 illus. · 364 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: October 2015
14 illus. · 364 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Crossing the Color Line

“[A] brilliant exposition of the colonial and nationalist politics of interracial unions in the Gold Coast and the eastern Black Atlantic…Through incisive analysis and beautiful narrative detail, the book reminds us that, even more than ideology or material power, it was the intensely personal webs of social relations that structured the politics of colonialism and decolonization.”

Journal of Modern History

“There can be no doubt that this is an important book.… Many authors claim to be bringing colony and metropole into a single analytical field, but few of them really succeed in highlighting transnational dynamics without forsaking detailed knowledge of social relations in specific times and places. Ray’s book is one of the successes.”


“[Ray's] analysis of available records shocks and moves readers, offering delicately nuanced interpretations of the lives and relationships (not just sexual) of the men and women caught up in scandal. Indeed, few historians can match her skill in demonstrating the interplay between race, sexuality, and class.”

Journal of the History of Sexuality

“Employing interracial sex as a loom, Ray deftly weaves disparate threads into a compelling tapestry that displays the underlying tensions of empire hidden in sex across the color line. …This innovative study is accessible, deserves a wide readership, and is essential reading on race, sec, and colonial politics in Ghana and Britain.”

Journal of West African History

“This groundbreaking book has set new standards for understanding race, its implementation and its interpretation not only in Africa but also around the world.”

New Books Network

Crossing the Color Line uses a wide-angle lens to think broadly and adeptly about the fate of sexual liaisons against the backdrop of imperial change in the 20th century. Ray pays scrupulous attention to the embeddedness of sexual relations in local contexts through textured personal stories and fine-grained analyses of how race, gender, and class intertwined to produce both African agency and British unease. In the process, this book makes a persuasive case for the indispensability of interracial histories to any account of imperial power and anticolonial resistance.”

Antoinette Burton, author of The Trouble with Empire

“With Crossing the Color Line, Carina Ray has produced a leading work on the intricate interracial relationships in colonial Ghana. Her study builds on so far fragmented studies for the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, giving us a comprehensive understanding of the development of interracial relations during the height of colonialism in Ghana in the 20th century and beyond. Theoretically and methodologically, the book is of seminal importance for the study of the subject in general.”

Michel R. Doortmont, University of Groningen and African Studies Centre Leiden

“This is a smart, well-researched, and nuanced account of the politics of sexuality and race that animated the establishment and contestation of colonial rule in Ghana. Drawing from transnational scholarship on gender and colonialism, the book explains how anxieties about racial mixing remain fraught into the present.”

Durba Ghosh, author of Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire

“Carina Ray has produced an ambitious monograph about interracial relationships in the colonial period, transnational in its remit and based on vivid biographical examples and fascinating case studies… The originality of this book lies in its focus on the positive and intimate aspects of interracial sexual relationships during a time when, as Ray carefully documents, a fear of miscegenation took hold of the popular imperialist imagination.”

Stephanie Newell, author of The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa

“The account that Ray provides in Crossing the Color Line is a fine combination of both astonishing insights and disarming lucidity. That she opens up an entire new domain of historical analysis there is no doubt. This book will quickly be recognized as an agenda-setting work and will illuminate debates on race relations not just in Ghana and West Africa, but wherever such relations occurred in the British Empire.”

Ato Quayson, author of Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism

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