For generations of white colonists and western pioneers, whiteness was an organic symbol of racial, cultural, political, and economic dynamism, which entitled them to exclusive dominion over the Pacific Rim's temperate fringes. This dissertation reconstructs a resolutely archival history of colonial and American whiteness through the lens of anti-Asian immigration restriction, using the words and deeds of those who emphatically spoke the language of whiteness. It challenges one of the literature's core assumptions; that the expanding contours of whiteness largely alleviated social, political, and economic tensions, especially those wrought by immigration. Rather, this dissertation concludes that conceptions of whiteness could also generate more friction than harmony, especially in an international context. It focuses on the domestic, imperial, and international anxieties and tensions that accompanied the construction of anti-Asian immigration restriction regimes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.
Moreover, "The Burdens of Whiteness" is an emphatically international history. After all, anti-Asian immigration restriction directly concerned the imperial and diplomatic relations of Great Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, China, India, and Japan. What began as a predominately 'Chinese problem' slowly matured into a broader 'Asiatic' problem. By the end of the 1880s, colonial and American legislatures had largely succeeded in their efforts to restrict Chinese immigration. China's slowly decaying Qing dynasty could do little to prevent exclusion efforts in the dominions and the United States, but attempts to restrict Japanese and Indian immigration proved much more difficult and far more divisive. The tensions wrought by Japanese and Indian exclusion were profoundly multilateral; they not only undermined relations among Japan, India, and the white Pacific powers, but they also destabilized relations among the white Pacific powers themselves. This dissertation's central thesis posits that the fantasy of transnational whiteness was a discordant and divisive dynamic in Anglo-American-dominion relations. Ironically, I argue, the white man's burden was often whiteness itself.