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“O Mother Race”: Race, Italian Colonialism and the Fight to Keep Ethiopia Independent

In 1896, after the Ethiopian victory over the Italian army at Adowa, the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote his “Ode to Ethiopia” and honored the greatness and power of the country’s maternal source through gender and race: “O Mother Race! to thee I bring / This pledge of faith unwavering. This tribute to thy glory,” he penned in that piece.1 Fifty years later, writer Ernest Hemingway, in his account of Italian soldiers in Ethiopia who were sent to avenge the Adowa loss, also inscribed motherhood with racialized meaning. Hemingway used maternal ties to call into question Italian fascist masculinity: “The principal expression that one recalls as hearing from the lips, mouths, or throats of wounded Italians was the words, ‘Mamma mia! Oh mamma mia!’…There can only be a certain amount of mamma mi a-ing in an army and have that army hold together and Mussolini is to be congratulated on keeping it one sided.”2 Whereas Dunbar celebrated motherhood’s power, Hemingway caricatured mother-son bonds to infantilize and emasculate. Both writers trusted that their audience would be able to read gender and race metaphors as intertwined. How did race and gender shape the relationship between Italy and Ethiopia during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict? What do the global reactions to the Italo-Ethiopian conflict reveal about the ways that racism and misogyny seeped into the struggle against colonialism and fascism? How did the movement to keep Ethiopia independent incorporate, as well as circumvent, racial and gender discourse as it resisted Italian imperialism?

This article examines racialized and gendered anticolonial and antifascist subjectivities during the period of the Italo-Ethiopian war and Italian colonial occupation of Ethiopia during the 1930s. I show that, as they built the movement against Italian colonial expansion, activists complicated the familiar dualisms of “self” and “Other” that were fundamental to racialized and gendered tropes. New identity constructions were based on interactions between western and non-western activists, including Ethiopian resistance fighters and members of the antifascist diaspora that emerged between the World Wars. Western activists rethought generalizations of the non-western Other and reconstructed their own identifications accordingly. The white “self” was still part of the paradigm, but who fit into this “self” transformed. Shifts in racial discourse and understanding were strategic. They fit into a dynamic intellectual climate and a volatile political moment. At the same time that anticolonialists and antifascists reevaluated and retooled racial language, their enemies were doing the same. Each side’s racial typology was infused with gendered meaning; race and gender always intersected, but their entanglement changed over time.

By the 1930s, and during the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, Mussolini’s race thinking was based on an orientalism that stemmed back to the nineteenth century. Il Duce demanded that Italy embrace two “Oriental” groups that had—up to that point—been seen as a problem for the nation of Italy: southern Italians from the Mezzogiorno and Muslim populations in the empire.3 The former group, many nationalists thought, had threatened the wholeness of the nation internally. The latter population served as a looming threat to Italy’s imperial ambitions and colonial expansion. The notion of “one Italy” had been part of fascist discourse and hypernationalist rhetoric from the regime’s founding in the 1920s. Its roots were a deep part of Italian history.

In the case of the southern problem, or what Antonio Gramsci termed the “southern question,” Il Duce tried to erase the legacy of oriental difference which had been laid on those from the south since the early days of the Italian unification movement.4 The Kingdom of Italy was created in 1861.5 The Risorgimento was complete when, in 1871, Italian troops occupied Rome, the place Giuseppe Mazzini (and Mussolini) defined as Italy’s center. With Rome named the capital of the country, unification was complete, at least territorially.6 It took decades and continents to win hearts and minds. “To make an Italy out of Italians one must not be in a hurry,” said Massimo d’Aziglio.7 Italian identity, which had to do with both time and space, emerged out of many regionalisms and a mass exodus of people who found more in common with one another outside of their homeland than within its borders.8

Mussolini pedaled the idea that Italian-ness was also sharpened through empire. By the 1930s, he declared that the “southern question” was solved. Ethiopians, not southerners, in their ongoing guerrilla assaults, were threatening the greatness of the Italian nation. The Fascists used the religious differences in Ethiopia to try to divide the resistance to occupation. Thus, the different solution to the second oriental problem. Mussolini vowed to protect Muslims in the colonial territory. He promised that there was a space for them in the Italian empire, unlike in the Ethiopian state which had been ruled by Haile Selassie and dominated by Orthodox Christians. This attempt to woo Muslims to support Italians in Ethiopia stood in stark contrast to other colonial regimes.9 The Italo-Ethiopian war and occupation was a watershed moment for race relations in the everyday lives of people enduring the violence in Ethiopia, and those outside of it. The decade-long crisis in the 1930s magnified the convoluted ways that westerners and their allies, from the nineteenth century on, had rationalized imperial domination in Africa and used racism to do so.10 Mussolini’s regime relied on familiar tropes to racialize and degrade Ethiopians to justify the military offensive. As I show in this article, Ethiopian nationalists, followed by British, American, and European allies, countered these claims by highlighting similarities between Ethiopians and Europeans through culture, politics, religion, gender, and race. I argue that this required playing into a racialized discourse that conglomerated European identity and separated out Ethiopians from other Africans. In turn, African diaspora activists embraced bonds of blackness as central to Ethiopia’s power, as exemplified in Dunbar’s poem, and as a rallying cry against the Italian invasion and occupation. These vantage points of anticolonialism and antifascism were rooted deeply in Italian and Ethiopian history and hardened during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. That people representing such vastly different worldviews on race worked together, despite their differences, attests to the acuteness of the moment.

My arguments here observe how and why the cooperation happened. The malleability of racial and gender subjectivities was a product of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict and the historical role each country played in the African and European diasporas. These diasporas—the former based on the legacy of the conquered, and the latter on the status of conquerors—included the possibility to “slip” through, around, and among identities of the other. Slipperiness has been used in critical race studies to understand the dynamics of perceptions of the other, in-betweenness, and passing. The “Keep Ethiopia Independent” movement (KEI), as I term it, grew as the Italo-Ethiopian crisis intensified. KEI was filled with people who used slippery arguments and had slippery identities. Slipperiness I use in a couple of ways. First, slippery people—Ethiopians, on the one hand—slid through the available racial binaries that had long been in place in western imaginaries and colonial operations. They did so as agents who were being victimized by Europeans. They deployed familiar racial categorizations and gendered typologies for power to respond to the different types of oppression they faced. Diplomats, representatives, and active citizens of the Great Powers of Europe, and the permanent members of the League of Nations, including France, England, Italy, and the USSR at this chronological juncture, I think of as slippery people. Italian Fascists were overt in their victimization of Ethiopians; they committed violent, heinous, and inhumane acts of oppression in their attempts to subjugate the Ethiopian people.11 While quite capable of crimes against humanity in their own colonial territories and elsewhere, the British and French victimized Ethiopia in less overt ways. These governments persecuted through abandonment, and the slippage of agreements made in the Treaty of Versailles about collective security. They sacrificed peace in Ethiopia to try and avoid another world war in Europe. Their actions were among a number of other decisions which led to World War II, and the demise of the post-WWI vision of peace through collective security.

During the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, Ethiopians and their allies around the world responded to these different forms of victimization within the parameters of old racial categories. The binaries of blackness/whiteness, civilized/uncivilized, Christian/Muslim constricted the identities into which Ethiopians slipped.

There were other conditions of subjectivity which limited the ways that KEI activists reacted; these expose another type of slipperiness. The term slippery has a double meaning. It can mean stealthness but it also means backsliding. The second meaning of slippery invites another condition to consider in the Italo-Ethiopian crisis—the slickness of white privilege.

Ethiopians and their allies in the anticolonial and antifascist movements needed to convince those with white privilege to stand firm against the invasion and occupation. KEI confined tactics to a familiar western worldview that justified racial and gendered inequality in particular ways. Delving too deeply into the relationship between the Italian invasion and the larger history of imperialism would have imperiled white privilege. To do so had the potential to undermine the “short game” of keeping Ethiopia independent.

My analysis brings together research on the liberation struggles in Ethiopia (which included multiple ethnic groups within that country) and western antifascists in Europe and the Americas to investigate whether this dire moment made lasting changes in everyday racial politics and racism. Put in a different way, I show how KEI’s challenge to the Italo-Ethiopian invasion, war, and occupation shifted the discourses and practices that shaped the ways people experienced, inculcated, and lived in a system of racial oppression. The groups that made up KEI viewed their work as a whole and as part of a larger struggle for justice. My work underscores how the histories of anticolonial nationalists and antifascists were intertwined. Though often theorized separately, this article allies them, as many in their movements did. To make the connections between movements serves as a scholarly corrective that is based in the contemporary reality of anticolonialism and antifascism. Moreover, doing so illuminates how race was experienced, as well as how those experiences were understood by people from around the globe who took part in the struggle to keep Ethiopia independent.

The article reconciles some important works in the large bodies of literature on imperialism, immigration, transnational feminism, and the anticolonial freedom struggles in the twentieth century. Doing so discloses everyday racism, the ways that perceived racial differences were used to empower and disempower, and the conditions people drew on to create interracial solidarity around the globe.

Two decades ago, Alessandro Tirulzi wrote in a review that “Ethiopia under Italian rule still awaits a lot more, and more critical, research.”12 Scholarly contributions on the region have bolstered the historiography. Starting with Richard Pankhurst’s contributions to Ethiopian history, followed by Alberto Sbacchi’s pathbreaking transnational focus, the importance of Ethiopia in Italian national history has been laid.13 The insightful analysis of Italy’s internal colonialism and imperial expansionism produced in the works of Patrizia Polumbo, Giulia Barrera, and David Forgacs provides important understanding of the relationship between Italian national identity and the role that racism, sexism, and life on the metropole’s peripheries played in experience.14 Angelo Matteo Caglioti’s 2017 publication on the 1938 Racial Manifesto of Scientists is important in its comparative analysis, specifically the author’s insistence on couching the Manifesto in transnationalism. Caglioti makes intellectual and chronological connections between Fascism’s racist nationalism and how it deviated from the hegemonic and decades-old “southern question.” He traces the fine distinctions between eugenics that were part of Italy’s relationship with the U.S. and the latter’s immigration restriction movement that ended in the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act. He explores the nuances of the scientific community as it responded to Mussolini’s dictates which demanded members to steer away from tried-and-true racism based on regionalism in order to whip up support for the invasion of Ethiopia. Caglioti argues that Mussolini was intent on discrediting the “theory of the two races” that had been a marker of Italian Liberalism, in order to justify the need for expanded Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa.15 The majority of Caglioti’s study is on Italy, not Ethiopia. The same goes for Forgacs, whose work fills in necessary understanding of race and gender dynamics. The analysis, however, is not through a women’s history lens and his focus is on Italians, not Ethiopians per se.16 Neither focuses on women’s roles in the crisis as agents of change (though they do come up as victims of oppression). I show that Italian racism was dynamic, gendered, and it changed with the ways Ethiopians and the KEI movement activists (men and women) responded and experienced it.

While Caglioti’s and Forgacs’s primary focus is Italy, Asafa Jalata highlights Ethiopia’s role in racial formation. He argues that the response of Ethiopians, led by the Abyssinian elite, to Italian racism was a product of their own racist heritage. Jalata’s work provides a scholarly complement to much of the work on Italian imperialism in the Horn of Africa (although he does not deal only with the Italo-Ethiopian crisis). Jalata argues that the condition of duality in Ethiopian identity shaped the struggle against Italian colonialism and, thus, the movement against it. This Ethiopian duality came from the two separate lineages of “Ethiopianness.” One trajectory played off of the ancient idea of Ethiopia and its Biblical foundation. The other was based on the modern geopolitical reality of Ethiopia (which the ruling Abyssinian elites used, Jalata exerts, to confound their allies and supporters especially among black nationalists, as well as to undermine the self-determination of minority ethnic groups in the country). Dunbar’s 1896 poem, which I quote in the introduction, illustrates the point: ancient Ethiopia was mythic in terms of its place in glorifying African power and it resonated with the African diaspora for decades. The latter, more recent, construction of Ethiopia was based on a regime of privilege and imperial drive.17 Jalata’s contributions follow a significant part of African and African-American historiography and lays a groundwork to my analysis of KEI. Before Jalata, S.K.B. Asante paved the way for studies on African nationalism around the globe. In the 1970s, Asante asserted two points which shaped the field. As to his work, I make two interventions. First, Asante argued that scholars had spent most of their attention on whites’ responses to the Ethiopian crisis, and, second, that whites were unwilling to commit to supporting black nationalism in Ethiopia. The first claim may have been true about diplomatic and political history but it left a lot of work to be done on social and cultural history, which still lacks needed attention. Asante’s second claim, albeit grounded in certain historical conditions, has been proven to be wrong. The men and women who fought to keep Ethiopia independent were the inheritors of years of social movement struggle around the world. The movement was also a product of the moment of the 1930s when networks of solidarity were built out of necessity.18 These networks of solidarity included a transnational and interracial assembly of people from three different continents who worked in KEI—a movement that was complex, paradoxical, and the recipient of a racial lineage that each of its members experienced from different standpoints of dominance and persecution.

My work is not alone in arguing how important it is to bridge scholarly findings in different subfields. It heeds a specific and recent call that historian Michael Goebel made to “reconsider the social experience of migration as a central engine of anticolonialism.”19 In addressing immigration historiography, I show how and why immigrants and ethnic communities became an important part of KEI, and thus bring new interpretive findings to this scholarship. Here I follow the leads of Donna Gabaccia, Fraser Ottanelli, and Franca Iacovetta in their studies of Italians around the world.20 Their work bolstered publications of Fiorello Ventresco, Stefano Luconi, and Philip Cannistraro, whose histories of antifascism intersected with questions about race and racism. Ventresco shows that the Italo-Ethiopian crisis became a pivot around which immigrants and their children continued to define racial identity in America and elsewhere. The crisis mobilized anti- and pro-fascist war sentiments and justified positions based on different understandings of solidarity and allegiance to homeland.21


Western Hegemonies in Time and Place

The Italo-Ethiopian crisis lasted over a decade. Angelo Del Boca argues that Mussolini’s many displays of “friendship” towards Haile Selassie were calculated moves to prepare the way for colonial occupation.22 The crisis began in the 1920s and ended when Haile Selassie returned to his country in 1941. Italy’s takeover took place in steps. In 1930, it violated the terms of the 1928 Italo-Ethiopian Treaty by building a fort at the Walwal Oasis on the border of Eritrean and Ethiopian territory. Thereafter, tensions escalated between the two countries and, in December 1934, Ethiopian and Somali troops—the latter colonial subjects, and thus coerced to protect Italian claims—got into a fight.23 Italy used this incident to send more soldiers to Africa and, in March 1935, it invaded Ethiopia. The League of Nations condemned the invasion and voted on economic sanctions against Italy. These did not have the intended effect and, in its total war campaign, Italy used airpower and poison gas, the latter being the weapon that defeated the Ethiopians, argue both Del Boca and Sbacchi.24 Bombers hit military outposts, Red Cross hospitals, towns, and rural villages; they killed and wounded non-combatants, including foreign medical volunteers and civilians. In May 1936, fascist troops marched into the capital, Addis Ababa. A few days earlier Emperor Haile Selassie, the royal family, and a group of his advisors fled into exile. They were helped by Britain and funneled through Jerusalem and, eventually, settled in Bath, England where they ceaselessly made Ethiopia’s case to world leaders. Selassie also worked with KEI to undermine Italian aggression.

Despite the fact that Mussolini declared victory once troops reached Addis Ababa in 1936, Selassie never surrendered. Ethiopian fighters continued to wage war on the ground and diplomats waged a war of words to the League and around the globe. The League lifted sanctions in July 1936. By 1938 Mussolini got all that he had wanted from the Ethiopian invasion. Particularly important was British and French recognition of Italy’s expanded colonial claims. For five years fascist rule subjected, segregated, and violated Ethiopians’ sovereignty. The Italian officials used a reign of terror which mimicked the cruelest of imperial practices. Selassie returned to Ethiopia with allied troops in 1941.25

Thus, the Ethiopian occupation was short lived compared with other imperial regimes. It was, however, embedded in centuries-old traditions. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, defining racial categories was an all-consuming project for the West. In its modern form, racial categorization began with the system of capitalism and slavery which were rooted in early modern maritime trading systems, military expeditions, and regimes of power in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds.26 Government officials, academics across disciplinary fields, journalists, clergy of all denominations, and urban reformers subscribed to beliefs about racial difference and hierarchy and discriminated against groups and individuals because of them.27 Who was black and who was white had a material reality as these categories granted and denied access to environmental resources, political institutions, and commercial markets. They also prevented colonial subjects from obtaining the legitimizing documents of belonging, access, and movement—such as passports, visas, and citizenship papers—necessary to participate in political decisions and to freely and legally migrate trans-territorially across borders.

The ways Italy parsed out different forms of citizens in the early twentieth century was also part of a larger western imperial project. In Italy, the project was connected to the early twentieth century expansionist policies reflected in both emigration regulation as well as the country’s real and imagined colonial holdings. Barbara Sórgoni’s analysis explains how social practices became juridical ones through the colonial civil code in Italy. While liberal Italy in the early twentieth century conceived of a path toward citizenship for colonial subjects, Fascists never did. Yet even in the earlier period, “the type of citizenship a native could obtain was actually termed ‘small citizenship’: a form of naturalization with limited civil rights.”28 The codification of documents under the colonial civil code was a representation of status and the government meant it to showcase Italian power. Italy’s 1901 passport law had followed suit. Both the colonial code and the law reflected belonging. While the code served as gatekeeper to “undesirable” populations, the passport law was intended to do the opposite. That is the law, as John Torpey shows, was a response to U.S. border controls and was intended to show that Italians—emigrants in the global diaspora and settlers in the colonies alike—could, and should, belong everywhere.29

Ethiopians, and their allies, disagreed. Their stance met a more receptive audience than previous anticolonial nationalists had in making similar claims about who belonged where, and why.30 The Italo-Ethiopian crisis was a culminating point in imperialism’s long history, then. In particular, Italy’s proclamation of the new Roman Empire, which attempted to exploit the tradition in colonialism, came too late. At this historical juncture, two things undermined Italy’s ability to make its claims on Ethiopia completely convincingly to the world or successfully on the ground: (1) timing, and (2) shifting racial paradigms. In terms of timing, the invasion coincided at a moment when colonial hegemony across the world was unraveling. Hegemonic regimes had sustained themselves through a reliance on collaborators, usually elite members of the occupied territories. Colonizer-collaborator relations always reflected vast differentials of power.

World War I reshaped these relationships. Michael Adas describes the cause of the shifts: “The coming of the Great War and the appalling casualties that resulted from the trench stalemate…made a mockery of the European conceit that discovery and invention were necessarily progressive and beneficial to humanity.”31 Indeed, more and more members of the “community of colonizers” and the “community of the colonized,” critiqued this imperial hegemony. Adas writes: “The war had destroyed any pretense the Europeans might have of moral superiority or their conceit that they were innately more rational than non-Western peoples.”32 Out of the destruction of the Great War came growing anticolonial nationalist movements.

The second condition undermining Italy’s claim to Ethiopia—that is, shifts in racial paradigms—played a key part in anticolonialism. Long held beliefs about Ethiopia’s place in independent Africa were changing. The distinct racial origins of Ethiopians had been propagated and perpetuated by European anthropologists and legal theorists in the U.S. Sórgoni’s work on this is fundamental. She shows that, according to the Hamitic hypothesis which was propagated after Napoleon’s invasion and archeological findings in Egypt, lighter-skinned, more civilized, and less slave-like Egyptians were descendants of Ham. The rest of Africans were, in turn, Canaan’s descendants. Key here was that this was a reformulation of Biblical interpretations which went back to the medieval period, and which stated that all Africans drew their lineage from Ham and were racially black. With the nineteenth-century Hamitic hypothesis, Ethiopians got folded in with Egyptians into the Hamitic race. Sórgoni writes that Hamitic peoples were “supposed [to have] superior civilization and lighter skin color compared to the ‘rest’ of Africa.”33

The diplomatic battle Ethiopia waged against Italy’s invasion and occupation were based on bringing these issues of unique—that is Hamitic origin—back to the fore. Ethiopians, however, were not the only ones playing the “race card.” While they continued to parse the racial distinction between themselves and other Africans, Italian fascists were doing the reverse. Sórgoni argues, “Italian anthropologists underlined the fact that the Hamites had been, from their origins, a coloured race, stressing the different racial classification of the Aryan Europeans and the Hamitic Ethiopians.”34 Anticolonial movements—including the Keep Ethiopia Independent (KEI) movement—were similarly investing in race discourse at the time.

As Adas shows, after WWI, they were also questioning the idea of “civilization.” As a result, these movements were becoming stronger, more vital, and more viable than ever. The Indian National Congress, for example, which was almost half a century old, was now intensifying the independence struggle through mass nonviolent action against British occupation. The most notable by this time was the 1930 Salt March. The French empire was also being challenged. The Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League and the Vietnamese Nationalist Party, both founded in the 1920s, stepped up resistance and organized across borders with the support of the Chinese Kuomintang throughout the 1930s.35

Thus, the 1930s was a vastly different epoch than the 1890s. What seemed so obvious to many KEI contemporaries, from chronological and cultural standpoints, eluded Italian Fascists. During the 1890s, the decade Italy first attempted to conquer Ethiopia, imperial expansionism and its discursive practices were at highpoints. After World War I, to justify imperialism using late nineteenth-century arguments was becoming outmoded and suspect. In an earlier phase, the racial obligation of the “white man’s burden,” which was misogynistic, ethnocentric, and doctrinaire, was enough to vindicate colonial takeover. But the logic of Eurocentrism was less easily sustained after WWI and when Fascism was on the rise.

The racist rationales for conquests ricocheted back to Europe and mocked the metropoles’ pedaling of democracy, civil rights, free trade and self-determination in the colonies as antiliberal, and hyper-nationalist regimes were taking over. Antifascists, including victims of the regimes and those watching from afar, began to listen to, and then mimic, claims that had been brought up by colonial subjects many times during European imperial reign. KEI—a transnational movement—was built around these connections. The westerners who repeated claims became conduits for anticolonial nationalists’ arguments. The Italo-Ethiopian conflict was their starting point, and the struggle against Italian occupation a center that brought movements together.

In addition to the grassroots movements that grew into the anticolonial struggle, the League of Nations (LON) was both a product of the changed outlook on western imperialism and a medium for anticolonialism. The League’s founding documents and its members’ actions set new protocols which Ethiopia and other colonial groups banked on for future security.36 As a member of LON, and very much in need of its European members’ support, Italy downplayed the ideological differences between Fascism and democracy. Instead, it highlighted older arguments like shared European traditions which, among other things, warranted and obliged the West to pursue sustained colonial occupation. The problem was that few trusted Italy’s internationalist and pan-European stance since the Fascists had come to power using ultra-nationalist ideology and antidemocratic politics.

Italy’s support of Ethiopia’s membership for the League in 1923 confused some, and caused others to turn a blind eye to what was happening in the early days of the Italo-Ethiopian crisis. A decade before the invasion, Italy saw Ethiopian LON membership as serving its needs. Why? Since, Ethiopia (like any other new member) signed the 1919 Treaty of St. Germain, which had dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire and changed national borders in Europe, its membership benefitted Italy. In turn, Ethiopians believed that League membership differentiated it from British and French colonial territories as well as Italy’s other imperial holdings in Africa.37

Mussolini did not agree. By the 1930s, the Fascist leader wanted to have it two ways. First to be part of the League of Nations which had been founded, in part, on the idea of self-determination and the maintenance of sovereignty, and second to have LON legitimize the colonial takeover of a member nation. Italy spun this takeover in a number of ways. For example, “The Times says that Italians complain bitterly because imperialistic designs are attributed to Italy and that the primary object of Italy is to determine its position and to deal with disorder, rioting, and chaos!”38 Fascists, thus, at times distanced themselves from colonial claims, but they also fused old arguments to justify the invasion. Civilization, racial superiority, and Christianity, as well as border violations and antislavery points, were offered as rationale for sending troops. These were the same terms the British and other Europeans had been using for years.39


Keeping Ethiopia Independent

The movement against Italian colonial aggression started with Ethiopians. Tsehai Haile Selassie, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Haile Selassie and Quizzero Menen, was a vital part of these efforts. She helped form the Ethiopian Women’s Association in the first days of the invasion. In exile in England, she appeared at rallies, spoke at meetings, and often appeared with her father at political events. “When the war came,” she said in an interview, “we gave up everything.”40 Ethiopian women sent messages to British friends for help. These women pushed the message out through the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as well as other networks. Tsehai and her countrywomen acted as nurses for the wounded and mended “the horribly burned bodies.”41 They used funds from England to make “gas masks to send to the front.”42 Women were a vital part of anticolonialism around the globe and women’s historians have begun to document their participation.43 There has been very little work on women (either from Ethiopia or the rest of the world) who took part in the independence struggle against the colonial occupation in the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. These women were part of the larger antifascist struggle which was organized a decade earlier against Mussolini’s regime.44

One of the key figures outside of Ethiopia, who served as a conduit for Tsehai’s message, was Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst, in her fifties at the time, was a labor feminist who had been disowned by her suffragist mother and sister for being too radical and whose pacifism, socialism, and work with trade union leaders and the immigrant poor in East London got her kicked out of the Women’s Political Union. By the summer of 1936, she had started a regular correspondence with the exiled Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie, who was ten years her younger. Pankhurst found familiar the stories he and other exiles told of Italian atrocities. She had witnessed similar brutality when she visited Italy in 1919, and had become more and more aware of Fascist violence during the 1920s. She spearheaded international antifascist organizing in the early years of Mussolini’s regime.45 For example, when Giacomo Matteotti, the leader of the Italian Socialist Party who was in his third term serving in the Chamber of Deputies, was assassinated by men working for Il Duce, Pankhurst helped to organize the Women’s International Matteotti Committee linking activists she had known from her suffragist organizing days.46

Pankhurst began publishing the New Times and Ethiopia News (NTEN), a newspaper she edited with Silvio Corio, an Italian anarchist who fled the country in 1898, to help build the movement by revealing the connections between hyper-nationalism, Fascism, and Italy’s colonial quest. “The Fascist Purge of brave hearts and independent spirits is continuing in Addis Ababa,” Pankhurst wrote. “The Italian people who have suffered that ‘Purge’ at home well know its character.”47 She wrote to Selassie about the paper’s importance in building a movement to keep Ethiopia independent: “I consider that the New Times and Ethiopia News is important in maintaining the active movement which exists for the liberation of Ethiopia.”48 The newspaper’s readers heard a similar argument: “We have headed this paper by the great slogan ‘New Times’ because without a new conception of the world ethic our work for Ethiopia will be futile.”49 By mid-1936, the paper had 4,000 subscribers; hundreds more of this weekly paper were distributed on the streets of England and sent abroad. It reached Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Some were smuggled into Italy as well.50

Like most twentieth-century social movements, KEI relied on a free press to disseminate information and ideas to formulate strategy. In immigrant communities in the U.S., foreign language newspapers were vital carriers of the message. La Stampa Libera published information about the Italo-Ethiopian crisis as soon as Mussolini sent troops to Walwal in 1935. Though there are most likely many sources of connections within KEI, a letter that I found written in 1932 from Silvia Pankhurst to La Stampa’s editor, Girolamo Valenti, is concrete evidence that the two were in correspondence with each other.51 The missive linked antifascism with anticolonialism and served as a building block for KEI in the Atlantic world. Pankhurst’s purpose in the letter to Valenti was to request that he publish information to help Velia Matteotti, the wife of the assassinated Socialist Giacomo Matteotti, and the Women’s International Matteotti Committee.52

Philip Cannistraro’s important scholarship on antifascism drew from La Stampa and touches on the Italo-Ethiopian crisis. But he missed the way that Velia’s plight rallied women, as well as the larger role women in the transnational feminist movement played in antifascist work. This is, in part, due to Cannistraro’s focus on male leadership, perhaps the most important of whom is Luigi Antonini. Antonini was the Vice President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. While Antonini spearheaded antifascist organizing in the U.S., he bowed to pressure from male prominenti who silenced him with charges of anti-Italianness when he spoke out against Fascist policies and colonial ventures.

My reading of La Stampa and other sources, including Valenti’s papers, shows that the crisis was essential to both men and women outside in immigrant communities and extended beyond those in leadership positions. I view this activism from “the bottom up” (in the terminology of social history) and stress the centrality of everyday antiracist politics in ethnic enclaves. La Stampa printed articles, editorials, and cartoons about Ethiopia. Letters to the editor expressed solidarity with the Ethiopian people. For example, Mary Belcastro, the daughter of an Italian worker, called out Italian aggression in Ethiopia and was taken to task by profascist immigrants for doing so. The newspaper published a column dedicated to her courage: “To Miss Mary Belcastro goes our sentiments of friendship and gratitude for her magnificent sustained struggle for the antifascist cause,”53 and continued, thestruggle against fascism and imperialism is fought because we love Italy and our hapless brothers that mourn in chains.”54 Mussolini’s victims knew no color or border.


Racial Identity in KEI

Over the course of the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, KEI included men and women from a diversity of racial and ethnic background as well as geographic locations. “Millions of loyal coloured subjects of the British Empire [,] the Ethiopian Pacific Movement Inc,” pledged their support to Britain and thanked British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, for his work at the League for his “courageous and honourable attitude towards the Ethiopian Italian situation.” They vowed, “Should war ensue His Majesty’s Government can rely on the fullest military support of the coloured peoples of the West Indies, Africa and the Orient.”55 NTEN correspondent on the ground, Wasir Ali Baig, was an Indian national whose wife’s family was from Ethiopia.56 There were also representatives from a wide array of political ideologies. Pankhurst was a feminist and a socialist who belonged to the Communist Party for a period. Valenti was an anti-communist, socialist, labor leader. Princess Tsehai was anticolonial royalty, while another activist involved in KEI dubbed herself as a supporter of “the Conservative cause.”57 Self-described socialists, communists, republicans, and liberals came together in the Italian League for Human Rights which formed in 1935 to fight Fascism and protest Italian atrocities in Ethiopia.58 In addition, multiple religious faiths were part of KEI—Muslim, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christians, and various Protestant denominations.59

It is helpful to think of overlapping wings of KEI. People involved in each wing committed to it for unique reasons. They brought theories of race, gender, and nationalism from Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Many issues connected these wings. And each wing justified its political position with racial discourse and practice through other identities including class, ideology, and gender. There were those who argued that some Africans and some Europeans were equal because of shared values, culture, religion, and development. This group I dub the “Ethiopians are as Civilized as Europeans” (ECE) wing. Those who believed that Ethiopia should be free because the country was an emblem of African independence and black power, I conceive of as an “African Nationalists for Ethiopia” wing (ANE). There were also those who made arguments based on Ethiopian whiteness. These activists argued that because Ethiopians were white (more specifically, not black), they should not be treated like other colonized people. This wing I term the “Ethiopians are White not Black” wing (EWB). This latter was the prickliest one for activists. EWB challenged anthropological theories formulated by westerners in regards to the Hamitic hypothesis (discussed above), as well as newly emerging Black nationalism which claimed Ethiopia as its seedbed.

These three wings rephrased, though did not fully overcome, the racialized logic that was at the base of Fascist and colonial dogma. While each of the wings hurdled over new rhetorical territory, none of their strides were able to dismantle the western hegemony upon which colonialism and Fascism were based. To fathom such an outcome would be to expect men and women in KEI to incorporate different racial paradigms than the familiar ones circulating at the moment. To think about the past in this way—to hope for our historical subjects what we imagine is possible today—is anachronistic and ahistorical. Rather, each KEI wing constructed its work around the more familiar and common hierarchical frameworks which were based in the inequalities of condition that they experienced. To be sure, building a movement around these inequalities meant that what activists could accomplish was truncated.

In spite of this, however, KEI’s work for justice led to a small shift in racial discourse and practice. It would take broader and different social movement ideas and practices to move the world into another type of post-racial order—one for which later activists would continue to struggle. Race and racial positioning based on hierarchies of power acquired an importance in the everyday reality of KEI’s mobilization, despite the fact that the movement’s participants were committed to fighting the institutions and structures—fascism, war mongering, and colonialism—which thrived on racism. Using the “master’s tools to dismantle” the masters’ houses, as Audre Lorde has phrased such practices, led to paradoxical and even pyric victories.60

Arguments couched in race and gender were a strategy for Italian Fascists trying to justify colonial aggression. Initially, and ironically, despite the fact that Italian Fascism was based on claims of race and nationalism, Italian diplomats tempered their race language at the League of Nations during the first months of the struggle. They argued instead that to protect itself, and the territorial integrity of its colonies, Italy had to send troops to the Walwal Oasis. What was happening between Italy and Ethiopia, diplomats put forward, was pure and simple international relations and national sovereignty; it was not, they insisted, imperial lust.61

When the League failed to endorse Italian claims, Mussolini reverted to his familiar race rhetoric. Ethiopians offered similarly racialized arguments—though from a different point of view. Though Selassie and his diplomatic corps were quite adept at diplomacy, they were constricted by perceptions of “Africanness,” blackness, and whiteness. The Ethiopian strategy to combat Italy’s belligerence drew on modern political ideals—self-determination, democracy, equality—which were also common ground for western powers. Empress Quizzero Menen urged, “I therefore appeal to France, the emblem of equality, fraternity and liberty, to Great Britain, defender of freedom and justice for all races, and to the whole world to abandon all further delay in saving my country.”62 Significantly, these arguments came from a female leader in the movement, something that the historiography on the Italo-Ethiopian crisis misses almost entirely.63

Both the messenger and the message were important as they were different sides of savvy tactical positioning intended to drive a wedge between western colonial powers. Italian Fascists could not, and never tried to, use liberal political ideas about nation, citizenship, belonging, or progress to make their case about Ethiopia. In contrast, bringing up the western liberal tradition became a piece of KEI work.

Race, tied to Liberalism as well as Fascism, was the fallback position for both sides. Moreover, Ethiopians and Italians each incorporated familiar tropes based on race and gender to win. Race and gender were used to justify myriad issues—fitness to govern, ability to progress, positioning on the hierarchy of civilization, domestic relations, Italy’s rationale for invasion and occupation, and Ethiopia’s insistence on its right to national sovereignty. The first rounds of this diplomatic fight took place at the League of Nations when Ethiopia took its seat at the League of Nations in 1924.

LON membership reflected a victory for Ethiopia which was part of Haile Selassie’s larger project. For over a decade, the emperor orchestrated the plan to push the West to accept it as an equal in their international partnerships. From 1916-1930, Selassie served as Regent of his country. After a diplomatic and military power struggle, he was named Emperor (Negusa Negest, King of Kings) of Abyssinia. Selassie’s 1931 Constitution officially changed the name of the country from Abyssinia to Ethiopia—a key part of his appeal for global recognition.64 The prize of League membership, Selassie knew, required western logics and imaginaries that depended on Ethiopia’s ability to convolute strict binaries of culture, geography, and race that, among other things, justified colonial rule.65 The country’s arguments for League entry filtered into all of the three wings of the KEI movement. First, Ethiopians hinged their arguments around notions of civilization and equivalency between Ethiopian, European, and Italian civilizations.66 They asserted that Ethiopians were as civilized as Europeans in a direct attack on Mussolini’s bombast. Italians claimed that modern Italy was the inheritor of Roman civilization, an assertion that stemmed back to the nineteenth century, and around which there was western European consensus. Significant scholarly work has been done on the ideological Fascist modernism and the mythologies of the ancient past. In their studies, Amalia Ribi Fordaz and Mia Fuller show that liberal and Fascist Italy articulated similar sentiments about imperialism and the role Italians should play in civilizing the world.67 As has been shown, Adas examines how western hegemony had deteriorated after World War I across metropoles and peripheries.68 Caglioti also argues that Europeans feared that, after WWI, their civilization was waning. A group of social scientists in what Caglioti terms “The International Order of Racists” became intent on measurement to assess the extent of civilization’s decline as well the nature of its makeup.69

Up until 1936, eugenic social science was still being informed by positivism. Positivists’ “biological determinism was tempered with the acknowledgment of the importance of the material environment for the racial improvement of the Italian population,” Caglioti writes. These men “believed in anthropological diversity and fascism’s capacity to improve the quality and quantity” of Italians everywhere.70 Arguments comparing Ethiopian civilization and Italian civilization changed this. Science and statistics were not enough to define the differences. Myth as well as racist measurement were means to push the ideas Mussolini needed for his political and colonial plans in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.71

Il Duce’s assertions changed over time, in part, because KEI activists exposed and undermined the fallaciousness of his positions. The momentum for the challenges began in Ethiopia. In September 1935, Menen tried to transmit a speech from Addis Ababa through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Her topic was the amassing of Italian troops on the border and assaults in her country. Menen believed that if she could reach western audiences they would help to stop Italian aggression. Her points were built around gender and civilization: “In all latitudes, climes and countries women are inspired by the same spirit, the love of peace.”72 Women held a special place in the anticolonial struggle because of their naturally pacifist sensibility, she believed: “Whatever their native land, women should reprove brute force and detest war which destroys homes and results in the killing of husbands, brothers, and sons.” She implored her audience to help Ethiopia resist another Italian invasion and the “fallacious pretext of bringing civilization.” Menen lamented, “May heaven save us from such a civilization.”73 A cartoon printed in La Stampa Libera produced the idea another way in the following manner:

Figure 1: Mussolini Embraces an Ethiopian Woman
Source: La Stampa Libera, August 11, 1935: 6.

Such sexualized imagery, Menen avoided. It was, however, an enormous part of the crassness of the fascist mission. Rather, Menen—like other contemporary anticolonial activists such as René Maran, Rabindranath Tagore, and Mahatma Gandhi—called into question western identity based on the civilizing mission.74 She understood that it was unwise to veer too far afield, which would risk losing the western audience her country needed.

Other KEI activists followed Menen’s lead. Rather than fully dismantle western civilization as something to embrace, they called into question Mussolini’s claims about Italy’s place in shepherding it to the colonial world. Here my interpretation differs than Adas’ findings on the civilizing mission’s demise. While he shows that, in the post-WWI era, the hegemonic relationship between colonizer and colonized (especially, elite collaborators) deteriorated, my findings suggest a manipulation of the idea of civilization rather than a complete rejection of it. For Menen and others in KEI, it wasn’t civilization per se that was problematic, but rather Fascism’s lies about it. “What Mussolini has done is a challenge to civilization…What has happened in Ethiopia is but the dress rehearsal of what will happen in western Europe if we allow aggression to succeed.”75 Ethiopians had not given up on western civilization—at least as a strategic dimension in this crisis—as had many of the sub-Saharan and Indian nationalist in the period.76

KEI tried to establish the shared cultural and religious heritage between Europeans and Ethiopians, a base that was built on the common ground of civilization and race. When Italy executed Selassie’s royal umbrella bearer, Pankhurst wrote that it was “symbolic of the hideous vandalism which is seeking to exterminate all traces of an old and picturesque civilization which held in it much of beauty, much of historical and ethical value to the thinking world.”77 Ethiopia’s struggle for independence had foundations in the western world and destroying it would imperil Europe and beyond. “Should Italy be allowed to execute its plans to annihilate Ethiopia—the only surviving independent African State—there may be repercussions,” the Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia argued. Such a defeat would “turn the clock of civilization several centuries back.”78 The claims of civilization in the 1930s were a continuation of nineteenth-century civilizing missionaries. When Mussolini declared that Fascists were carrying on a new phase of the Roman Empire, and that this was its destiny, he was reminding Europeans that Italy housed the cradle of European civilization that justified their dominance.

KEI countered these points through outfoxing the messengers. Rome, KEI activists suggested, may have been great, but Ethiopia was greater: “Ethiopia is mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis. Moses married an Ethiopian wife. Ethiopia was civilized and governing Egypt when Rome was founded.”79 This legacy not only connected Ethiopia to the ancient world but also to its Christian roots. How and why Ethiopia belonged among the insider cohort of European nations was essential to the stability of the new world order—a world that Fascism was beheading. “Is all our civilization, all our Christianity, all our League of Nations, only a humbug, a joke, a mask?” wrote the Dutch H.J. Kloosterman, to the Manchester Guardian.80

The creation of a religious “we” based on Christianity, democratic traditions and civilization melded. At a luncheon held by the Free Church Federation of London, Haile Selassie thanked his hosts and made that connection: “I feel that this gathering of Christians has not been convened merely to express its sympathy and goodwill towards an injured people, but rather to give expression to its sincere anxiety and deep concern at the apparent absence of Christian love in the world, and to protest against the breech of the greatest of all commandments: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”81 Selassie worked with Pankhurst on this tactical affiliation. “You will also be glad to know, I am sure,” Pankhurst wrote Selassie, “that an appeal has been sent to 17,000 Churches this week for prayers for Ethiopia, which should be, I think, of great propaganda value.”82 These connections got under Mussolini’s skin.

Fascists went after the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ruling elite by trying to win over Muslims in Ethiopia. In 1937, Mussolini proclaimed that Italy “will always be the friend and protector of Islam.”83 The Journal d’Egypte mocked the idea:

Could the Duce tell us when Islam demanded a protector, especially now that the uppermost desire of the Islamic peoples is to be free and independent? The Protectorate the “Duce” offers us counterfeits our noble sentiments.84

This was a charade, said one New Times and Ethiopia News correspondent: “As regards religious freedom. This self-styled ‘protection of Islam’ pays no regard to the religious customs of the Mohammedans,” regardless of the practices of “purdah…regulations in regard to the killing of meat. These are ignored.”85 Pankhurst argued: “The grotesques pretence that the Italian dictator under whose rule the Islamic peoples have been so cruelly oppressed has become the Leader of Islam is no mere folly. It is a calculated move in the struggle for empire.”86 Furthermore it tied global Fascism together and Muslims’ part in fighting it. An Islamic leader in Tangiers spoke out: “Since the Spanish rebellion started a small, but growing group of Mussulmans, at the daily risk of their lives, have attempted to enlighten Moroccan opinion and prevent their brothers from being killed in an alien country, at the service of a foreign power.”87 KEI was not only a diverse movement, but its activists brought to light that it was fighting for a diverse world. “The great many different races of Ethiopia,” who were of many faiths—pagans, Christians, Muslims, and Jews—“combined to administer the empire,” Hazel Napier, said. “To the ‘Friends of Abyssinia’ the word Abyssinia is not a mere name to slip back into the dark mists of time, but an ever present reality…and an inescapable challenge.”88 KEI would continue to fight for the country’s freedom and carry its message.

The challenge included countering Fascist worldviews. KEI drew parallels between Ethiopian responses to Italy’s invasion and European history to bridge perceived differences and remind people of “Western civilization’s” character and breadth. Del Boca asserts that rioting and violence in Addis Ababa “played into the hand of the victors.”89 Activists refuted the idea. Ethiopians were not acting like barbarians when they burned the capital, KEI challenged. Rather like noble victims who had parallels in European history, “The Russians in face of Napoleon’s victorious advance, similarly burned Moscow.”90 There were also European precedents from the more recent past that reflected Ethiopia’s kinship with “Europeanness.” For example, government in exile had a precedent; Selassie, not Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, was the reigning emperor of Ethiopia: “France allowed Belgium to use Havre as the capital of Belgium during the Great War and England might well make the [Ethiopian] Emperor a similar offer during the present war.”91 Whether an enclave government or a government in exile, the civilized world owed this to Ethiopia—because it was part of the “we” that was at perilous risk. It was not Ethiopians, then, that were “other,” but rather the Fascists. “We Ethiopians are not moved by hatred against the Italian people, whom we recognize is bound and gagged under the heels of an oligarchy devoid of all moral principles and suffering under the same oppression as us,” Haile Selassie messaged.92 KEI divulged the real barbarians:

The barbarians are those peoples who only believe in the irrational power of their own race. The civilized are those peoples who believe in universal principles. If we follow this conception we cannot consider the Ethiopians as barbarians, and we can also go so far as to assert that there is no race in the world utterly lost to human civilization, provided it fulfills the condition of desiring to be free.93

Ethiopia was a nation part of human history. It had a past that corresponded to European history—moreover a past that hadn’t been erased by European imperialism which separated it from other places in the colonial world.

Pushing this argument was part of KEI strategy. It was a slippery one because it highlighted troublesome racial and gender legacies that some more radical antifascists and anticolonialists were trying to eschew. Because Ethiopia had successfully fought off Italy’s imperial drive (at Dogali in 1887 and at Adowa in 1896), it was heralded among anticolonial nationalists worldwide and African freedom struggle activists around the globe. This was the point of Dunbar’s poem, “Ode to Ethiopia,” quoted in the introduction. Ethiopians were civilized, these activists argued, because they were African, not European. Ethiopia was “different from our Western nations,” it is “not barbaric,” wrote R.C. Hawkin.94


Black, White, and Africans All Over

Ethiopia held a special position in the long period of European colonialism; before the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, it was the only African state that successfully resisted an imperial takeover. This became a main rallying point for activists. In the Crisis, Harold Preece wrote that the “rape of Ethiopia is the rape of the Negro race.” And, the Afro-American stated, “Every colored person throughout the world should do his utmost to maintain the independence of the fatherland.”95 The equation of African and Black identity was indeed part of the modern world and its colonial legacy. As S.K.B. Asante wrote:

For, in the eyes of the most articulate Negroes and pan-Africanists of the 1930s, the Italo-Ethiopian struggle represented fascist aggression against a ‘black’ state.…In their view the conflict was essentially a racial war; what occurred in Ethiopia directly concerned other parts of Africa and the entire black world. It was another aspect of white aggression upon black, the final ‘Caucasian victory.’96

Jalata places the Ethiopian struggle against Italian imperialism, not as a liberation struggle but a struggle over two hegemonic powers in the region. His claims are not wrong insofar as the political and military history of the region goes—a history that is complex. The erasure of aspects of the Ethiopian past is part of the colonial legacy itself and one, as Jalata puts forth, was as much a product of the Abyssinian ruling class as it was of European and American imperialists. The succinctness of Jalata’s argument, however, while incredibly important, tends to undermine the agency of diasporic African nationalism itself. For example, Jalata states that:

Most people do not understand the difference between ancient Ethiopia and contemporary Ethiopia. Because of this historical misinformation, Africans who were colonized or enslaved by Europeans…wrongly considered contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia) as an island of Black freedom.97

The claim has two problems. First contemporaries did indeed understand the differences between Ethiopian Africanness and African-Americans’ pan-Africanism based on Black power. W.E.B. DuBois wrote in 1935:

Ethiopia is Negro. Look at the pictures of Abyssinians now widely current. They are as Negroid as American Negroes. If there is a black race they belong. Of course there are not and never were any ‘pure’ Negroes any more than there are ‘pure’ whites or ‘pure’ yellows. Humanity is mixed to its bones. But in the rough and practical assignment of mankind to three divisions, the Ethiopians belong to the black race.98

The sentiments Black nationalists felt for Ethiopia were a significant historical reality whether they were based, as Jalata argues, on the confusion of Biblical Ethiopia and modern-day Ethiopia, or on Dubois’ “practical assignment.” Emotional connections conditioned responses regardless of KEI strategy and the ways that activists maneuvered through the diplomatic world and through public opinion around the globe.99 What is important is that “Far away Ethiopia, last independent Negro country of Africa, in its fight to retain its independence,” as one writer noted, had “awakened an inspiring bond of sympathy and fervent support among millions of American Negro people.”100

In all three of KEI’s wings, people highlighted and skipped certain aspects of Ethiopian history and their own ties to it depending on the audience. Race was often part of the discourse. For example, the Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia described itself in a couple of ways. To Haile Selassie and Samuel Hoare, Britain’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it was “an organization consisting principally of persons of African descent, residing in the United States.” To Pierre Laval, the Minister of France, it was “an organization consisting of persons of African blood, and other lovers of right and justice in the United States of America.”101

Mussolini relentlessly highlighted what he saw as the indelible links between blackness and Ethiopianness. Selassie distanced himself from the linkage. When necessary, the Ethiopian emperor was more likely to put forward the notion of “oriental Africa” rather than what DuBois congers, that is that Africa was “mixed to the bone.” To be oriental was to be neither black nor white, though it was certainly not devoid of race nor separated from western racist paradigms. It was an in-between identity that one Ethiopian student expressed:

The Ethiopian question lives in the conscience of humanity. It is alive also in the conscience, not only of Ethiopians of every class, but also in that of all Oriental peoples who have manifested their sympathy for us. It is alive—and it is alive in the conscience of Italian Anti-Fascism which—in a distant day—will finally liquidate the costly African adventure of Mussolini, now weighing like a stone around the neck of the Italian people.102

DuBois, Selassie, this student, and others were willing to fathom a racial order that went beyond binaries and geographies. Mussolini was not willing to do so. Ethiopians carried their assertions to the world, and they were reflected in protests among diplomats in the Leagues and political activists on the streets.103

Sentiments like those of William R. Castle, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, were emblematic of those held by the western world. Ethiopians confronted them in subtle ways to change the attitudes of many. In June 1930, Castle attended a luncheon for the Pan American Union. In his diary on the event, he wrote that the Ethiopian representatives, Kanitba Gabu and Lij Malaku Beyen, sent by “Emperor of Ethiopia…are as black as Ethiopians should be.” He was impressed with their “national costume…black velvet cloak with a light green collar and many decorations…a rather close fitting dress with flowing skirts of deep blue satin striped with yellow.” But, Castle further reflected in the day’s entry: “The costumes make it seem much less negroish.”104 The sartorial choices as well as sending these Ethiopian delegates had an impact. Their presence, demeanor, and physical characteristics began to move the needle of racial expectation and definition of black and white.

This was a small victory. Eleven years earlier a group of Ethiopian dignitaries were barred from eating at New York’s National Democratic Club because they were black.105 Now, a representative of the U.S. government imagined Ethiopians as different than other Africans in skin color and cultural performance.106 It is apparent that an identity of in-betweenness, a condition that has been theorized by scholars focused on U.S. history, had global dimensions too. Ethiopians were in-between peoples and they made themselves so.107

Unlike Selassie, other African anticolonial nationalists claimed both black power as well as African racial diversity. C. C. Belgrave, a black West Indian, wrote an article and sent it to the New Times and Ethiopia News: “This is my contribution to the Italo-Ethiopian struggle. I only wish I could do more, but I trust my mite will help in the struggle for justice to my people in Ethiopia.” The piece made clear that Belgrave defined his people as “we black men.” And, he used terminology to define Ethiopians as part of his “we.” It was the “one place on the map where the black man was left to decide his own destiny!”108 However, Belgrave also slipped in other possibilities that undermined the strict race and geography categories that Ethiopian in-betweenness and diplomacy was depending on. Belgrave wrote, “Of all the other African races whose countries have been filched from them by the European nations, none has suffered as the Ethiopians have suffered, and are still suffering.”109 His logic was similar to that made throughout the Progressive era and early twentieth centuries.

There were many categories of white, and there were also many categories of black. That could never, in and of itself, be a winning argument for the KEI movement because it needed the support—as seen above—of activists from all different ideological backgrounds. It could be combined with another slippage that seemed to help the cause.

If white allies made the claim it could be more authoritative. Unlike the more recent “identity politics” era of the 1970s and 1980s in which self-proclamations of identity were given weight and credence, in the 1930s, race, gender, and ethnic identification were more likely to be seen as authentic when made by those who held power. By 1935, the dissociation of Ethiopianness and Blackness was happening all over the world. Aric Putnam writes that, “Both Ethiopians and racist commentators on Ethiopian ethnicity argued that Ethiopian proximity to European modernity erased its cultural, historic, and even geographic relationship to Africa.”110 Putnam’s work shows how important these claims were for African-Americans in the 1930s. That struggle was a key part of the broader transnational KEI movement that my research has uncovered. Case in point were the words of Serbian engineer Nikola Tesla. Tesla considered himself white and labeled Ethiopians a “superior race of men. I am almost tempted to say,” Tesla argued, “a race of supermen.” His rationale was that Ethiopians were whites like him—“chiefly Caucasian Whites, like ourselves.”111

Different ideas about race, in a movement as disparate as KEI, are not unexpected. More surprising, however, is that Mussolini also fell back into language about a diversity of races beyond the binary. The 1938 Race Manifesto clearly laid out that there were Europeans and Africans and that Italians were of one “pure Italian race.”112 But Fascists could not let loose totally of the in-between category that had been so much a part of the southern question. The theory was raced, classed, and gendered.

The gender, class, and race triad is seen most clearly in the sexual exploitation of women during the Italo-Ethiopian crisis. Sex slavery was one of the many ways that Fascists terrorized Ethiopians and exerted white power113: “Within a space of seven months 17,000 of her daughters whom Mussolini dubbed as ‘negroes and black savages,’ have been enslaved to the burning lust of Italian soldiers who have been sent there to civilize them. The picture is too filthy to contemplate.”114 Italian men, saw “African colonies as a place where young women were sexually available and where the moral restraints at work in Catholic Italy no longer operated…The ‘possession’ of the naked native woman [passed around in photographs]…at once stood for and was part of the larger operation of colonial possession.”115 The presence of sexual violence was not new for colonial subjects. It was, however, changing. Fascism’s project in Ethiopia, Cristina Lombardi-Diop argues, was more blatant in its selling of empire with sex.116

Italy’s different racialization of some white women to alter its outward appearance was new, however. The regime’s Minister of State Maurizio Rava knew that rape culture was drawing soldiers into the colonial world. However, he also tried to reshape the parameters of its enticement. “It will be necessary to regulate in all centres of the Italian African colonies a sufficiently large and often renewed supply of white women,” Rava declared. “They must be white women, but not Italian—Italian women of that class should never be allowed to pass the frontiers of our Empire??? It is an elementary question of prestige in relation to the natives.”117 The notion of “whiteness of a different color,” as Matthew Frye Jacobson denotes it, is often understood by U.S. immigration scholars to have ended with the 1924 Johnson Reed Act.118 Caglioti draws on that chronological demarcation to explain, in part, Mussolini’s dictates in the Race Manifesto.119 Rava’s statements reveal that there were still many shades of whites, alerting us to the importance of the transnational feminism in studies of race.

When activists made talk abuse of women part of their work, gender foregrounded race. Delia Rodgers described male youth culture in her “Impressions of Italy To-day,” and observed a “fascist style” on the rise. “The whole conception is of the black coolie and slave girl submitting to the superior white man, in the style of the cheapest 19th century school boy literature on the exploits of the white man in darkest Africa,” she wrote.120 Princess Tsehai told European women, “I sincerely hope the wives and mothers of other nations will never have to endure the torture of the Ethiopian women.”121 Motherhood was a bond that trumped race, “For although the colour of the skin was different and they had their hair differently arranged according to the tribe which they belonged, their soul was in no way different from that of the women of Europe.”122 Mussolini continually tried to break these maternal linkages between women. Although he said, “War is to man what maternity is to woman…it is blood which gives movement to the resounding wheel of destiny,” where the blood that Ethiopians—and other imperial subjects shed—he never cared to theorize.123



The movement to keep Ethiopia independent was both a challenge to the modern world as well as beholden to its paradigms. The strategy, rhetoric, and everyday experiences of the anticolonialists and antifascists who were compelled to counter the violence and terror of Mussolini’s regime during the Italo-Ethiopian crisis were shaped by conditions of imperialism, immigration, internationalist politics, and transnational feminism. The ways that race and gender intersected in structures and strategies included residues of racism as well as misogyny. While many men and women who were active participants in KEI chafed against the hierarchies of power that were dominated by the western ideas and practices, they never fully overturned them. Rather, inequalities of power, position, and place—that were part of literal and figurative geographies of race and gender—became part of how activists from across three continents engaged in the struggle.

This article has shown that race and gender were major parts of the organizing campaigns against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The Italo-Ethiopian conflict heightened racialized discourse that had been part of European imperialism for centuries. Race was a salient feature of the crisis regardless of the standpoint of an individual, or group. In other words, Italian Fascists, the liberal democracies’ state leaders, Haile Selassie’s diplomatic corps, and those involved in the larger KEI movement (from the African and European diasporas across the globe) all used race discourse to position their movements. Making that point has been the centerpiece of my finding based on original archival research.

The title “O Mother Race,” I chose for its chronological positionality as well as the phrase’s usefulness as a tool to pry into multiple dimension of the Italo-Ethiopian crisis. My findings make a number of interventions regarding how race and gender intersected. The first set concern historiographical correctives. While I agree with scholars who maintain that World War I may have dismantled the “civilizing mission’s” hold, and served as a turning point in its history, the civilizing mission continued to justify western occupation and settlement. Moreover, the mission’s hegemony was upheld by both imperialists and a core community of collaborators who were colonial subjects. To be sure, the collaborators’ support of colonial regimes was one of dependency, with all the confinement and coercion that such relations of power entail. Imperial hegemony posited a hierarchical ordering of the world as well as personal relationships. After World War I, the League of Nations solidified this view through an international order that re-divvyed up the Central Powers’ territories, reaffirmed colonial possessions of the victors, and established the Mandate system over others. After World War I, then, the core pillars of the civilizing mission—race and gender—were not eradicated.

My second corrective here has been to view women as subjects—not just objects who may be gazed at through a gender lens. Women’s historians have contributed much to this type of work in other regions and eras. Women from Ethiopia and elsewhere were animating actors in the Italo-Ethiopian struggle. Feminist transnationalist circuits, which like the civilizing mission itself, had become well entrenched by the twentieth century, enabled mobilization to stop the war and occupation. My research shows how Ethiopian women were instigators of KEI and were essential elements to bringing their country’s message to the League of Nations and beyond it. This argument ties into recent scholarship in Italian colonial history, and links it to women’s history which has paid particular attention to imperial powers with the most longevity, specifically the British and French colonial systems. My argument is beholden to European and women’s historians who have built foundations in these areas. My research initiates a new direction by suggesting a more internationalist focus. I have started this with KEI but there are myriad avenues to follow. A global movement to end the Italo-Ethiopian crisis and fascist upsurge was not enough to end imperialism or hypernationalism. But that the diverse social movements linked arms, so to speak, had an impact on the future of race and gender relations in anticolonial nationalist movements as well as how and why every day practices of race got propelled into the post-World War II order.



  1. Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “Ode to Ethiopia,” in Lyrics of Lowly Life (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898): 30.
  2. Ernest Hemingway, “Wings Always Over Africa: An Ornithological Letter,” Esquire, 1936.
  3. Edward Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Penguin Press, 1978); Ruth Frankenberg, White Women Race Matters (New York: Routledge, 1993); Jane Schneider (ed.), Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country (New York: Berg, 1998).
  4. Jeff Pratt, “Italy: Political Unity and Cultural Diversity,” in Ralph Grillo and Jeff Pratt (eds.), The Politics of Recognizing Difference: Multiculturalism Italian-styled (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2002): 27-29.
  5. Brice Harris, Jr., The United States and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964): 5; Denis Mack Smith, Cavour and Garibaldi 1860: A Study in Political Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985): 10-12.
  6. Martin Clark, The Italian Risorgimento, 2nd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2009): 40; Lucy Riall, The Italian Risorgimento: State, Society, and National Unification (New York: Routledge, 1994): 14-15.
  7. Brice Harris, Jr., The United States and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), 5; Denis Mack Smith, Cavour and Garibaldi 1860: A Study in Political Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 10-12. Don Harrison Doyle, Nations Divided: America, Italy, and the Southern Question (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 2002): 40. Harris argues that d’Aziglio’s sentiment is often misunderstood.
  8. On regionalism, see Samuel Baily, Immigrants in the Lands of Promise: Italians in Buenos Aires and New York City, 1870-1914 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999): 166, 226; Peter D’Agostino, “Craniums, Criminals, and the ‘Cursed Race’: Italian Anthropology in American Racial Thought, 1861-1924,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 44, No. 2 (April 2002): 321. On Italian national identity as a part of different levels of acculturation, see Donna R. Gabaccia, “Class, Exile, and Nationalism at Home and Abroad: The Italian Risorgimento,” in Donna Gabaccia and Fraser Ottanelli (eds.), Italian Workers of the World: Labor Migration and the Formation of Multiethnic States (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 200): 21-22.
  9. On Muslims in Ethiopia and their willingness to fight Italian troops alongside Christians and other sects, see New Times and Ethiopia News, April 24, 1937, p. 1 and April 8, 1939, p. 2.
  10. I use the terms Italo-Ethiopian crisis, Italo-Ethiopian conflict, and Italo-Ethiopian war and occupation interchangeably in this article.
  11. See Angelo Del Boca, I Gas di Mussolini: Il Fascismo e La Guerra d’Etiopia (Rome: Editori Riuni, 2007).
  12. See Alessandro Triulzi’s review of Alberto Sbacchi, Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-1941 in the Journal of African History, Vol. 40, No. 3. (1999): 517-518.
  13. Among Alberto Sbacchi’s many works are: Ethiopia under Mussolini: Fascism and the Colonial Experience (London: Zed Books, 1985); “The Archives of the Consolata Mission and the Formation of the Italian Empire, 1913-1943,” History in Africa, Vol. 25 (1998): 319-340. See also Richard Pankhurst, “Fascist Racial Policies in Ethiopia, 1922-1941,” Ethiopia Observer, Vol. 12, No. 4: 270-285.
  14. Patrizia Polumbo (ed.), A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Giulia Barrera, “Mussolini’s Colonial Race Laws and State-Settler Relations in Africa Orientale Italiana, 1935-1941,” Journal of Modern Italian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2003): 425-443; David Forgacs, Italy’s Margins: Social Exclusion and Nation Formation since 1861 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
  15. Angelo Matteo Caglioti, “Race, Statistics and Italian Eugenics: Alfredo Niceforo’s Trajectory from Lombroso to Fascism, 1876–1960,” European History Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3 (2017): 464, 478.
  16. See Margaret Strobel, Gender, Sex, and Empire: Essays on Global and Comparative History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association): 8-10.
  17. Asafa Jalata, “Being in and out of Africa: The Impact of Duality of Ethiopians,” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2 (2009): 189–214.
  18. The Communist Part of the United States of America Records, TAM.132, Series X: General Files, Subseries A: Activists and Organizations Subject Files, Box 108, Folder 169, Ethiopia, undated, 1935-1985,; S.K.B. Asante, “The Afro-American and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis, 1934-1936,” Race, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1973): 167, 179 (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University), hereafter Asante.
  19. Michael Goebel, “‘The Capital of the Men Without a Country’: Migrants and Anticolonialism in Interwar Paris,” American Historical Review, Vol. 121, No. 5 (December 2016): 1448.
  20. Donna Gabaccia, Franca Iacovetta, and Fraser Ottanelli, “Laboring across National Borders: Class, Gender, and Militancy in the Proletarian Mass Migrations,” International Labor and Working-Class History, No. 66 (Fall 2004): 57–77.
  21. Philip V. Cannistraro, “Luigi Antonini and the Italian Anti-Fascist Movement in the United States, 1940-1943,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Fall 1985): 21-40; Stefano Luconi, “‘The Venom of Racial Intolerance’: Italian Americans and Jews in the United States in the Aftermath of Fascist Racial Laws,” Revue Française D’études Américaines, No. 107 (2006): 107–19; Fiorello B. Ventresco, “Italian-Americans and the Ethiopian Crisis,” Italian Americana, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1980): 4-27.
  22. Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War, 1935-1941, trans. P.D. Cummins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965): 12-13.
  23. Del Boca argues that, despite the fact that Italy fanned the flames of ethnic tensions, Somalians (as well as Eritreans) often fought together in support of Ethiopia and against the Italian invasion: 51.
  24. Sbacchi, Legacy of Bitterness, 76; Del Boca, I Gas di Mussolini, 64-65.
  25. Ian Campbell, The Massacre of Debre Libanos, Ethiopia 1937: The Story of one of Fascism’s Most Shocking Atrocities (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2014): xxiv, 51.
  26. For the Atlantic World, see Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro: 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968); Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800 (London: Verso, 1997); David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, Ch. 3; C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Tousssaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Edition 2, Revised (New York: Vintage Books, 1963): 47-48. For the Indian Ocean world, see Marcus Vink, “’The World’s Oldest Trade’: Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of World History, Vol. 14, No. 2 (June 2003): 162.
  27. On the global racism that developed as part of the Italian diaspora as well as other groups from the See, John T. McGreevy, Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, Ch2; Matthew Fry Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigration and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); John Dickie, “Stereotyes of the Italian south 1860-1900,” in A New History of the Italian South ed. Robert Lumley and Jonathan Morris, ed. (London: University of Exeter Press, 1999); Thomas Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); James R. Barrett and David Roediger, “Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class,” Journal of American Ethnic History 16 (Spring 1997): 3-34.
  28. Barbara Sórgoni, “Racist Discourses and the Practices in the Italian Empire under Fascism,” in Ralph Grillo and Jeff Pratt (eds.), The Politics of Recognizing Difference: Multiculturalism Italian-style (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2002): 44.
  29. John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 103-105. On the relationship between immigration, nation building, and a physical space, see Radhika Viyas Mongia, “Race, Nationality, Mobility: A History of the Passport,” Public Culture, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1999): 527-556.
  30. William R. Scott, The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
  31. Michael Adas, “Contested Hegemony: The Great War and the Afro-Asian Assault on the Civilizing Mission,” Journal of World History, Vol. 15, No. 1 (March 2004): 41.
  32. Adas, “Contested Hegemony,” 42.
  33. Quoted from Barbara Sórgoni, “Racist Discourses and the Practices in the Italian Empire under Fascism,” 43. Sórgoni details the Hamitic hypothesis more fully in, “Italian Anthropology and the Africans: The Early Colonial Period” in A Place in the Sun: 66-67.
  34. Sórgoni, “Racist Discourses and the Practices in the Italian Empire under Fascism,” 43.
  35. On the anticolonial confluences, see Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Ranbir Vohra, The Making of India: A Political History (New York: Routledge, 2014).
  36. Del Boca, The Ethiopian War, 12-13; Sbacchi, Legacy of Bitterness, 13-14; Ian Campbell, The Massacre of Debre Libanos Ethiopia 1937 (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2014): 21. See also Elisabetta Tollardo, Fascist Italy and the League of Nations, 1922-1935 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
  37. Christopher Seton-Watson, Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1870-1925 (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd, 1967), Ch12; On Treaty of St. Germain, Jean Allain, The Law of Slavery: Prohibiting Human Exploitation (Boston: Brill, 2015), 156-158
  38. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 23, 1936: 2.
  39. Robin Law, “Abolition and Imperialism: International Law and the British Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade,” in Derek R. Peterson (ed.), Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010): 129-149.
  40. New Times and Ethiopia News, June 13, 1936: 4.
  41. New Times and Ethiopia News, June 13, 1936: 4.
  42. New Times and Ethiopia News, June 13, 1936: 4.
  43. Ann Stoler, Carnal Knowledge: Race and the Intimate Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Nupur Chaudhur and Margaret Strobel, Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).
  44. “Letter from Mary Gawthorpe to Sylvia Pankhurst, July 17, 1932,” Box 6, Folder 11: “Women’s International Matteotti Committee,” 1932-1933, Series 3, Microfilm Reel 14, The Papers of Mary E. Gawthorpe, 1881-1973 (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University). Maria Grazia notes the pseudonym. See “Donne, pace, non-violenza fra le due guerre mondiali: la Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom e l’impegno per il disarmo e l’educazione,” (Ph.D. Diss., Università degli Studi di Bologna, 2007): 419.
  45. Richard Pankhurst, “Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War,” Women’s History Review, Vol. 15, No. 5 (November 2006): 773.
  46. Julie V. Gottlieb, “Feminism and Anti-fascism in Britain: Militancy Revived?,” in Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds.), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005): 76-77.
  47. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 16, 1936: 4.
  48. “Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Haile Selassie, November 17, 1937,” Pankhurst Papers ‎ (1893-1976), Emperor Haile Selassie I ‎ (1936-1960), Add MS 88925/2/1: Africa. Western Manuscripts, British Library. (Hereafter Pankhurst-Selassie Correspondence, British Library).
  49. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 16, 1936: 4.
  50. Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Haile Selassie, November 17, 1937, . Pankhurst Papers ‎ (1893-1976, nd), Emperor Haile Selassie I ‎ (1936-1960, nd), , Add MS 88925/2/1: Africa. Western Manuscripts, British Library.Over the course of the newspaper’s publication, there are many notices of it reaching across the globe. See for example, New Times and Ethiopia News, April 1, 1939, p8 and May 6, 1939, p8.
  51. Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Girolamo Valenti, August 6, 1932,” TAM 040, Box 1, Folder 12, “Correspondence, Pankhurst, Sylvia,” 1932 Girolamo Valenti Papers (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University).
  52. “Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Girolamo Valenti, August 6, 1932,” TAM 040, Box 1, Folder 12, “Correspondence, Pankhurst, Sylvia,” 1932 Girolamo Valenti Papers (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University).
  53. La Stampa Libera, September 24, 1935, 2: “A Miss Mary Belcastro vadano i nostri sentimenti amicizia e di gratitudine per la sua magnifica lotta che sta sostenando a favore della causa del antifascismo.”
  54. La Stampa Libera, September 24, 1935, 2: “Bubbole; l’Italia ha quattro possedimenti coloniali ancora deserti di colonizzatori italiani.” “Affogera nel sangue di migliaia di giovani spinta alte armi dalla miseria e dalle pesecuzioni fasciste.” “La nostra lotta contro il fascismo e l’imperialismo, e combattuta perche’ amiamo l’Italia ed i nostri avventurati fratelli che gemono la catene.” Author’s translation.
  55. “Letter to Anthony Eden, April 20, 1936,” published in New Times and Ethiopian News, May 23, 1936: 4. See also Alberto Sbacchi, Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-1941 (Lawrenceville, New Jersey: The Red Sea Press, 1997): 18.
  56. “Letter from Wasir Ali Baig to Sylvia Pankhurst,” for April 4, 1937, April 30 1937, September 10, and November 19, 1938, Pankhurst Papers‎ (1893-1976, nd), ADD MS 88925/5, New Times and Ethiopia News (1936-1956, nd), ADD MS 88925/5/4 Wasir Ali Baig (1936-1942, nd), Western Manuscripts, British Library.
  57. New Times and Ethiopia News, July 4, 1936: 8.
  58. La Stampa Libera, October 19, 1935: 4.
  59. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 15, 1937: 6; March 7, 1937: 4.
  60. Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” in Cheríe Morraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (eds.), The Bridge Called May Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table Press), 1983.
  61. F. White, The Abyssinian Dispute, League of Nations Pamphlet No. 387, August 1935, 29-33.
  62. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 9, 1936: 4.
  63. Except for Richard Pankhurst’s work which has looked at women, gender is often used to assess colonial conquest rather than analyzing women as agents. See Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst: Counsel for Ethiopia (Hollywood, California: Tsehai Publishing, 2003). Women are missing from Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War, and Sbacchi, Legacy of Bitterness. On gender as a category of understanding conquest, see Robin Pickering-Iazzi, “Mass-Mediated Fantasies of Feminine Conquest, 1930-1940,” in Patrizia Palumbo (ed.), A Place in the Sun: Africa in Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003): 197-224.
  64. Jalata, “Being in and out of Africa,” 192. Jalata argues that this name change also sealed the ancient mythology of Ethiopia with the imperial quest of Abyssinia.
  65. Jalata, “Being in and out of Africa,” 194.
  66. A.J. Barker, The Civilizing Mission: A History of the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-1936 (New York, The Dial Press, Inc., 1968): 30; Christine White, “‘Everyone Knows That Laws Bring the Greatest Benefits to Mankind’: The Global and Local Origins of Anti-Slavery in Abyssinia, 1880–1942,” Slavery & Abolition, Vol. 35, No. 4 (December 2014): 657.
  67. Amali Ribi Fordaz, Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Antislavery Activism, 1880-1940 (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2015): 109. Mia Fuller, “Italy’s Colonial Futures: Colonial Inertia and Postcolonial Capital in Asmara,” California Italian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2011): 3.
  68. Michael Adas, “Contested Hegemony: The Great War and the Afro-Asian Assault on the Civilizing Mission,” Journal of World History, Vol. 15, No. 1 (March 2004): 31-63.
  69. Caglioti, “Race, Statistics and Italian Eugenics,” 469.
  70. Caglioti, “Race, Statistics and Italian Eugenics,” 475.
  71. Peter D’Agostino, “Craniums, Criminals, and the ‘Cursed Race,’” 337-338.
  72. Caglioti, “Race, Statistics and Italian Eugenics,” 469.
  73. “Text of Address by Ethiopian Empress,” New York Times, September 12, 1935: 3. See also “Empress of Ethiopia to Broadcast Peace Plea,” New York Times, September 10, 1935: 12.
  74. On Gandhi, Maran, and Tagore, see Adas, “Contested Hegemony,” 50-59. Later in the century Frantz Fanon would evolve these arguments. See his Wretched of the Earth: (New York Grove Press, 1968).
  75. C. F. Lee, “Civilisation Challenged,” New Times and Ethiopia News, May 23, 1936: 2.
  76. Adas, “Contested Hegemony,” 63.
  77. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 23, 1936, p. 4.
  78. “Letter from Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia to Samuel Hoare, October 28, 1935,” B. D. Amis, Papers, 1930-2004, TAM.355, Box 1, Folder 7, Ethiopia, Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia (1935)(Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University).
  79. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 9, 1936: 2.
  80. Manchester Guardian, n.d. WILFP microfilm, Reel 61.
  81. New Times and Ethiopia News, December 5, 1936: 1.
  82. “Letter from Pankhurst to Selassie, December 3, 1936,” Pankhurst-Selassie Correspondence, British Library.
  83. New Times and Ethiopia News, July 17, 1937: 1.
  84. New Times and Ethiopia News, April 10, 1937: 7.
  85. New Times and Ethiopia News, September 4, 1937: 6.
  86. New Times and Ethiopia News, March 27, 1937: 4.
  87. New Times and Ethiopia News, April 10, 1937: 7.
  88. New Times and Ethiopia News, January 23, 1937: 1.
  89. Del Boca, The Ethiopian War, 203.
  90. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 9, 1936: 3.
  91. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 9, 1936: 1.
  92. New Times and Ethiopia News, January 16, 1937: 1.
  93. New Times and Ethiopia News, January 16, 1937: 3.
  94. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 16, 1936: 1.
  95. Crisis and Afro-American are quoted in Asante, “The Afro-American and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis, 1934-1936,” 175-176.
  96. Asante, “The Afro-American and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis, 1934-1936.”
  97. Jalata, “Being in and out of Africa,” 200.
  98. W.E.B. DuBois, “Inter-Racial Implications of the Ethiopian Crisis,” Foreign Affairs (October 1935): 82.
  99. Jalata writes, “Recognizing the political significance of the name Ethiopia and especially its Christian Biblical connections, Abyssinian leaders started to claim an Ethiopian identity and to argue that their territories once included all regions that classical geographers and historians described as Ethiopia,” 192.
  100. Reference Center for Marxist Studies Pamphlet Collection, 1900-1924, PE.043, Box 35 Ethiopia, Folder 1, James W. Ford, and Harry Gannes, War in Africa: Italian Fascism Prepares to Enslave Ethiopia: 3 (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University).
  101. B. D. Amis, Papers, 1930-2004, TAM355,, Box 1, Folder 7, Ethiopia, Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Ethiopia (1935), Letters to Selassie, Hoare, and Laval, October 28, 1935 (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive, New York University).
  102. New Times and Ethiopia News, January 16, 1937: 1.
  103. Emperor Menelik II defined himself as Caucasian, shows Aric Putnam. See Putnam’s “Ethiopia is Now: J.A. Rogers and the Rhetoric of Black Anticolonialism During the Great Depression,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Vol. 10, No. 3, (2007): 423. See also, Jalata who argues that these claims continue over successive generations and parallel those that have been made about Egypt, 99-200.
  104. William R. Castle, “Diaries, 1918-1960,” MS AM 2021, Volume 17: Jun 29-Dec31, 1930: 318 (Houghton Library, Harvard University).
  105. Putnam, “Ethiopia is Now,” 423.
  106. Putnam, “Ethiopia is Now,” 423.
  107. James R. Barrett and David Roediger, “Inbewteen Peoples: Race, Nationality and the “New Immigrant’ Working Class, Journal of American Ethnic History,” Vol 16, No. 3 (Spring 1997): 3-44.
  108. C. C. Belgrave, “Ethiopia Stretches Out Her Hands to God,” New Times and Ethiopia News, January 16, 1937, 3.
  109. C. C. Belgrave, “Ethiopia Stretches Out Her Hands to God,” 3.
  110. Aric Putnam, “Ethiopia is Now: J.A. Rogers and the Rhetoric of Black Anticolonialism During the Great Depression, Rhetoric and Public Affairs Vol 10, No. 3 (2007): 423.
  111. New Times and Ethiopia News, July 18, 1936: 4.
  112. Jeffrey Thompson Schnapp, et. Al, A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 177.
  113. Giulia Barrera, “Mussolini’s Colonial Race Laws and State-Settler Relations in Africa Orientale Italiana (1935-1941),” Modern Italian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, (2003): 430.
  114. New Times and Ethiopia News, January 16, 1937: 3.
  115. Forgacs, Italy’s Margins, 73.
  116. Cristina Lombardi-Diop, “Gifts, Sex, and Guns: Nineteenth Century Italian Explorers in Africa,” in A Place in the Sun: 134. See also, Barbara Sòrgoni, Parole e Corpi. Antropologia, Discorso Giuridico e Politiche Sessuali Internazionali nella Colonia Eritrea, 1890-1941 (Naples: Ligouri Press, 1998).
  117. New Times and Ethiopia News, March 13, 1937: 6.
  118. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999); Mae Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 1 (June 1999): 67-92.
  119. Caglioti, “Race, Statistics and Italian Eugenics,” 471-472.
  120. New Times and Ethiopia News, June 20, 1936: 4.
  121. New Times and Ethiopia News, June 13, 1936: 4.
  122. New Times and Ethiopia News, August 1, 1936: 5.
  123. New Times and Ethiopia News, May 23, 1936: 1.

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