Recentering U.S. Empire: A Structural Perspective on the Color Line

Katrina Quisumbing King*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In the past 20 years, scholars of top sociology and race and ethnicity articles increasingly have mentioned the term “color line.” Prominent among them are sociologists concerned with how incoming waves of Latin American and Asian immigration, increasing rates of intermarriage, and a growing multiracial population will affect the U.S. racial order. While much of this work cites Du Bois, scholars stray from his definition of the color line in two ways. First, they characterize the color line as unidimensional and Black–white rather than as many divisions between non-white people and whites. Second, scholars portray the color line as the outcome of microlevel factors rather than the product of international geopolitical arrangements. I contend that in contrast to scholarship that portrays immigrants and intermarried and multiracial people as shifting the color line, international and imperial policies related to immigration, intermarriage, and multiracial identification are longstanding sites of the construction of the U.S. racial order. Scholars should conceptualize the United States as an empire state in order to analyze the international political history of multiple color lines. In doing so, they can distinguish between differences in kind and degree of racial divisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-25
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Race and Ethnicity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • color line
  • Du Bois
  • empire
  • immigration
  • intermarriage
  • multiraciality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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