Race and the Construction of Working-Class Masculinity in the Nigerian Coal Industry: The Initial Phase, 1914–1930

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This article examines the impact of the capitalist economy, colonial rule, and wage labor on African masculinity and how African ideas about manhood impacted behavior and expectations of work in the coal mines of the Enugu Government Colliery in southeastern Nigeria from 1914 until the great depression. These mines were a “site” where racism became a crucial part of British strategies to control African labor and is one of the first places African workers experienced the “colonial masculinity” of racist white bosses. Both the workplace and the development of the city of Enugu encouraged subordinate local men (local slaves, unmarried men, poor men) to challenge the hegemony of powerful elite rural men in the form of rural revolts by men pressed into the mines and waves of industrial protest against conditions in the mines. Coalminers' presence in and political ties to rural villages led them to push for increased wages used to enhance their standing as men in their communities. Also, both the material and ritual requirements of rural male status and the masculine ethos of coalmining figured critically in workers' assessments of a “just” wage and respectful working conditions. Finally, miners drew strength from their position as “modern,” self-improving rural men to challenge racist (the African “boy”) and emasculating treatment in the mines. At the same time working men drew strength from their jobs in a “modern” industry (and the income they generated) to challenge the power of authoritarian colonial chiefs and elite men in the rural village. The article suggests that by factoring race and masculinity into the analysis of African laboring men scholars can gain new insights into the consciousness of workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-56
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Labor and Working-Class History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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