To non-white subjects of empire living in the imperial metropolis of the 1930s, British racial logics could seem ambiguous. Though often less overt than in the colonies, racial dynamics nevertheless left their imprint on metropolitan life. This paper suggests that one way of better understanding the consolidation of racial identities in imperial Britain is to look to the practice of commissions of enquiry. We explore how these investigative, bureaucratic modes of imperial governance enabled a refining and, in some instances, a challenging of the sense of imperial Britishness; and created opportunities for colonial activists from Africa and the Caribbean to confront the racial codes at the heart of imperial Britain. Commissions served as both a site for discussion of race and empire, and a mode of their actualization in metropolitan political and social life.
Bibliographical noteLeslie James gratefully acknowledges the support of the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship in completing this article.