This article conceives of a transpacific brownness in relation to other forms of brown to produce a storied manifest for brown theory. By activating “the brown transpacific” as an epistemological paradigm that navigates the disciplinary logics of colonial encounters, this article attempts to untangle a story of how some people in Asia went from resembling a wild and uncontainable threat to a form of brownness that became necessary for the reproduction of the Global North. As the last “color” term to be used by racial scientists, “brownness” has delineated racial hierarchies between blackness and whiteness that, to colonial powers, have emphasized the possible degradation of whiteness, or, to the colonized, have promised future induction into whiteness. The varied formations of transpacific brownness explored showcase the impossibility of its own capture—rather than reveal a bounded history, brownness arrives as a concept that cannot be grasped or produced into knowledge. This article thus shifts in its second half from its focus on the “brown transpacific” to a theoretical triptych that reflects on brownness as (1) a site for the ungovernable “brown mass,” (2) peoples marked for domestication through strategies of colonial containment, and (3) the complex “shades” that reveal troubling histories and shameful intimacies.

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