Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988

By Brenda Gayle Plummer | Go to book overview

Race from Power
U.S. Foreign Policy and the General
Crisis of White Supremacy
GERALD HORNE

Explicit doctrines of racial supremacy are in bad odor nowadays, particularly among foreign policy elites; such retrograde ideas are viewed widely as the justly neglected relic of a long forgotten era. That epoch has its archaeologists in the proliferating critical studies of the “construction of whiteness.” 1 These studies have posed a profound question: how was it that those who had fought in Europe—English versus Irish, French versus German, Russian versus Pole, Serb versus Croat, even Jew versus Gentile—were, on arrival on these shores, suddenly reconstructed as “white,” and provided real or imagined privileges based on “white supremacy”? We define white supremacy here as the belief in the right of those of European heritage to dominate all others. 2 Some studies have noted that in addition to providing a cohesive identity for diverse European immigrants, “whiteness” and white supremacy had the added advantage of providing a convenient rationale for seizing the resources and labor of darker peoples who were presumed to be “inferior”: that is “race” (“whiteness”) was derived from “power,” and “power” was derived from “race.”

In spite of the richness of these studies, few place the construction of whiteness in the context of U.S. foreign policy, in spite of the highly relevant global context. At the very least, whiteness and white supremacy provided an alternative to the ethnic identities that had so often plunged Europe into war. Additionally, whiteness studies have generally not included Africans—as opposed to African Americans—in their understanding of the construction of whiteness, nor have they comprehended that the closing of the frontier in North America and the final defeat of Native Americans led directly to an assault on the “frontier” in Africa. Whiteness studies, broadly speaking, have neglected to perceive Asia, and notably the ascendancy of Japan after its 1905 defeat of Russia, as a central factor in the evolution of white supremacy.

One cannot begin to understand U.S. foreign policy during the past century without contemplating race and racism, or understand the ebb and flow of race and racism in this nation without contemplating the global context. If,

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