Ethnic Identity Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Thomas Ambrosio | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3

White Mischief: U.S. Support for Apartheid, 1948-1961

Catherine V. Scott

Historians have written numerous works that compare and contrast South Africa and the United States in terms of slavery, segregation, and capitalist development. 1 The comparisons, however, have not tended to extend beyond domestic society to explore the way in which whiteness itself operates in foreign policy and international relations. 2 When we think of race, we usually think of domestic politics; we also tend to think of people of color. The cost of domesticating the study of race means that we risk ignoring “how race has worked in the past in constructing various aspects of global politics, the various transformations it has undergone, and if and how it continues to work today.” 3 Conceptualizing race only in terms of nonwhite peoples also tends to treat white as an unmarked category, “unreproduced and essentialized instead of unpacked and debunked.” 4 My contention is that U.S. support for apartheid can be explained by examining the interactions and intersections of narratives of whiteness in each country. Using the numerous secondary sources on South African-U.S. relations, South African parliamentary debates, and print media in both countries, I explore parallel narratives of whiteness for the National Party (NP) victory in 1948 until the early 1960s, when grand apartheid had been fully entrenched in South Africa. My argument is that U.S. and South African policymakers observed each other through an often-distorted and unstable lens of whiteness, which helps to explain U.S. support for, and acquiescence in, the apartheid regime. This exploration contributes to our understanding of the role of race in constructing foreign policy in a specific case and suggests other ways in which race and foreign policy could be examined in contemporary foreign policy analysis.

The first section of this chapter offers a critique of common explanations for U.S. support for South Africa, most of which ignore or pay only passing atten


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