Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Study of International Relations: Brought to You by Racists

With sheepish apologies for the silence, I'm back. The APSA meetings in Chicago were a blast, which surprised me. Got to catch up with some old friends and colleagues, and also meet new ones. Among these are Errol Henderson, a University of Michigan PhD whose day job is writing on war and civil war, and who is on the faculty of the Political Science department at Pennsylvania State University. He asked a sharp question of his colleagues on the Black Political Thought panel (with many eminences participating, including Cathy Cohen, Michael Dawson, Hawley Fogg-Davis, and Michael Hanchard, with Cornell West jammed in the audience with the rest of us. Henderson took issue with the idea that Black Political Thought was just emerging and not a full-on project with its own illustrious roots, especially W.E.B. DuBois. Afterwards we chatted and he sent me an amazing chapter he'd written.

"Navigating the Muddy Waters of the Mainstream: Tracing the Mystification of Racism in International Relations," is in a collection African-American Perspectives on Political Science edited by Wilbur Rich and with a forward by Charles Hamilton (Temple University Press). Hendeson's essay is the best researched and most insightful article on the racist roots of international relations I've read. I knew the discipline of political science was founded by social Darwinists, but Henderson provides some eye-openers that should grab the attention of cynics and the naive alike. For instance:
The centrality of race in the analysis of world politics can be documented in the origins of the most venerable international relations journal in the US, Foreign Affairs. It became the house organ of the council of Foreign Relations in 1922, having been renamed that year from its previous title, the Journal of International Relations from 1919-1922. However, from 1910 to 1919 it bore its original title, which suggests its dominant orientation: the Journal of Race Development.
Henderson also dishes dirt on Woodrow Wilson, who was President of Princeton University before slumming it as President of the United States. Henderson points out the noble sentiments Wilson uttered in the name of the League of Nations and their incompatibility with his actions in the academia.
As president of Princeton he advised a black seminary student interested in attending the school that 'it is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton' and he suggested Harvard, Brown, or Dartmouth as alternatives ... In 1889 he had argued in The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics, that in order to understand the origins of modern government, 'one should not study the 'savage' traditions of 'defeated' primitive groups but rather the contributions of the 'survived fittest,' primarily the grups compsing the Aryan race" (quoting from Ido Oren's research Our Enemies and US: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science

And Henderson points out Wilson's obstruction of language in the charter of the League of Nations to require racial equality. In addition, Henderson provides an insightful, biting overview of the double-talk used in policy circles to demonize anti-racists questioning colonization policies in the interwar era by stigmatizing them as race conscious:

Race-consciousness was neither a characteristic of white peoples pursuing racist policies in the colonies nor was it even a reflection of white racism, but it came to be seen as a condition that afflicted indigenous (i.e., nonwhite) peoples that at times compelled them to seek 'racial revenge.'

This is great stuff. Read and learn.


Anonymous said...

Love to be able to read the piece, but I can't get the pdf to download. Thanks.

jacqueline stevens said...

sorry for that. forgot the www! it's up now. thanks so much for the note. js

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