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Foreign Policy

WHY RACE MATTERS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. Western dominance and white privilege permeate the field. It’s time to change that. Race is not a perspective on international relations; it is a central organizing feature of world politics. Anti-Japanese racism guided and sustained U.S. engagement in World War II, and broader anti-Asian sentiment influenced the development and structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. During the Cold War, racism and anti-communism were inextricably linked in the containment strategy that defined Washington’s approach to Africa, Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. And today race shapes threat perception and responses to violent extremism, inside and outside the “war on terror.” Yet mainstream international relations (IR) scholarship denies race as essential to understanding the world, to the cost of the field’s integrity.

Take the “big three” IR paradigms: realism, liberalism, and constructivism. These dominant frames for understanding global politics are built on raced and racist intellectual foundations that limit the field’s ability to answer important questions about international security and organization. Core concepts, like anarchy and hierarchy, are raced: They are rooted in discourses that center and favor Europe and the West. These concepts implicitly and explicitly pit “developed” against “undeveloped,” “modern” against “primitive,” “civilized” against “uncivilized.” And their use is racist: These invented binaries are used to explain subjugation and exploitation around the globe.

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