Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
“Race” has assumed an anomalous status in the historiography of foreign relations. Although scholars freely acknowledge that “race” is a “construction,” an unscientific rendering at best, with little or no deeper meaning, it is nevertheless gaining prominence as a useful lens through which to view U.S. foreign relations – and the world itself. This point is evident in the explosion of literature on “whiteness,” which purports to explain how those who were warring “ethnically” on the shores of Europe are constructed racially as “white” upon landing on these shores. As race gains prominence as a useful tool of analysis, our thinking on this crucial subject becomes somewhat inverted. Whereas we once focused on how race and race relations shaped U.S. policy abroad, we are now concerned as well with how foreign affairs influenced race relations at home. Whatever our perspective, almost all scholars would agree that race, in the words Glenn C. Loury, “is a mode of perceptual categorization people use to navigate their way through a murky, uncertain social world.”
Most would agree also that we have only begun to scratch the surface of our subject. Scholarship needs to expand in time and space, whether our focus is on race, which is a slippery and elusive concept, or “racism,” which is a stunning, multi-dimensional reality. It needs to incorporate more carefully the all-important realm of economics, especially economic development.