Race in International Relations

  • Citation: Le Melle, Tilden J. "Race in international relations." International Studies Perspectives 10.1 (2009): 77-83.
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • race
    • racism
    • racial discrimination
    • ethnocentrism
    • nationalism

Any discussion of race, whether in intranational or international relations, requires a clear definition of the term race and its derived concepts of racism and racial discrimination. The term must also be distinguished from those words that too often are used indiscriminately to mean race but have a distinctly different meaning and obfuscate any serious attempt at understanding intra-national and international race relations. Primary among such terms are a person’s ethnicity and/or nationality to designate race. Examples of the former are use of the terms African-American or Jewish. Examples of the latter, though used less frequently, are such terms as Chinese race or Russian race. Distinctions must also be made to understand the difference between racism and the terms ethnocentrism and nationalism. The former posits the inherent superiority of one’s culture over all others. The latter posits the nation-state as the ultimate and final boundary for a citizen’s allegiance. Additionally, with the end of European colonialism around the world, the elimination of legal anti-Black racial discrimination in the United States and the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, seemingly race-neutral terms have emerged in domestic and international lexicons to designate race. Examples such as inner-city, Western, the West, North-South, sub-Saharan Africa, and so on, all have racial undertones beyond the superficially obvious geographical designation. As a matter of fact, the almost universal use of the terms Western/Non-Western and the West not only have racial undertones but posit Europe as the geographic center of the international system. Hence, even in the present-day ‘global’ international system, western Asia is still defined from a European perspective, and northeasten Africa as well as Arabic speaking states of the Maghreb are referred to as part of the Middle East. The case of Israel as a ‘Middle East’ state is interesting in that because of its Ashkenazi citizens and the European origin of political Zionism, it is not always immediately perceived as a part of southwestern Asia but as European despite its citizens’ historical and cultural connection to the other Semitic people of the region. It is comparable to Australia and New Zealand being counted as countries of the North in the discussions of North/South issues as also in the establishment of the ANZUS treaty group.

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