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The Impact of White Supremacy on US Foreign Policy towards Africa

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07.02.2018

In bipartisan discussions regarding US immigration policy, President Donald Trump’s dismissal of African nations as “shithole countries” was met by widespread outrage (Barron, 2018). President Trump’s racist statements cannot be isolated from recent developments within America’s diplomatic corps. The purging of people of color from positions of authority within the US State Department that has happened on his watch indicates that diversity is being sacrificed in line with Trump’s controversial worldview (Ballesteros, 2017). Trump’s statement was less a slip of the tongue than a verbal manifestation of systemic white supremacy very much a part of US foreign policy.

America is in a unique moment of self-reflection. For those who claim to care about Africa, it is necessary to (re)explore the ways in which American race relations impact its foreign policy on the continent. Through the lens in which many view America, every conversation, international development and foreign policy being no exception, can be filtered through a racial lens. Desmond S. King and Rogers M. Smith state:

Today, racially inflected contests in courts, legislatures, electoral campaigns, and popular discussions over affirmative action; school and residential segregation; felon disfranchisement; majority-minority districts; racial profiling; the disparate racial impact of incarcerations and the death penalty; hate crimes; reparations for slavery; Native American rights; immigration policies; bilingualism; multiculturalism; “model minority” stereotyping; and racial discrimination in housing, auto, and credit markets, and in hiring and promotions, all still roil American political waters. Many putatively nonracial issues, such as restraints on free speech, vouchers for private schools, the revival of federalism, and disputes over public health, environmental, and social assistance policies, all continue to be shaped by race-related struggles. Few of these issues, or the wider developments with which they are linked, can be understood without exploring the enduring tensions between and within the nation’s racial orders (2005: 89).

The American engagement of race does not begin, nor does it end within its borders. What might be harder for some to support, especially those believing that the United States has reached a “post-racial” stage in its development, is the idea that the political leadership does not remove its bias against Americans of African descent from policy decisions that impact sub-Saharan Africa.

Race and American Politics

As stated in an essay by Julie Novkov, “the United States was founded simultaneously as a democratic republic and a racial state” (2008: 651). Inequality of various types that could be clearly observed along racial lines were widely accepted for most of its existence.

Due in no small part to the complexity noted by Novkov, people of color have disproportionately found themselves within the ranks of the American poor. As democratic space within the US appeared to widen because of the Civil Rights Movement, inclusion of people of color in the wider economic and political life of America factored heavily in its domestic policy agenda. This dramatic shift was made with both race and capital in mind.

The governance of the poor was driven by paternalism and neoliberalism (Fording, Soss and Schram, 2011: 1611). The behavior of the poor was observed and acted upon in a manner that highlighted dysfunction and prescribed a need for behavioral adjustment. Through a racist lens, unemployment, underemployment, and poverty itself–all driven by a myriad of underlying factors–was seen simply as proof of moral failure. The state rewarded those it deemed willing to change. Punishing those who in its view refused or were unable. Later, neoliberalism was promoted to expand markets to include the poor with the thought that access to economic “opportunities” would lead to a reduction in the need for welfare. Far from being limited to domestic application, these approaches........

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