Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Race and Empire

America is obsessed with matters of race, and always has been. Back in the day, this preoccupation was focused on who could and could not sit at a lunch counter, or at the front of the bus. Now that we are living in a “post-racial” world, and the President of these United States is what we used to call a “Negro,” our obsession, far from disappearing along with Bull Connor’s truncheons, is intensified: instead of ferreting out “uppity” African-Americans – one of J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite pastimes – our elites are busy ferreting out racists, or those they imagine are racists, in a series of purges and public stonings that recall the Salem witch trials.

Yet this self-purgation is awfully suspicious, for a number of reasons – the first being that its ferocity suggests an underlying uncertainty, the suspicion that, the louder we denounce racism, the more unsure we are it hasn’t infected our very being. I view this campaign of militant political correctness with a jaundiced eye for the simple reason that it is entirely internal: that is, the campaign – like our politics – stops at the water’s edge.

Yet even the most cursory glance at our foreign policy since World War II, and particularly since the end of the cold war and the commencement of our eternal “war on terrorism,” reveals the unmitigated racism at the heart of the way we divide the world up into friends and enemies.

This racism is illustrated by the concept Thomas Barnett popularized in his book, The Pentagon’s New Map, which divides the world up into the “Functioning Core,” i.e. the Western democracies, and the “Non-Integrated Gap,” i.e. what we used to call the “Third World” before “anti-racism” elevated our language but not our conceptual framework. To be sure, Barnett is hardly a racist, or, at least, his paradigm is no more (or less) race-oriented than any of a number of foreign policy conceptions that have been floated in recent times, e.g. the “clash of civilizations.” [.pdf] Outside the Core, says Barnett, all is chaos, and it is the task – nay, the duty – of the US and its allies to keep order in this global No-Man’s Land where trouble can break out at any moment.

That this is merely an updated and rephrased version of the old White Man’s Burden rationale for imperialism should be fairly obvious, but it is worth noting that this mindset has become even more dominant now that we have supposedly left the Old Racism behind. Barnett’s thesis merely reflects the way Western elites view themselves and their relation to the rest of the world: among the nations of the Core – North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia – there are no threats to World Peace, because it is of course inconceivable that we ourselves are the problem.