Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: Developing An Antiracist Foreign Policy

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Ikechukwu Okereke (CAS 25) is a first year student of political science and international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences.

It is time to develop antiracist foreign policy. From the disproportionately greater effects that climate change will cause for communities of color globally to the disparity of COVID-19 vaccination between wealthy countries and poorer countries, racism is ingrained within the global system. This is due to historical implementations of racist policies, which have been perpetuated by racist norms. 

However, recent global movements have challenged current racial hierarchies, creating the possibility for racism to be detangled from the global order. Nevertheless, in order to achieve this, activists must push nations to develop antiracist foreign policies. 

To be antiracist, however, one must recognize the distinction between the ideas and policies that form both antiracism and racism, and how they shape each other. Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University’s Center of Antiracist Research, said in his book “How to Be an Antiracist” that an antiracist idea “suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences,” while antiracist policies are measures that make or encourage racial equity among different racial communities.

Furthermore, he considers policies to be more important than ideas in both racism and antiracism, proving in his book “Stamped From The Beginning” that racist policies often have motivated the history of racist ideas in the United States and that self-interested actors developed racist ideas to justify racist policies. This feedback loop of racialized policies generating racialized norms can be seen in the creation of modern institutions.

In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia established a new order in Europe, in which sovereign states were the dominant entities controlling international affairs, contrasting with other systems operated by non-European cultures. This divergence was used by Europeans to justify colonial conquests, arguing that it represented Indigenous people’s perceived lack of civilization, which subjugation would, under European racist ideology, help resolve.

Afterward, colonizers developed imperial administration to find methods of managing vast colonial territories effectively, something which the United States was gearing up to do by the latter half of the 19th century. Imperial administration, therefore, migrated to the United States in the form of an academic journal under a new name: the Journal of Race Development

Its articles continued claiming that “native races” were unable “to develop states without colonialism,” despite the efforts of Black intellectuals who created the Howard School of International Relations to counter these theories. Ultimately, racialized beliefs about development were wrapped into the newly made social science we know as International Relations.

Yvonne Tang / DFP STAFF

Nevertheless, antiracist foreign policymakers can retaliate against these long-standing racial norms through equity-increasing measures. Antiracist policy framework should be adapted from the “three R’s” approach of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy — which is a similar disparity-reducing strategy for gender imbalances in the international system and is based on improving rights, resources and representation. 

This strategy means that states must dismantle racial violence and discrimination toward oppressed racial groups, allocate aid to them based upon past injustices and mandate participation of those groups in all levels and areas of decision making. 

An additional fourth “R,” reality checks and analysis, ensures that actions made by governments would be based upon sound research, monitored for their effectiveness, accountable to those affected by them and designed through cooperation with other states and organizations.

Let’s take trade as an example. High-income nations import billions of tons in raw materials from low-income countries but maintain significant trade surpluses with these states each year. This is because wealthy nations are able to command higher prices for their exports while undercutting poorer countries by appropriating resources from them for below fair market prices, resulting in a global system of labor exploitation. 

To rectify these discrepancies, antiracist foreign policymakers advocate ending the structural under-representation of the Global South in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, reformatting the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement mechanism to stop privileging developed countries over undeveloped ones, and improving workers’ rights in all trade agreements. 

We can further apply this framework to military interventionism. Democratic peace theory is a lens through which international relations scholars postulate that democracies are less likely to go to war with other countries or between each other compared to non-democracies. 

Despite evidence contesting this theory, political leaders have rationalized invasions and occupations of less-democratic and less-white countries through democratic peace theory, leading to disastrous quagmires. Instead, antiracist foreign policymakers recognize that wars in post-colonial states are caused by historic policies such as ethnic partition or the slave trade. These policymakers then push for reparations to compensate for these abuses.

As shown above, antiracist foreign policy could lead to the end of systemic racism in world institutions. But while powerful structures cannot die so easily, there are still reasons to hope. 

For example, last May, Germany officially recognized the colonial atrocities it committed towards the Nama and Herero peoples of Namibia as a genocide, and will pay $1.3 billion as compensation to the victims.

Nevertheless, activists must push global powers to adopt antiracist foreign policies to further the advancement of humanity and racial equality.


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