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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchWhy Race Matters in International Relations

Why Race Matters in International Relations

Author: Kelebogile Zvobgo and Meredith Loken

Affiliation: The International Justice Lab at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, and the University of Massachusetts

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: July 19, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Word Count: 1940


Keywords: The US Academic Discrimination, Mainstream IR theory, Race, White supremacy, and Western Dominance


In this article, Zvobgo and Loken highlight the issue of racism, which is rooted in the field of international relations and its mainstream theories, in particular, considering race as a central issue and feature in world politics.  However, it remains a marginal issue that scholars of international relations deny until now due to the dominance of White racial thinking and Western Eurocentrism over the field, its mainstream theories, universities, and professional institutions alike.  This would impede our understanding of many global issues and harm the integrity of this discipline, as they argue.  The authors present examples on many levels and then finally suggest a set of practical solutions to overcome this problem.  On the level of the IR mainstream theories (realism, liberalism, and constructivism), the authors give examples in some of their concepts and approaches, such as the Anarchy and balance of power in Neo-realism, and international cooperation and democratic peace theory in Neoliberalism. All of them are concepts and approaches based on Eurocentrism and used to justify White imperialism and the Western-White colonization of non-White countries. They remain concepts that are restricted to use in the West and are not supported by empirical evidence outside its scope.  Moreover, White racism permeates the IR’s major journals and its research institutions.  For instance, the famous Foreign Affairs Journal was an extension of the Journal of Race Development (1910), whose name had been changed in 1919 to the Journal of International Relations, then Foreign Affairs in 1922.  As another example, between 1945-1993, among the five major IR journals of the period, only one published an article with the word “race” in the title.  Another four articles included “minorities” and 13 included “ethnicity.”  Despite the emergence of “non-White” schools resisting the dominance of White supremacy in the field since the mid-20th century, similar to Howard University in the US, the IR mainstream theories have not developed their ignored stance to issues of race at all. The article also draws attention to the racism and marginalization to which “Black and colored” scholars are exposed in American universities and research institutions.  Despite “the largest producer of IR scholarship, only 8 percent of scholars identify as Black or Latino, compared to 12 percent of scholars in comparative politics and 14 percent in U.S. politics.”  Black scholars also suffer from racism even in major professional academic societies such as the International Studies Association (ISA), which has not yet devoted a section and activities dealing with the issue of race.  All of this negatively affects the integrity of the field and hinders our understanding (as scholars and decision-makers) of many current global issues.  The authors conclude by providing practical recommendations to address these problems, including the need to recognize this deliberate denial, the integration of academic works on the issue of race in the curricula of bachelor’s and postgraduate studies, and the need for universities to ensure the achievement of ethnic and intellectual diversity, whether among the members of researchers or teaching staff to benefit from their critical views in order to develop this field.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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