Race and racism in the founding of the modern world order

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While race existed as a cultural marker in earlier history, a mutually-reinforcing link between racism, slavery and empire is a distinct product of western Europe and the US-led world order. Yet, mainstream scholarship on International Relations has obscured the question of race or worse, legitimized its exclusion in discussions of world order-building. At the same time, demand for racial equality from anti-colonial forces presented an alternative and inclusive conception of world order. The first part of this article offers a brief discussion of concepts of race, racism and world order. The next part examines how racist ideas and norms created exclusionary frameworks and approaches of world order, such as the European 'standard of civilization' principle. The third part looks at the role of racism in the emergence of the American-led world order, including US President Woodrow Wilson's rejection of the 'racial equality' principle in the League of Nations Charter, the privileging of 'sovereign equality' over 'racial equality' in the UN Charter, and the scant attention given to the link between colonialism and denial of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, anti-colonial leaders and conferences, especially the 1955 Bandung Conference, integrated 'national sovereignty, racialism and colonialism', and demanded racial equality as a fundamental human right. The final part cautions against the dangers of complacency and compartmentalizing the study of race and racism, and calls instead for viewing racism as an inter-linked global challenge, hence integral to the emerging research agenda of Global International Relations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-43
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved.


  • colonialism
  • history and International Relations
  • human rights
  • international history


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