Foreign Policy and Racism

If the United States is going to heal its society and remain a source of inspiration abroad, it has to publicly and openly embrace self-criticism. Foreign-policy practitioners have to do what was once rare: use their platforms to speak to the American people and audiences abroad about racism and change the way the foreign-policy community operates.

Domestic racism has long undermined U.S. foreign policy. With the civil rights movement coinciding with the dawn of independence in sub-Saharan Africa, national security officials swiftly labeled segregation and racism as threats to U.S. foreign policy toward the region. As the public was to learn years later, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, noted that the situation in Little Rock, Arkansas, was “ruining our foreign policy. The effect of this in Asia and Africa will be worse for us than Hungary was for the Russians.” Officials in John F. Kennedy’s administration were even more forthright: Kennedy adviser (and, later, a senator from Pennsylvania) Harris Wofford advised that racial justice at home would “do more good in promoting good relations with Africa than anything else we can do.” It was infrequent when these sentiments were shared publicly, though Kennedy’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs (and former governor of Michigan), G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, denounced racism as a “blight on America” in a speech at the University of Oklahoma.

Adkins, Travis L. & Devermont, Judd. (2020, June 19). The Legacy of American Racism at Home and Abroad. Foreign Policy.

This isn’t the first time we’ve linked to an article about how racism impacts foreign policy. Here’s Senator Chris Murphy opining on the same thing.

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