In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Race and International Relations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Race, Racism, and the Study of International Relations
  • Race, International Cooperation, and Peace
  • Race, Racism, and War
  • Race and International Rules, Organizations, and Human Rights
  • International Politics and the Civil Rights Movement
  • Race and Foreign Policy
  • Race, Empire, and Imperialism
  • Race, Immigration, and the Global Economy
  • Race, Nation, and State

International Relations Race and International Relations
Zoltán Búzás
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0197


The discipline of International Relations (IR) pays little attention to race and racism, despite their historical prominence and their pervasiveness in everyday life. After the achievements of decolonization and civil rights movements, much scholarly work has replaced race with ethnicity and relegated racism to the past and domestic politics. Yet there are good reasons to think that race is still relevant in international politics, and while it is intertwined with adjacent concepts such as gender, class, and ethnicity, it is not reducible to them. This bibliography reviews flourishing research on race and international politics on the margins of IR, other subfields of political science, and in adjacent fields, such as African American studies, critical legal studies, critical race studies, philosophy, sociology, and diplomatic, imperial, and colonial histories. The bibliography starts with a discussion of general overviews, which include broad studies of race in international politics and foreign policy, intellectual histories of race and racism, and philosophical and sociological theories of race. The next section includes studies that critique the marginalization of race in IR, draw attention to racist concepts and assumptions in the discipline, and identify promising ways to employ race to shed light on various international problems. To facilitate further conversation between race and mainstream IR, the remainder of the bibliography is organized along central topics in the discipline: race, international cooperation, and peace; racism and war; race and international law, international organizations, and human rights; the “second image reversed” and the civil rights movement; race and foreign policy; racism and imperialism; race, immigration, and the global economy; and race, nation, and state.

General Overviews

This section includes three types of contributions, most of which go beyond International Relations (IR) and political science. The first category examines the role of race in international politics and foreign policy. Lauren 1996 is perhaps the most influential overview of the role of race in international politics. It is appropriate as an undergraduate or graduate textbook. With five volumes, Krenn 1998 is the most comprehensive collection of essays on race and US foreign policy. A second category of studies offers (intellectual) histories of race and racism. Fredrickson 2002 is an excellent succinct survey of the emergence of racism in the modern West. Greer, et al. 2007 expands on Fredrickson to provide erudite analyses of the emergence of race and racism in Renaissance Europe in the context of global imperialism. Contra the conventional wisdom espoused by Fredrickson 2002 and Greer, et al. 2007 that racism is a modern invention, Isaac 2004 contends that racism, or at least proto-racism, was invented in the ancient world. Hall 2011 complements this literature, which is heavily focused on the West, by exploring the history of race in Muslim West Africa. One’s assessment of when exactly race and racism emerged in history is not independent from one’s theory of race. A third category of studies address theories of race. Glasgow 2009 is a clear and well-organized philosophical discussion of these theories, perhaps most importantly highlighting how ontological questions (Is race real? What is it made of?) are connected to normative questions (Should we eliminate or conserve racial discourse and thought?). Golash-Boza 2015 is a comprehensive critical study of crucial racial themes in the United States and beyond. It is also useful as a textbook. Back and Solomos 2008 is the most cited reader that brings together prominent racial theories, primarily from sociology.

  • Back, Les, and John Solomos, ed. Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    A collection of essays from prominent race scholars, mainly from sociology. The main themes included are social theory, racism and anti-racism, colonialism, feminism, identity, and changing boundaries and spaces.

  • Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

    An insightful and accessible survey of the emergence of racism in the West from its origins in medieval anti-Semitism.

  • Glasgow, Joshua. A Theory of Race. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    A clear and systematic philosophical analysis of central debates in race scholarship. These include questions about whether race is real, whether it is biological or cultural, and whether we should eliminate or conserve racial discourse and thought.

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya Maria. Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    A comprehensive critical study of crucial racial themes in the United States and beyond. It interrogates the idea of race and types of racisms, structural racism and inequalities, racialized immigration policies, and race, health, and the environment. It is appropriate as a textbook (particularly the brief edition).

  • Greer, Margaret R., Walter D. Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan, eds. Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

    A rich collection of studies of early modern imperialisms. It illuminates Renaissance Europe’s invention of race and racism, which combined religious and color-coded elements.

  • Hall, Bruce S. A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    Documents the history of race in Muslim West Africa, which has important current implications for conflict in the region.

  • Isaac, Benjamin H. The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    Challenges conventional wisdom by arguing that racism is not a modern invention. Racism, or at least proto-racism, was common in ancient Greece and Rome.

  • Krenn, Michael L., ed. Race and US Foreign Policy from the Colonial Period to the Present. New York: Garland, 1998.

    A comprehensive five-volume collection of essays on race and US foreign policy.

  • Lauren, Paul Gordon. Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial Discrimination. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996.

    This is perhaps the most influential overview of the role of race in international politics. It touches on the historical antecedents of race and racism, slavery, immigration exclusion, imperialism, the Holocaust, decolonization, South African apartheid, and the politics of race at the United Nations. Appropriate as an undergraduate or graduate textbook.

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