It might seem odd, in 2023, to review a book that was released in 2015. It might seem strange, furthermore, to review a book about the exclusion of Black voices from the academy written by a white scholar.
Yet these are two crucial aspects of why the book White World Order, Black Power Politics – written by one Dr. Robert Vitalis – is vital (no pun intended on the author’s name) to discuss in both academic and layperson circles.
Vitalis’ book begins with two concurrent threads. One is the insistence on the preservation of Imperialism (with all of its racial implications) by white scholars in the late 19th and early 20th century. In this, Vitalis discusses the secret (or at least deeply buried) history of mainstream publications such as Foreign Aﬀairs – which began, many might be startled to find, as an entity called the Journal of Race Development that represented mainstreamed Imperialist and racist thought in the academy.
The second thread concerns a lineage of Black scholars, including most famously W.E.B. DuBois – whom Vitalis notes as an oft-neglected contributor to Foreign Aﬀairs. Furthermore, Vitalis discusses the rise of the Howard School of International Relations, a critical, Marxist-inspired paradigm originating with Black scholars at Howard University.
One of, if not the most important parts of Vitalis’ book is his emphasis on the history of African Studies as an academic discipline (or as a subfield within Global Aﬀairs programs). Within the own limited world of the author of this book review, a nearby university (University of Pittsburgh) has only recently lent a decent degree of attention or funding to its African Studies Center. This in spite of continuing controversy over American troop presence in Niger, and continuing French military intervention in countries such as the Central African Republic.
That academic programs spend inordinate time on East Asian and Middle Eastern Studies while neglecting African studies is only one of the shameful inequities that the book seeks to address (and of them all a relatively mild one) – but it is a problem that should be of concern to scholars, analysts, and enthusiasts of foreign aﬀairs. It should also be of concern to the public, who are provided with little information about African states through academic or media sources, even secondhand.
That the book was written by a white scholar is itself an ironic reflection of one of the book’s main themes – the censure (often through omission) of Black scholars and commentators on foreign policy or International Relations, and the privileging of white voices.
Thus, White World Order, Black Power Politics remains an important read for academics and the general public alike.
White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (The United States in the World) Paperback – February 28, 2017