Join Dr. Brenda Plummer and Professor John Ciorciari in a virtual series on the historical roots and impact of race shaping public policy in the global context. February 3, 2022.
0:00:25.8 Plummer: Welcome everybody and glad to have you with us. I'm John Ciorciari, and I am a Ford School faculty member and I'm delighted to welcome you for this event on America and the Colonial Project. Understanding race and how it intersects with public policy has never been more important. This requires understanding racial foundations of public policy in the US, which was the focus of an inaugural series convened by our new Center for Racial Justice this past fall. It also means understanding the role of race in international politics. And today's event is the first in a series of five convened this winter and spring by the Center for Racial Justice, the International Policy Center, and the Weiser Diplomacy Center on race and international relations. I wanna start by thanking Professor Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Ambassador Susan Page and Dominique Adams-Santos here at the Ford School for their leadership in bringing the series together.
0:01:25.0 Plummer: This winter and spring we'll explore how race has affected the development of the international relations discipline, how it affects international governance interventions, its relevance in the foreign policy profession, as well as the growth of a transnational BLM Advocacy Network. Today we're going to kick off with a discussion of history, focusing on the ambivalent and inconsistent US role in the colonial enterprise and the links between US foreign policies and racial oppression in the US.
0:01:54.8 Plummer: Our guest is the noted historian, Brenda Gayle Plummer, a professor of history and professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her research and teaching cover race and gender, civil rights, Afro-American history, international relations and race and foreign affairs. She's widely published in leading journals and edited collections, and her several books include the book, "In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization" from Cambridge University Press in 2012. She's won book prizes in Afro-American history and diplomatic history, and we're just delighted and honored to welcome Professor Plummer to the Ford School for this kick-off event. And so welcome to the Ford School virtually, I'm excited about this conversation.
0:02:39.8 John: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
0:02:42.8 Plummer: Thank you. So in terms of format, I'll start off with a series of questions for Professor Plummer, on our theme, we'll then welcome questions from the audience, which you can enter through the comment box on YouTube. And to get us started, I wanna go back to the early years of American history. The US itself emerged from colonies and expanded in large part through manifest destiny and related ideas as well as the conquest of indigenous people. How did ideas of race and colonial acquisition inform US international behavior, particularly in the 19th century, such as the Mexican-American War, the Walker expeditions, and efforts to annex the Dominican Republic?
0:03:28.5 John: Well, that certainly is a big chunk of history. [chuckle] I would say that one of the things to look at was the founding fathers' vision of what the United States should be. By the time the British were colonizing the Eastern Seaboard in great numbers, it's already a century of Spanish colonization. One of the things that British observers beheld was the fact that Latin America had become essentially a mixed race civilization. This was not something that they particularly liked. You read letters by people like Benjamin Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, and so on, in which they suggest that a mixed race society was not what they want in the territories that they controlled.
0:04:40.5 John: They very much believed in a hierarchy of races, so there was a foundation from, I think, from even from the colonial times of seeking a particular view or look for the colonies and later for the republic that placed a racialized framework on the country's development. Territorially, there was a lot to look forward to in terms of land acquisition. I think it's very interesting that the colonies were referred to as early as the 1600s as plantations, even when they weren't actually plantations, but there was a sense in which enterprise was a very important part of how this new country would be perceived.
0:05:51.2 Plummer: Great. And if I may, very early in that history, in which you're describing, sort of the mixed racial composition of the Americas and the sense of racial hierarchy that existed within colonial leadership, you had the events in Haiti, the uprising against French colonial rule in the late 18th, early 19th century, eventually, the first black republic founded. And at a time when there was still slavery within the United States and would be for several more decades, how did the Haitian uprising affect US policy toward the Caribbean and Latin America during that period?
0:06:30.9 John: The Haitian Revolution was, in the words of Michelle Waltoyo, unthinkable. [chuckle] It was a major violation of the realities of as slaveholding regimes. The fact that this rebellion and of course, there had been slave rebellions before, but a rebellion which then took on the character of a modern state was something that was unprecedented. The United States clearly could not recognize such a regime and did not until the Civil War. It was not possible to accord the revolutionists in Haiti the status of free people and Republicans smaller. So essentially what this meant then, is that all external attacks on slavery had to be repelled. We find that Caribbean sailors, for example, are not allowed shore leave in American ports. They have to stay on their vessels. The European powers up until 1825, when France breaks this embargo, the European powers in the United States had no diplomatic relations with Haiti and attempted to constrain trade, even though smuggling did take place. Perhaps a modern analogy might be the United States treatment in reaction to Cuba in terms of it being a pariah state in the eyes of officials. Similarly, in the 19th century, Haiti was a country which could not be recognized and had to be marginalized to the degree possible.
0:08:49.4 Plummer: Right. And at the same time, in the same period, of course, the Louisiana Purchase was happening. The United States was marching westward, eventually the Mexican American War. How did that process of westward expansion and conflict with Mexico relate to, to these conceptions of racial hierarchy that exist in the US at that time?
0:09:14.5 John: Well, good that you mentioned the Louisiana Purchase, that was a direct consequence of the failure of France to conquer the rebels in Haiti. France had a mercantilist idea that it would use its North American territory, vast Louisiana Territory, to supply its sugar plantation, which, of course, was Saint-Domingue, now Haiti. And there would be this sort of reciprocal relationship. Haiti would supply the sugar, the Louisiana Territory would supply food and other equipment that would not be grown in Saint-Domingue. But with the loss and warfare of the Caribbean colony to Napoleon, Louisiana was just a big wilderness which he gladly sold to the United States. So we see then an opportunity for Americans to settle, to expand into a vast amount of territory where they came up against lands that were inhabited by Mexicans and by people who, actually by Spaniards who had actually preceded the Mexicans as settlers in that area. So the basis of a conflict with Mexico, then, of course, was the contest over this land. Now, in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexicans were given the status of whites. And this was something that was negotiated by Mexico following its defeat in this war. So we have an interesting situation where legally Mexicans had the status of whites.
0:11:32.3 John: But in subsequent generations, as we see, that did not mean that they did not experience racial discrimination. And so there's quite a history and literature of going through decades about the ramifications of what the legal status of Mexican Americans has been and what their actual experiences of discrimination have been.
0:12:03.0 Plummer: Right. And in the period ensuing, there were and I referred to these earlier, there were expeditions efforts to conquer parts of Central America or the Dominican Republic. But one notable feature of US foreign policy in the late 19th century is that it didn't become as expansive or as explicit a colonial power as some major European States did France, Britain, among others. What do you think accounts for that? Why the United States didn't get into the colonial contest as vigorously as it might have during that period of time?
0:12:38.7 John: Well, for one thing, in some respects, it didn't have to. What it had to do was to conquer Indigenous people and those remnant populations, such as Mexicans who were living in the west. So wars of conquest did take place. The United States avoided the moniker colonizer by the process of absorption and claiming that this territory was rightfully a part of the Republic. Of course, later in the 19th century, the United States did...
0:13:26.2 John: Go venture into colonial expeditions, and William Walker stuff, and Nicaragua, I think it's interesting that a lot of the initiative for these Caribbean forays was slaveholding. As students of American history are aware, that was one of the major conflicts in the 19th century among Americans, the whole question of slavery expansion, which states and territories would be free of slavery, which ones would be permitted to maintain slavery. Slavery was expansionist. As cotton culture developed, slavery moved from the eastern sea board into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. And there was no reason why it would not keep growing except for opposition from people with a stake in free labor. So one impetus for pro-slavery forces was expansion into areas where slavery could be practiced. And after 1865, we find that some southerners, actually southern slaveholders actually move to Cuba, Brazil, where they could continue at least for another couple of decades the practice of plantation agriculture.
0:15:08.0 Plummer: Right. And by the end of the 19th century, of course, the US shifted from the episodic efforts at colonialism to a much more brazen colonial policy in the era of the Spanish-American War in McKinley and Roosevelt. What do you think accounts for that change in US policy at the very end of the 19th century?
0:15:32.2 John: Well, but even before the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish American War, there was an interest in the United States acquiring territory, not so much for the purposes of economic exploitation, but more for, I guess what you could call the strategic acquisitions. So we have, for example, Admiral Mahan and the book is called something like The Influence of Navalism of Sea Power on... I don't remember. [chuckle] It's been a long time since grad school. [laughter] But it was all ready before the Spanish American War, the notion that the United States had strategic interests in the Pacific. And so there is some thought on the part of some historians that rather than see that more as the product of a yellow journalism agitation, that one of the things we might look at is weather what they were really interested in was not so much Cuba or Puerto Rico but the Philippines, which they proceeded to conquer and occupy after the Spanish had been driven out of the Caribbean.
0:17:09.3 Plummer: Right. And, of course, the US itself was back in the Caribbean not long afterward, back to Haiti. And in 1915 after the Haitian president had been killed by a group of people and there were demonstrations in the capital, the United States shows up with a bunch of marines and occupies the country for almost 20 years. Walk us through a little bit of the logic of that intervention from the US, and in particular how it relates back to that history of Haiti and its connection to racial discrimination in the United States.
0:17:49.2 John: I think there are several factors involved. One of them, of course, was that Germany had been flexing its muscles, not only in the Caribbean but on the South American continent as well. And we know that a couple of years after the occupation began, there was the infamous Zimmerman Telegram where Germany was trying to court Mexico into an anti-American alliance. But the issue with Germany was one part of this. I think another is the opposition on the part of Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson, to revolutionary insurgency of any kind. And of course, the Monroe Doctrine could be used to ward off foreign powers. But I think this opposition to government transitions in the way that they had been taking place in Haiti played a role. Additionally, there was a reform impulse which really kicked in once the United States had managed to militarily quell gorilla opposition within Haiti. So you had all of these people who are interested in road building, creating schools on the model of the Booker T. Washington industrial education schools...
0:19:42.0 John: Establishing schools and hospitals that are really reflected not so much what Haitians wanted, but what Americans thought they should have. And, of course, another motive, then your underlying a lot of this was just simply the Jim Crow nature of American society which was transported to Haiti, you know, the common view in the United States at that time that racial segregation and black subordination were appropriate ways for the society to be. And the idea that those ideas were equally applicable to the situation in Haiti.
0:20:35.4 Plummer: To what extent do you think the... On that point about the domestic politics and narratives around the Haitian occupation, to what extent do you see similarities and differences in how the Haitian occupation was treated vis-a-vis the colonial occupation of the Philippines or of Puerto Rico?
0:20:56.9 John: Well, I think that the Haitian occupation was harsher than the occupation of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Not harsher, at least not at first, than the occupation of Philippines, remember the United States actually fought a war with the Filipino Nationalists before it was able to firmly establish its rule. But I think we see... If you're going or go back and look at some of the documents of the public discourse, media of the time, we see a lot of racialization. Look at editorial cartoons and you'll see both Haitians and Filipinos depicted in satirical ways as grass skirt-wearing savages. So racialization occurred in both instances.
0:22:07.6 Plummer: Right, and this carried through, of course, all the way through into the mid 20th century. And I then want to turn to a subject you've written a lot about, and I'm sure have much to share on, and that's the Cold War period and the period of at least partial decolonization. The US during that period often voiced its commitment to decolonization and self-determination, sometimes took action, at least arguably, to that effect. The most often cited example might be the Suez Crisis of 1956 in which President Eisenhower said, "We can't allow the French, and the British, and Israelis to conspire to maintain control over the Suez Canal vis-a-vis Egypt." But at the same time, the US clearly tolerated or sometimes even encouraged colonial behavior by its allies, and US cultivation of client state-relationships had a clear imperial character, if not a colonial one per se. I wonder if you could spend a few minutes walking us through the forces guiding US Foreign Policy in this respect? To what extent do you see race as a factor in these policies alongside material economic interests and alongside fears of communist expansion or the Soviet Union?
0:23:26.9 John: I think there's a great deal of ambivalence expressed by American officials during this particular time. One thing I think that is a factor is that the United States has always had a discourse of being a republic, and not an empire, of not accepting any kind of Appalachian that it was an empire. When countries in Asia and Africa became independent, the United States still maintained the notion that, well, while the United States will establish relations with these countries, if any problems, it's the French, the Dutch, and the British that ought to take care of it. And so there's still this sort of sense that these countries were still in some sort of clientelistic position. It was the assumption, now that they're independent, but they really still have this relationship with the so-called "Mother countries."
0:24:43.3 John: So when these countries in the so-called "Global South" began to step out of the dependent relationships, the United States was concerned about how they would ally themselves in Cold War terms. Whether they would be amenable to a Western alliance, whether they were going to be in the Warsaw block, whether they were going to somehow pivot between the two. One of the points that raised tensions along that line was the Afro-Asian Conference of 1955, the Bandung Conference, which the Eisenhower administration was very concerned about, and was worried that it was an anti-white conference, where in fact, it was essentially a nationalist conference. It was conference of mostly Asian states who were prioritizing issues that they thought were real not necessarily attached to the Cold War. So there's a tendency than in that administration to be somewhat reductive in terms of not really giving nationalism its due, and not often, not always making clear distinctions between communism and left nationalism.
0:26:32.3 John: And when you see that, of course, and John Foster Dulles' thoughts and statements and so on. With regard to Suez, there's also the fact that the United States was not all that committed to Israel at the time, certainly not in the way it has been in recent decades, and was establishing through American corporations, tighter relationships with the Mid-East oil-producing states. So I think those are some reasons why we see this sort of ambivalent behavior in policies, actions in Washington during this particular time.
0:27:25.4 Plummer: Great. And you anticipated my next question, which was going to be about the Afro-Asian summit in Bandung, Indonesia in the mid-'50s. To what extent did the leaders of what would become the Non-Aligned Movement, people like Nkrumah, or Nasser, or Tito, even the Chinese leaders, speak about their resistance to the superpowers in racial terms? Clearly nationalism and ideology were factors, but did race come up frequently in the dialogue around the Non-Aligned Summit?
0:27:58.8 John: To my knowledge, no. That the concerns were for... One interesting concern was about the nuclear threat. And although not all of the involved Africans were present at Bandung, there was certainly a concern in Africa about French nuclear testing in the Sahara, particularly because of the particular geography of Africa is that there are some winds that are seasonal winds that blow from the north to the south. And people were concerned about radioactive dust settling over large parts of the African continent as a result of this testing. Which interestingly, also coincides with the end of the French occupation of Algeria, so it became an issue, an anti-imperialist issue as well as less directly, a Cold War issue because the concern was not so much about whether the West and the Soviets were at odds, as what is the impact of their being at odds on the life chances of people in Africa and Asia.
0:29:37.8 Plummer: Right. At the time, of course, in the '50s, in addition to the Non-Aligned Movement, there was Nasser's Pan-Arab Movement, there were Pan-African movements. If we bring it back closer to home here in the Western hemisphere, how did the Pan-African movements refract through Central... I'm sorry, through Caribbean and Latin American politics? To what extent were those resonant, and how did those affect the relations between the United States and its near neighbors?
0:30:09.6 John: How did Pan-Africanism affect the relations between the United States and countries in the hemisphere?
0:30:17.2 Plummer: Correct. Correct.
0:30:19.4 John: Well, the Caribbean countries that are dominated by people of African descent had always been involved in Pan-Africanism and had played a role of analyzing the relationship between, for example, slavery and the development of capitalism. So we have work like Eric William's Capitalism and Slavery. Eric Williams, of course, was the Premier of... Prime Minister of Trinidad. We have work by CLR James, another Caribbean intellectual who wrote a pioneering work in English about the Haitian Revolution, Black Jacobins. They were influential not only in their own countries, but globally. The idea that slavery was a motor for capitalism, was for a long time denied by historical establishment in the US. More recently, historians have come to embrace this idea, and they've certainly refined what Williams was saying, but it's now become almost the standard position in the field now that, yes, slavery was a motor for the development of the Industrial Revolution and for the expansion of capitalism in Western societies. So that's certainly one aspect of the impact of this sort of internationalist Black thinking on scholarship, particularly in history.
0:32:40.0 Plummer: Right. And if we bring it back into the domestic arena, tell us a little bit about the domestic discourse on US Cold War policies, particularly in places like the Caribbean where there were obvious racial dynamics. To what extent were African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans involved in challenging those policies, whether through Congress or through civil society channels?
0:33:04.3 John: Well, anti-colonialism... I was very much, of course, related to anti-racism domestically, that African-Americans saw colonialism as modeling a lot of discrimination and justice they experienced domestically, and so what we find in the course of 20th century is, at first, critiques that say colonialism needs to be reformed. And then with the Garvey Movement and with the Pan-Africanism of post-World War II, position that colonialism doesn't need to be reformed, it needs to be abandoned. And again, we find that a number of people who are forthright about all of this are Caribbean leaders. We also find that among the first generation of political leaders in West Africa and in the Caribbean are people who came into politics through the labor movement, through being the heads of major unions and federations. So if I'm not losing track [chuckle] of your question, I don't know, I'm wondering here.
0:34:43.5 Plummer: Not at all. That's exactly on point. I mean, how the labor unions and domestic politics related to racial oppression, how that intersects with challenges to US foreign policy in the Cold War.
0:34:55.8 John: Mm-hmm.
0:34:57.0 Plummer: Yeah, absolutely. I've got a few more questions that I want to ask, but let me use this as an opportunity to cue the audience, please do enter your questions in the YouTube comment box because you're on very soon, and we look forward to your comments and questions. But I've got a couple more, and one of them is to ask, in today's environment, the United States still has relationships with territories and peoples in Puerto Rico, and Guam and, in other Caribbean, and Pacific Islands. Should we understand these to be essentially colonial relationships? In what way do these contemporary statuses resemble or differ from sort of the precolonial era?
0:35:46.0 John: Well, I consider them colonies. It would seem to me that to make a distinction as is done in the Pacific colonies between nationals, and citizenship, and citizens, is perfectly consonant with traditional colonialism. If you are a national in a territory that is operated by the United States and you have to apply for US citizenship, so you don't have the full rights of citizens. Puerto Ricans don't have congressional representation. If you're living in Puerto Rico, if you were born there, you cannot ever become President of the United States, so I see these as colonial relationships.
0:36:48.3 Plummer: Okay. Yeah. And I have one more question that I'd like to ask before we get to the audience. You mentioned this earlier, the idea of how certain issues become racialized, and obviously, ideas about conceptions of race and their relevance to policy aren't static. Looking at the more recent past, how have certain key issues become racialized in US foreign policy? Be that counter-terrorism or migration, I'm sure there are other examples, and how does this relate to America's ambivalent relationship, not just with colonialism, but with neo-colonialism?
0:37:27.3 John: Well, I think that immigrants and people from the Middle East became racialized because they had been racialized already. It's not that big a step from ascribing certain racial characteristics to a group in non-political contexts and then ascribing those same characteristics to them in political context. Excuse me. One of the interesting pieces of the history of all this is in what we call the prerequisite cases, these are emigration cases, where people from Middle East, or when you're applying for citizenship status, and because there was no clear idea about what constituted a free white person, alright? As I remember the Immigration Act of 1790 said, that citizenship was open to free white people, and then that was extended during reconstruction to people of African descent, but all bets were off on everybody else. So Judges had to decide who was and who wasn't white. So when it came down to Arabs, the ones who made the cut were Arabs who were Christian, and not only that, but who could indicate that they did not have or did not share ancestry with Arabs who were Muslim.
0:39:27.3 John: So there was a racialization involved in this notion of lineage, and so they're... You probably don't have time to drill down too much into this, but we find in addition to those kinds of issues, a history of Orientalism in a country where certain kinds of geographic and physically based notions about people from the Middle East came into mainstream society through the media and through various forms of popular culture. So the ingredients for racialization were there and because racialization is contingent, right, it is invoked when needed, if you will, in certain circumstances. It was not that difficult then to create the racial others or racial adversaries.
0:40:32.5 Plummer: Right. Great, thank you. I think you're, you'll be happy to hear we got some great questions from the audience. And I'm going to read the first. Could you please speak about the potential role of a colony of black Americans former slaves in Central America that President Lincoln envisioned.
0:40:53.3 John: This is about the, of Lincoln's notion of that African-Americans could be essentially exported to Central America. Where there are a couple of things going on with that, one there was already a history of back to Africa history. Some very distinguished Americans were patrons of the American Colonization Society, which was an organization that helped to found the country of Liberia. So the notion that as free people, African Americans could not be assimilated into American society. And so those who are free should be kind of filtered out of the general population and sent some place else. But ultimately the government did not put any money into this. And the beginning of a Civil War basically disrupted that, anyway.
0:42:05.0 Plummer: Good. The second question we have from the audience asks, Dr. Plummer, can you please speak to the role of religion in American colonial projects?
0:42:14.7 John: Okay, well, we'll start off with the very beginning of the country. The original idea was that you could not enslave Christians. But [chuckle] slavery turned out to be too profitable. So the fact that Africans were Christians did not eliminate their vulnerability to slavery. And with regard to native populations, and by the way, I'm speaking very generally, because I'm really not an 18th and 19th century specialist here. But with regard to Indians, there was also the idea of converting them. This is something that the Spanish had done in establishing missions, the purpose of which, in addition to making money for the religious orders, was also designed to convert indigenous people to Christianity. The notion of a Christian mission, the errand in the wilderness, to bring a Christian society into being in the midst of darkness was a key notion in earlier times. I think by the 19th century. I think you know, the colonizing mission has become almost completely secular.
0:44:08.9 Plummer: Our third question gets to the interesting example that you shared with us about how Arab-Americans could be judged to be essentially black or white. And the question asks, we typically think about the black white binary in the context of US domestic relations. I'd love to hear you talk about the extent to which ideologies of blackness and whiteness have underpinned American Colonization and present day international relations.
0:44:38.5 John: The United States has always perceived itself as a... Until very recently, as a racially bipolar society. And the fact that other societies worth was one factor in rejecting those societies. You know, we've mentioned Latin America before, the United States did not want a spectrum of racial types and wanted whites and blacks. And the others were somehow aside of this framework. There are remnants of this today. We talk about Barack Obama as having been the first black president. He was equally white and black. But 'cause we frame race in binary terms, then he becomes the first black president. So what happens is that other people of color have to somehow shape themselves around this reality.
0:45:47.5 John: And it's a place of uncertainty for them, because they're never sure of where their stance is. And an intermediate status is one to be held on to because in a black-white binary, of course it's a Black position that's the lowest, common denominator. But at the same time, and those who are not Black are not always accorded the status of whiteness. And this uncertainty in a way, is a way of... It's a way of power. Right? It's a way of keeping the racial regime going by neutralizing the power of non-Black people of color by keeping their situation unstable.
0:46:43.6 Plummer: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Absolutely. Our next question thanks you for the exciting talk and asks, "Could you please speak to how the United States continues to use moral justifications to frame present day interventions?" So I pose as opposed it could be interpreted as your critique of the kinds of moral justifications that the United States uses to intervene internationally.
0:47:09.5 John: Well, there are different ones for different interventions. Well, I don't know. Saving the world for democracy, preventing communist incursions. Most recently in Afghanistan, saving women. There are any number of rationales for interventions. I'm not quite sure I can answer that question in... Much better than that.
0:48:01.0 Plummer: Maybe I'll add just a slight bit to the question from our audience member and ask about the... To the extent that the United States and others in Europe for that matter, use good governance as a sort of mantra justification for intervention in largely non-white societies, to what extent do we take that as face value? Are these reflections about judgments of people's fitness for self-governance? Should we regard this as a kind of neo-colonial enterprise, or might there be something to the notion that the need for good governance would be a justifiable basis for intervention?
0:48:45.6 John: I see. Well, I think good governance would be a necessary but not sufficient reason for these interventions. There are plenty of places that don't have good governance, but do not invite or do not have circumstances which prompt powerful countries to intervene. So I think in most instances, there's some other reason of some other interests of state in this. And I think it's very interesting, John, in your own work, you talk about this sort of shared sovereignty, or situations where one of the ways that powerful countries can exert influence is through basically trying to help. [chuckle] And countries that are amenable to letting the more powerful country take on certain kinds of responsibilities or obligations having to do with administration. It's an interesting historical example of that in the Dominican Republic, which was willing to have itself annexed to the United States because of its concerns about being invaded by Haiti.
0:50:22.0 Plummer: Right.
0:50:22.8 John: And so a while it's a sovereign Republic, they did not have that many qualms about what we would perhaps consider today undue American influence in its affairs for reasons of its own. So I think that the good governance thing also necessarily requires a certain degree of complicity if you will, or co-operation from the host country.
0:50:57.1 Plummer: Right. Yeah. Good point. Our next question asks you, "What's the biggest misconception or assumption about the history of US colonialism that you most seek to demystify in your scholarship and in your teaching?"
0:51:12.5 John: Well, one of them is that there's no colonialism. [chuckle] That the United States has always been a republic that's concerned about the territorial integrity and independence of other states, and that its reasons for intervention when it did intervene, were based on only the highest moral principles.
0:51:51.3 Plummer: We have now a pedagogical question for you. At The Ford School, we've been engaging in conversations as a faculty about what anti-racist teaching looks like and diversifying what and how we teach more broadly. So the questionnaire asks, "How can we better educate our students and what should we be thinking about as we craft syllabi, introduce core ideas and facilitate discussion in the classroom on education policy?"
0:52:17.1 John: Well, it seems, that one thing that is really important to do is to respect where students are and where they're coming from, and that's done through framing discussions and debates in ways that do not undercut, undermine or alienate to the degree possible the students who often hearing what they might perceive as disturbing information for the first time. So I think that is one aspect. In addition to respectful pedagogy, one thing that very often is helpful is if you can always be making connections between what students might commonly experience in every day life and some of the historical points that you are trying to make and to essentially try to encourage some pro-activity on the part of students. Don't let them sit in the back row and brood, [chuckle] try to get them involved as possible in the matters at hand.
0:53:53.5 Plummer: Thank you, thank you for that. It's certainly very valuable to our conversation at the Ford School, I'm now turned to a question, this one's from Celeste Watkins Hayes, whom as I mentioned, is the Director of our Center for racial justice, and whom I thank for her idea for this series. She asked what are some of the guiding principles that the US should consider into ongoing relationship with Haiti, given the history, what in your view is missing in this long-standing discussion?
0:54:20.7 John: Well, what's always been missing in the United States relationship with Haiti is genuine concern, [chuckle] Haiti's perhaps a poster child for not so benign neglect, and the United States has been all too willing to go along with a very small group of business-oriented people in Haiti who are comfortable with exploiting the vast majority of the people. It is all too comfortable with assuming that politicians who you generally concern with the majority of the people are somehow communists or castro-lites, it also needs to acknowledge to Haitians the mistakes it has made in the past, which have been many and not only the occupation in 1915-34 but I think the biggest problem is that everybody is willing to let that country be the poorest in the hemisphere, and all too willing to put up obstacles to Haitians coming to the United States as immigrants to better themselves. They have a lot of people who were outraged by that little scene at the border of guards on horseback waving reins or whatever, lassos, whatever at people who were trying to cross the River, so this kind of stuff is. If the united states is sincere this has to go.
0:56:21.0 Plummer: We have a question that follows nicely on that, which is, how has the US avoided accountability for human rights violations to the extent they've occurred in its colonies and protectorates, which for a period included Haiti?
0:56:36.7 John: Well, when you look at great powers across the board, we might ask also, how has China gotten away with its persecution of its Tibetan and Muslim minorities. Who is going to challenge. The United States, has not been challenged in externally, in sufficient ways to make it change its Modus operandi. I think the only challenge is going to come from within, it has to be about citizens who are aware and who decide that they are going to do something about it.
0:57:25.8 Plummer: And on that domestic conversation, we have an audience member who's asked us to come back to a theme that you raised earlier about who's considered white, who's considered black, who's considered neither, and to comment a little bit on, who's considered white in the United States today?
0:57:48.6 John: Well, who is considered white? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. One of them is that the government decides who's white, the census, until very recently, had some very categorical labels to put on people as to whether they were non-Hispanic, white or Asian-Pacific or so on, and so forth. So racialization is in part, not only coming out of civil society perceptions, individuals perceptions of what somebody looks like, it also comes out of government's ways of classifying the population, alright, and that can be for a good or ill if you are... On the basis of your race and ethnicity, eligible for certain benefits, then you will not complain most likely about the government classifying you in that manner, but one of the roles of the state is to create these information flows, if you will, about its citizens.
0:59:24.8 John: And I'd like to ask you a question myself following on that, which is, of course, a lot of our policies come from the composition of the people who make them, and I know that you've had a fair amount of work that you've done with think tanks and with the foreign policy establishment, to what extent over the course of your career, have you seen positive change in this area in terms of diversifying the foreign policy community in the US, and where do you see the continued barriers in that regard?
0:59:54.8 Plummer: Well, I'm told that with regard to the state department, that the foreign service is now only 80% white, which is an improvement over its past. So the needle has moved. Question is, Has it moved far enough? The other issue, and this is something that I really don't have any information about, it's more or less speculative, but it seems to me that other agencies such as the Defense Department also play major roles in foreign policy making. But I don't have any information about what their diversity looks like at the top. So I think this whole question of how the United States presents itself abroad, who its representatives are... I think we're not only looking at the Foreign Service, we are looking at other branches of government as well, for which there's been less attention.
1:01:11.4 John: We've got one more question here in the queue, and it may not be the last, so those of you in the audience, if you'd like to ask another one, please do, but from our Center for Racial Justice at the Ford School, we're teaching our students to be students of policy analysis and to develop themselves as leaders who can advocate for policies consistent with the evidence. What would you add to the global racial foundations reading list? Where should the members of the audience today go to learn more?
1:01:43.7 Plummer: There are about 200,000 books that could be recommended, are you looking for specific titles or general topic areas to explore.
1:02:00.4 John: I myself, I wasn't the formulator of the question, but I'd love to hear a little bit of each, maybe a few different domains that you think would be most useful for us to teach about or for our students to learn about, and if an example or two pops to mind for a given theme, we'd be very interested to hear.
1:02:20.5 Plummer: Well, for an undergrad class, I'm teaching this semester, called Race and Nation in American History, one of the texts we're looking at is one by Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire, which raises this whole question of how it is that the Americans do not perceive the United States, as a colonial power. And his focus is in some part, geographic. I mean he starts off, starts a book off looking at a map, and it's a map of the contiguous United States, and his discussion is that we don't add these territories, in quote, in my opinion, "colonies" that the United States has amassed over the years, and if we did that, what would this look like? In terms of the African-American engagement with foreign affairs, there's a lot of materials, there's a... I'd say a work by Carol Anderson, by Mary Dudziak, Michael Crane are works to look at. There are some newer folks coming along, like Robeson Taj Frazier. I could go on and on. There really has been a proliferation of literature on these subjects.
1:04:05.3 John: Great, we've had another question here, which is an interesting one to consider. "As African countries grapple with the lingering effects of colonialism, they're also developing new relationships with places like China, how would you connect to these newer economic relations with your work? Where does China fit alongside this past of European and in some cases, American colonialism?
1:04:28.2 Plummer: Okay, that reminds me of yet another book. [chuckle] It was called The East is Black, China in the Radical Black Imagination. But anyway, getting back to the gist of the question. I think this really just speaks to the fact that United States after the collapse of Soviet Union, was assumed to be and unchallenged hegemon. The rise of China, but I think also in terms of economic power we'll soon see India also asserting itself and these things are going to have an amazing impact, not only on world politics, but even on the environment as more countries industrialize and particularly the larger ones, what this is going to look like in terms of a constellation of global power. There is...
1:05:50.8 Plummer: It was in the past, in any rate, when China was in fact Maoist, a black radical interest in that country that I don't see now, but I think that interest was, again, related to opposition to conditions in the United States, and a critique in general of what was perceived to be Western Imperialism and perhaps a less acute observation of imperialism that was coming from China as well.
1:06:28.3 John: Great. I have another question, and this one, I hope it's okay with the questioner if I tweak at it slightly. The question is whether... How you would evaluate the US experience with colonial or in quotes "colonial-like efforts" on a cost-benefit basis. So, what are the principal benefits that the United States has derived from its colonizing efforts, and I'd like to add myself, what are some of the principal costs?
1:06:57.8 Plummer: Well, again, I don't think the United States is a colonial power in the old-fashioned sense of a territorial power that is extracting resources. I think it's more of a strategic power. Example being, the what, some 700 bases the United States has around the world, some of them in sovereign countries. The benefits, of course, are having an ear to the ground all over the world, able to anticipate situations that are injurious to presumed national interests, able to have a voice in the economic planning and production of all kinds of places all over the world. Downside, of course, is the cost to the United States in its reputational cost. We also might wonder if it is, to the long-term interest of the country to have a military establishment that is so cut off or isolated or separated from civil society. So those might be some advantages and disadvantages.
1:08:40.3 John: Thank you, thank you. And I'd like to close us out with one last question as we're getting close to the end of our time together. As a historian, I wanna ask your views on how our students can best equip themselves to be, if not professional historians, at least good students of history. We have a lot of conversation in the Ford School, and it's a very healthy one, in my view, over the last several years about how important it is for us to understand where policies came from and to trace them through time, to understand some of the roots of the contemporary problems that we're facing. What types of skills, aptitudes, do you think students should be trying to cultivate at a policy school to be effective consumers of history and students of it?
1:09:25.7 Plummer: No, of course, the first thing is to read [chuckle] and read and read more. [chuckle] There are just some very fundamental things, I think professors need to be getting students to write. Writing is cognition. [chuckle] And very often, we, as professors, have the idea that we need to be entertaining. We need to vary our instruction, which is fine up to a point, but there are certain very key basic skills, I think are necessary. And one of them, I think, is honing writing skills because that is essentially honing thinking skills.
1:10:24.7 John: Great. Well, thank you very much for that. We're just about at the end of our hour and a quarter. And so, I'd like to have everyone join me, even if we can't see you, please join me in sending vibes of thanks to Professor Plummer for sharing those great insights with us. I very much admire your scholarship and the ways in which you're leading and contributing to this conversation. We look forward to several more great events in the series during the winter and spring as we continue our series on Race and International Relations. Thank you, everybody, for joining us and we hope to see you again here at the Ford School soon.