The Enduring Global Color Line: W.E.B. Du Bois, U.S. Empire, and Structural and Individual-Level Racism in the Modern World-System

Tim Gill, University of North Carolina Wilmington

In recent years, W.E.B. Du Bois has received renewed appreciation within the social sciences, as scholars have drawn attention to the unrecognized empirical and theoretical advances Du Bois provided sociology. While individuals have rightfully drawn attention to his contributions on, for example, U.S. race relations, scholars have largely neglected his writings on more globally-oriented phenomenon, including colonialism, imperialism, U.S. Empire, and race relations at the global level. In this article, I detail Du Bois’ contributions on globally-oriented phenomenon, and I demonstrate the continuing importance of his ideas. More specifically, I argue that world-systems theorists and researchers should incorporate Du Bois’ insights in order to better conceptualize the intersections between race and class at the global level, as well as broader global political-economic dynamics in the 21st Century. In particular, I argue that we can utilize Du Bois’ writings to understand structural- and individual-level racism throughout the modern-world system. In doing so, I draw attention to how white-dominated societies, particularly the U.S., continue to financially dominate the world and maintain institutional control of prominent multilateral bodies such as the United Nations. In addition, I show how U.S. state functionaries continue to utilize racist and neo-colonialist tropes to justify and guide their imperial activity abroad. To illustrate, I use the example of contemporary U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela, and I pull from both interviews with high-ranking U.S. state diplomats, including former ambassadors and members of the State Department, and formerly classified U.S. embassy cables detailing U.S. foreign policy practices throughout the world.

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 Presented in Session 253. The Enduring Global Color Line