Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
African Americans in U.S. Foreign PolicyFrom the Era of Frederick Douglass to the Age of Obama$

Linda Heywood, Allison Blakely, Charles Stith, and Joshua C. Yesnowitz

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252038877

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252038877.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use (for details see http://www.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 21 June 2018

A New Negro Foreign Policy

A New Negro Foreign Policy

The Critical Vision of Alain Locke and Ralph Bunche

Chapter:
(p.30) 2 A New Negro Foreign Policy
Source:
African Americans in U.S. Foreign Policy
Author(s):

Jeffrey C. Stewart

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252038877.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter is structured around the provocative claim that African Americans are natural diplomats because of the particular circumstances of the black experience in the United States. In order to survive, African Americans have been conditioned to mask their frank judgments about the American “democratic” system. Within this framework, the chapter conceptualizes a so-called “New Negro foreign folicy.” As embodied in the work of Locke and Bunche, this perspective is characterized by a critical approach to foreign policy, albeit one that is not too radical or too applicable to the American domestic racial context so as to avoid offending white liberal sensibilities (and therefore jeopardizing patronage opportunities). Representative of sequential stages of development within this foreign policy tradition, Locke and Bunche encountered different levels of political access and policy influence.

Keywords:   African Americans, American democratic system, foreign policy, Alain Locke, Ralph Bunche

For an America that prides itself on never having been an empire, it is remarkable how sensitive Americans are when African Americans dare to tell us what our approach should be when it comes to Africa. A kinship between the African and the black American that is routinely denied, or if admitted is labeled as the basest essentialism, becomes threatening once the African American subject challenges America about its foreign policy toward Africa. That’s because the black American embodies discourses of race and colonialism whenever she or he steps into the foreign policy debates of the United States and Europe. Whether aware of it or not, the African American who takes up the international affairs of the West enters those discussions as a black body inscribed with the crimes of Western imperialism even if he or she has never set foot in Africa. Participation in the world of foreign affairs is thus problematic for African Americans, especially if they want to be players—those whose insights, innovations, and vision will actually shape the future of the world—for the suspicion always lingers that the black American can’t be trusted.

(p.31) Such distrust arises because for much of the nation’s history America has demanded fawning agreement from the African American, and as a consequence the African American has utilized a series of masks to shield the world, and herself, from the consequences of having lived as a virtual pariah in a “democratic” society. This masking, hiding in plain view the ability to say things that can be taken more than one way, has created a distinct American persona—allowing the “Negro” to survive, but also creating suspicion—that the black commentator is not telling the whole truth. Perhaps the first “New Negro” poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, articulated this phenomenon of turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Negro consciousness when he broke with his traditional dialect idiom, itself a mask, and in 1896 wrote the poem “We Wear the Mask,” which announced in its first two stanzas,

  • We wear the mask that grins and lies,
  • It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes—
  • This debt we pay to human guile
  • With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
  • And mouth with myriad subtleties.
  • Why should the world be over-wise,
  • In counting all our tears and sighs?
  • Nay, let them only see us while
  • We wear the mask.1

By 1925, when Alain Locke published The New Negro: An Interpretation, the idea of the New Negro was of a young, forthright black subject who rejected the “old Negro” persona of always “wearing the mask” and telling white people what they wanted to hear, and instead spoke plainly about the injustice and inhumanity of racism in America.2 Whatever else the Harlem Renaissance did, it educated sophisticated white people that there was a “double consciousness,” as W.E.B. Du Bois famously defined it, of looking at the world as an American and as a Negro and that a tension existed between the two visions of America’s interests. While the New Negro concept advertised a break with past strategies of psychological survival and accommodation, “wearing the mask” did not disappear in the Harlem Renaissance. Rather, it moved to a higher level in which a kind of sophisticated New Negro subject emerged, who had attended elite historically white universities and colleges; who had traveled internationally and possessed broad interests and knowledge on a range of scholarly subjects; but who was nevertheless dependent on elite white allies to advance personally and, if lucky, shape the future of the nation through the arts, literature, drama, (p.32) and public affairs.3 But the problem facing such potential contributors to a new notion of American foreign policy was how could they garner the access and power to affect the future of American policies globally, and especially in relation to Africa? To what extent would they have to “mask” their criticality toward Western policy on Africa in the very act of trying to change it?

Key to my argument here is that a New Negro foreign policy consciousness did emerge during the first decades of the twentieth century, among African American elites and the rank and file, who, as Alvin B. Tillery argues in Between Homeland and Motherland, linked the mentality of American racism to the mentality behind European colonialism and embraced Africans from the entire continent, not just Liberia, as part of a broad-based philosophy of black liberation.4 This was a significant break with nineteenth-century Negro attitudes that viewed much of sub-Saharan Africa as barbaric.5 Divisions in opinion among early twentieth-century Negro Americans as to whether European colonialism was a civilizing and Christianizing benefit gave way to an emerging consensus that regardless of those possible benefits, imperialism was a racial institution. Where Tillery sees this “New Negro” attitude about Africa crystallizing with W.E.B. Du Bois’s Pan-African Congress in 1919, I suggest that this way of viewing Africa and imperialism had been articulated systematically four years earlier in a series of public lectures, Race Contacts and Interracial Relations, given by Alain Locke at Howard University in Washington, D.C. These lectures defined imperialism as the “practice of race” and racism in America as domestic imperialism.6 Yet, also definitive of the New Negro approach to foreign policy was that Locke and some others tended to hide all the consequences of looking at imperialism as naked racial violence, especially when such intellectuals were interacting with powerful stakeholders in the white foreign policy intelligentsia. They “wore the mask” even as New Negroes.

As Brenda Gayle Plummer suggests in Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1935–1960, it has seldom occurred to mainstream policy makers, foreign policy experts, even historians and social scientists, that this New Negro consciousness would have any tangible effects on major foreign policy debates; and when the notion has occurred to white policy thinkers that African Americans might have significant opinions on subjects such as the future of Africa, these have largely been dismissed as grounded in “black commitments [that] have always been utopian and rooted in eccentric modes of thought arising from poverty and oppression.”7 In other words, the African American was not—and arguably is still not—taken seriously as having a distinctive and relevant contribution to make to American foreign policy, of having learned something unique and important about, for example, the interrelationship of peace and justice, (p.33) globally speaking, from having lived “behind the veil,” as Du Bois put it, for centuries in America. But what policy makers may have overlooked is that racial discrimination and the strategies of coping with it by a minority besieged by a hostile majority may make the African American a natural diplomat, for diplomacy is often the masking or veiling of a nation’s true motives in the pursuit of its interests. But the question remains: can an African American truly represent the interests of the United States in foreign policy arenas when, in fact, those interests may be inimical to the interests of people of color around the globe?

The story of two early twentieth-century New Negro foreign policy thinkers suggests an answer: that the African American is perhaps the best representative of the nation’s long-term foreign policy interests because he brings the potential for a synergy between the nation’s domestic social reality and the nation’s global reality that is ultimately healthful. Elite foreign policy thinkers are correct to suspect that lurking beneath the Negro mask is a black criticality that links the treatment of Negroes in America to the treatment of people of Africa and African descent globally. Canonical foreign policy managers worry that the Negro foreign policy thinker will reveal the secret of the West: that it is more in love with white supremacy than with the ideology of representative democracy and equality so widely advertised as the goals of America’s foreign policy. Yet this criticality is precisely what American foreign policy desperately needs. We as a nation need to see ourselves as others see us, to see ourselves with a second sight, as W.E.B. Du Bois put it, that the American experience has taught the Negro to use when viewing the American project, for such critical vision is the only thing that will save us.8

Two men, Alain Locke and Ralph Bunche, who crafted what I call a New Negro foreign policy, exemplified this vision. In different ways, each tried to take a black criticality gained from years of observing and decoding the American domestic race problem into the “other room” of foreign policy in order to chart a new future for the world based on creating a viable future for Africa.9 I call this a New Negro foreign policy not only because it emerged in the 1920s but also because these foreign policy thinkers sought to import the knowledge of race into the discussion of foreign policy and reframe race, power, and foreign policy thinking into a new ethic of internationalism and a global democratic approach to the African subject. These New Negro foreign policy thinkers were race men but also something more: people who saw themselves as citizens of the world, who brought the expertise of the college-educated, world-traveling, culturally sophisticated black cosmopolitan into the discussion of what kind of world we ought to live in. They sought to utilize black criticality as a lens for discussing what should happen in Africa between the world wars but also to hide it—to (p.34) diminish the anger, sharp attacks, and murderous rage most people would feel as witnesses to what has aptly been called “the rape of Africa”—in order to try to sway opinion and shape a more progressive policy toward future Africa.

At the same time, New Negro foreign policy thinkers sought to break the Western intellectual tradition’s habit of discussing the future of Africa without considering the people whose future was most centrally involved. They posed an uncomfortable question to American foreign policy thinkers: what does the African see as being in his or her best interest in the future? By lowering the temperature of racially motivated discussions about the future of Africa, but also placing the cognitive body of the African at the center of those discussions, a New Negro foreign policy elaborated on the argument Alain Locke made in The New Negro: An Interpretation emerged. The New Negro is a world-historical subject whose future is unfinished, undetermined, but incredibly important to the rest of the world. Like that book, Locke’s and Bunche’s writings on foreign policy sought not only to expose how race structured the relations of power in pre–World War II Africa but also go beyond a traditional “black” approach to create a new vision of what was possible for the rest of the world.

Because of space constraints, what follows is only the beginning of a fuller discussion of what the black embodiment of discourses of race, colonialism, and empire means for the history of modern foreign policy. My discussion is really a micro-study of how two men struggled differently with the benefits and detriments of being brilliant thinkers whose contributions are negotiated in terms of their embodiment of race. I call them exemplars of a New Negro approach to foreign policy because they embody the New Negro that emerged early in the twentieth century—the emergence of a Negro political subject who, despite the vicissitudes of racial domination, goes beyond dissembling to create a more cosmopolitan, more visionary approach to global affairs out of the experience of the Negro in America. Locke and Bunche represent, I believe, two different stages of development within the tradition of New Negro foreign policy thinking, even as they utilized similar approaches to bringing what later might be called a black consciousness into foreign policy thinking. Together they exemplify the essence of the New Negro foreign policy thinking: the capacity to call out racism but in a measured way. This approach was raised to the level of art and refined by Locke and Bunche. At the end of this chapter, I take the liberty of jumping ahead to theorize what this means to the foreign policy aspirations of another black subject, Barack Obama, who as president of the United States has enacted a New Negro approach to foreign policy.

The year 1929 began on a sour note for Alain Locke. That December he had learned that the Foreign Policy Association, to which he had submitted a report titled “The Mandate System: A New Code of Empire,” was so displeased (p.35) with it that they would not publish the work in its current form, as had been planned previously. The rejection of this major essay hit this African American intellectual like a blow in the stomach, so unaccustomed was he to having his writing rejected outright, especially by influential white people. Worse, over the previous year, he had peppered the press with notices of his trips to Geneva to conduct research on the report, thereby creating expectations that the finished project would appear in print. Now it would not, and its non-publication would heighten a perception he wanted to avoid—that as the heralded philosopher and promoter of the Negro Renaissance since 1925, when his epic anthology, The New Negro: An Interpretation, had appeared, he was now, four years later, slipping, having not published a book since Four Negro Poets in 1927.10 Worried, perhaps overly, about the potential fallout from this failure, he chose his usual weekend visit with Mrs. Charlotte Mason, his millionaire Park Avenue patron, to pour out his frustration and seek consolation from a major personal setback. That his closest confidante with whom to discuss a New Negro foreign policy was an elderly wealthy white woman speaks volumes of the way this most independent of black thinkers embodied the discourse of dependency in his personal life.

As the diminutive, hypochondriac professor of philosophy at Howard University fidgeted nervously in the brightly lit drawing room of his psychic, overbearing matron, Locke, a man of almost clairvoyant personal diplomacy skills, confessed he had known something bad was going to come of the foreign policy project he had started researching years earlier. That had been a difficult time as well. Fired from Howard University in 1925 largely because its white president viewed him as a malcontent, Locke had searched for a new career, one that built on his reputation as editor of The New Negro and the first African American to obtain a PhD in philosophy from Harvard University to become a diplomat or diplomatic thinker, a role he had first imagined for himself after having been named a Rhodes scholar. He had become something of an intellectual celebrity in 1907 on the way to Oxford when, for the first time, he thought that a career as a diplomat would allow him to escape the limitations of race in America. In addition to his academic brilliance, Locke had mastered the interpersonal skills and professional diplomacy that were necessary to navigate his way through the most elite educational institutions in the world. But even with such skills at ingratiating himself to powerful academic patrons while maintaining his dignity as an upstart black Edwardian, Locke had found that a successful career as a diplomat was closed to him despite his being the second most educated black man—after W.E.B. Du Bois—in the world. In 1927, however, twenty years after his Rhodes scholar success, between jobs Locke had allowed himself to dream of the kind of cosmopolitan, transnational career he had always wanted. The time seemed right to strike and perhaps escape the stultifying racial and sexual (p.36) environment of America that dogged him as a queer black man. He had thought he could take what was now his signature concept, the “New Negro”—the notion that a “new” kind of Negro had emerged from the Great Migration of hundreds of thousands of Negroes out of the South into the North and had changed the calculus of Negro-white relations in the 1920s—and make it the pivot of a new way of looking at the future of Africa and the African in the twentieth century. Now, barely two years after the first blush of that possibility, it was all in tatters. The question remained, why?

The specific target of his report—the League of Nations’ administering of the fate of African colonies formerly held by Germany before its loss in World War I—had seemed quite promising. In Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, a plan was outlined as to what to do with those colonies Germany had to give up as part of the Treaty of Versailles.11 The article stated: “To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by people not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this covenant.”12 This “trust” would be exercised by putting these colonies under the administration and control of “advanced nations”—the French and the British—who “by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographic position, can best undertake” to provide the required “tutelage” of “such peoples” as a “responsibility” they exercised as “Mandatories on behalf of the League.”13 Of course, the “people not yet able to stand by themselves” were the Africans, since, from the social Darwinist perspective of Article 22, peoples who belonged to the “Turkish Empire” were deemed to “have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized.” By contrast, “those of Central Africa are at such a stage that the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory” to ensure “freedom of conscience and religion” and “prohibition of abuses, such as the slave trade,” among others.

As a philosopher, Locke had seized on Article 22 for its moral language—that the mandatories had a “responsibility” for the “development of such peoples” toward a moment in the future when the existence even of the peoples of Central Africa “as independent nations” could “be provisionally recognized.” Rather than attack its failure to live up to that “sacred trust,” which the evidence of British and French mandatories seemed to suggest, Locke wanted to write a paper about the future—a vision of what the mandates tended toward even in their imperfect iteration in 1919 as documents and in 1928 as practices. As he had put it in his (p.37) proposal to the Foreign Policy Association for the study, “The administration of mandates in the spirit of international guardianship of the rights of the undeveloped peoples and their preparatory tutelage for participation in government and constructive self-adjustment is one of the most important and progressive aspects of the work of the League of Nations.”14

Locke had aimed for something higher than the Foreign Policy Association imagined a Negro scholar would produce, something more visionary than the typical foreign policy fact sheets with which they were familiar. Locke wanted to write something more farsighted, something that spoke to a higher consciousness of what was possible in the world of foreign affairs that could be revealed only if the document and its promise were liberated from the maze of facts and claims that dogged discussions of the League of Nations. As a philosopher, Locke was committed to doing something more, something different, something high-minded rather than self-interested, as most foreign policy papers were. In his doctoral dissertation on value theory, finished in 1918, Locke had argued that the key to humans’ valuing something was their ability to transcend acting simply in their own naked self-interest to do what seemed designed to reach beyond the immediate gratifications of desire, to aim at what Aristotle called that for which other things are done.15

In the context of the League of Nations mandate system, a New Negro approach was more than simply acting out what would be an expected black response to the system—that is, simply to blister the League of Nations project as handing over the destiny of Germany’s African territories to a patronizing band of thieves like the British and French imperialists after their victory in World War I. Something like that kind of “black” indictment of the mandates as a fig leaf of Western imperialism would be produced later by the Du Bois protégé Rayford W. Logan in The Operation of the Mandate System in Africa, 1919–1927.16 And it meant producing something other than the liberal, empathetic, but largely acquiescent study of the mandate system that Raymond Buell, the white director of the research department of the Foreign Policy Association and an adjunct professor of international relations, had produced in his magnum opus, the two-volume study The Native Problem in Africa in 1928.17

But Locke had had problems finding his legs in writing his report, in part because he was not immersed in current foreign policy research, not trained in international relations, and not sure that his prescriptive, nonempirical thought piece about colonialism in general and the plight of Germany’s former colonies in particular would find sympathetic ears at the Foreign Policy Association (FPA). Like so many of the ventures that this nervous, brilliant, but opportunity-seeking philosopher produced after The New Negro, the FPA report was not grounded in a firmly grasped intellectual trajectory that made sense to all of those around (p.38) him. He sought something he believed was embedded in the current situation but largely unseen by the policy makers of the day. And like the New Negro positional itself, the report, even when finished, was an unfinished statement that reflected the unfinished nature of the New Negro, which was more than simply the latest iteration of race consciousness. In fact, it was a new, more cosmopolitan, more transnational notion of Negro possibility—what the New Negro could become, not what he or she currently was. And that “unfinishedness” had crept into his writing of the report such that a lack of a firmness in his sense of where he was going with this project stole some of the energy from the argument he was making.

Locke was more than a year late in finishing the report, and when he did finally submit it in November 1928, after months of nagging by Raymond Buell, the director of research at the Foreign Policy Association, it was deemed inadequate by Mrs. Moorhead, the head of the FPA. The Foreign Policy Association considered itself a hardnosed research and policy entity, whose reports were incredibly detailed, case-by-case examinations of decisions by agencies like the Mandates Commission. In a sense the Foreign Policy Association represented the decadence of Progressive era advocacy, which by 1928 was a far cry from the broadminded engagement with construction of a new world order that had been implicit in the work of Walter Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and Colonel House, the latter serving on the first Mandates Commission.18 Progressivism under the likes of the FPA now traded in passionate and visionary exposés on domestic and international crises, developed “reports,” and used detail and “objectivity” to hide the international crimes that continued under the guise of their liberalism. By contrast, Locke’s report spelled out a course of action and even intervention by the liberal West for the construction of a new future for the African and the West, by abandoning the style of writing that simply analyzed right now. No doubt what the FPA seized on to dismiss the report was that it was not based on detailed archival research, even though Locke had traveled to Geneva to do such work. It did not include ethnographic field research in Africa among the colonized. The report lacked the kind of specific recommendations that might increase the interest and participation of black Americans in the operation of the Mandates Commission, one of the main reasons the FPA had enlisted Locke to create the report in the first place. In his enthusiasm to put forward his intellectual reimagining of what the mandate system could mean to Africa, Locke had forgotten that to the FPA he was the embodiment of the black community in America, whose support the FPA believed would help its legitimacy as a broker in the field of international race relations. The FPA was not interested in a black intellectual’s understanding of the mandates. What they wanted was a black (p.39) political treatment that could be published, filed away, and quickly forgotten. Locke had not delivered that.

But the FPA underestimated the value of Locke’s report. Taking Woodrow Wilson’s insistence in Article 22 of the League of Nations’ charter that set up the mandate system as his text, Locke argued that a policy of international restraint on the naked exploitation of Germany’s former African colonies was the beginning of a “new code” of empire. Article 22, Locke argued, established a new ethical principle for the West in its conduct toward Africa—to wit, that the nations that seized the colonies of German, Turkish, and other Axis empires had to administer them as a “sacred trust of civilization.” England, France, and even South Africa, which acquired South West Africa, were not to enslave the populations, not to exploit the land and natural resources to the point of ecological disasters, not to raise colonial armies for offensive military purposes, and, most important, not to look upon these colonies as their permanent possessions. Rather, Locke referenced Woodrow Wilson as declaring that the Allies should administer these colonies as a trusteeship that should help the inhabitants’ transition, eventually, to self-government. This was the core outcome of a world war to make the world “safe for democracy.”

Regardless of present abuses and violations of the charter, regardless of the timetable and the Allied manipulation of the oversight procedures, Locke argued that a revolutionary principle had been established: that empire was a temporary arrangement and that the colonized deserved freedom and self-government eventually. From his earlier study of imperialism in his Race Contacts and Interracial Relations lecture series given at Howard in 1915–1916, Locke had borrowed the concept that imperialism was nothing more than a power relationship of domination of one group of people over another. What the mandate system did was to suggest that the West was at a second stage of imperialism in which the world community had admitted the supposed “backwardness” of the colonized was temporary and that through education they could be prepared for self-government and self-determination. The mandates, therefore, had concretized that a qualitative change in the idea of colonies had occurred with World War I such that Africans were now seen as just as worthy as Europeans of the right to self-determination that Wilson said was the inherent right of all subject peoples. Wilson had updated and disseminated into the discourse of imperialism the principle that Thomas Jefferson had proclaimed to the soon-to-be American people in the Declaration of Independence as “self-evident”—that is, “that all men are created equal with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The mandate system was, in effect, a declaration of independence for the African, even if it might not be seen as such by its current administrators.

(p.40) Locke’s report, therefore, was more innovative than the Foreign Policy Association gave him credit for when they rejected it. He pioneered a “third way” between criticizing the mandates for their ineffectiveness in restraining Western exploitation or total acquiescence to the current operation of that system as the best that could be had for colonized peoples. Avoiding a kind of criticism of the mandates that would be expected of a black radical critique like that authored by Logan in his detailed unpublished criticism of the mandate system, Locke sought to redefine the mission of the mandates as an institution evolving from a pretense for further imperial exploitation of the forfeited colonies to a path to self-determination and self-government for the colonized. What was needed, Locke argued, was a systematic strengthening of the Mandates Commission as an oversight agency so that it could expose, persuade, and, if necessary, twist the arms of those nations that violated the letter and the spirit of Article 22 of the League of Nations charter into moving Africans down the path to self-government. For in a way that anticipated the operation of the Federal Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), set up by FDR in his Executive Order 8802 in World War II, the Mandates Commission was most effective when it exposed to the light of international opinion and inquiry conditions that were racist and exploitative, even if the commission had no punitive power to force member nations to do its bidding. Here too was a place where strategic New Negro criticism of exploitative policies might aid the commission in restraining and reforming imperialistic practices by shaming rogue imperialists in front of the international community.

Locke went even further. He proposed that advocates of change capitalize on the Wilsonian aspects of Article 22 by demanding that European nations engaged in the Mandates Commission support a real process of education in the politics of self-government, the economic path to self-development, and the practices of responsible leadership among the colonized to prepare them for eventual freedom from colonialism. By holding back on enslaving, debasing, and raping the colonies for their raw materials, European powers might smooth the path to eventual freedom and engender a more harmonious postcolonial world. At the same time, Locke did not avoid detailing the abuses of the Americans or the Europeans in creating exploitative “closed door” colonial relationships through shady loans and pressured deals. But he was a pragmatist in suggesting that with the Mandates Commission already in existence, perhaps it made sense to strengthen its ethical authority and its mechanisms of constructive pressure to outline a third way to the options of continued and indefinite imperialist exploitation, on the one hand, and blind rage rebellion by the colonized, on the other. And the obligation of a New Negro foreign policy was, in effect, to find (p.41) a way around the train wreck that was ahead: anticolonial violence; imperial counterinsurgency; and a spiral into an anarchic, postcolonial day of reckoning.

The only person on the research committee of the FPA who had liked the report, or at least had come to Locke’s defense about the report, was Paul Kellogg, the editor of the Survey Graphic, who had brought Locke in to guest edit the special “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro” issue of the magazine that had foregrounded the book version, The New Negro. Kellogg spoke up at a meeting to discuss the problems with the report and argued that perhaps there had been a misunderstanding between Locke and the committee as to the nature of the report. Kellogg’s defense had not swayed the rest of the committee, but it had soothed Locke’s hurt ego. He had written back to Kellogg thanking him and admitting that he was not good at the kind of detailed research work the FPA had expected. Now that the report would not lead out into the wider diplomatic world, he was content to try to make it the basis for a curriculum in the African studies program at Howard. “So, thank God, I won’t have to go back to Harvard myself for re-boring,” he wrote to Kellogg. “You see I think I know my role and appreciate its limitations—I’m a fairly good starting battery—not a magneto.” That Locke, now forty-three, even contemplated a return to graduate work shows how much he had hoped this report would lead him out of his current segregated intellectual life at Howard and in Washington, D.C., and into the cosmopolitan lifestyle that a diplomatic thinker could imagine.

Locke’s predicament was more than just personal. Elsewhere I have discussed how the New Negro was more than just a racialized subject that emerged into the American imagination in the 1920s.19 There were at least two New Negroes—or two sides of the New Negro: (1) the mass movement of racially self-conscious working- and middle-class Negroes who began migrating north in the 1910s and constructed a new black world in the urban metropolises of Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, and other cities; and (2) the intellectual migration of the educated black from a narrow, provincial, and claustrophobic life of the mind in segregated small-town communities into a more cosmopolitan and international lifestyle during the 1920s. The New Negroes like Locke, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Richmond Barthe, and Howard Thurman were racially self-identified and not only advanced a new aesthetic vitality based on race but also grasped for a new, expanded notion of what it meant to be Negro: that it meant being a world-conscious and sophisticated people who could claim all of civilization as their estate. They traveled internationally, sometimes living abroad for months or even years, engaged in conversations and collaborations with white artists and intellectuals on a peer basis. They also saw themselves as the leading edge of a new wave of Negro consciousness that unshackled itself from (p.42) the small-mindedness they perceived the previous generation of educated black people, even the likes of Booker T. Washington, Monroe Trotter, and Du Bois, had settled for—the role of merely being a leader of the Negro people, not the leader of the American world or even the world of people through their writings and work. As much as Locke defined the New Negro as a representative of the working- and middle-class Negroes who had constructed the convivial lifestyle of Harlem, there was always something more—that life laid the groundwork for the emergence of a racially proud but cosmopolitan Negro subject who would be at home anywhere in the world, and who would be known and valued for the cogency of his ideas more than for the color of his skin.

In the process of announcing this New Negro intellectual subjectivity, Locke had forgotten, just a little, perhaps, that the world of race politics had not changed as much as he wished it to. Powerful whites who valued him did so because he “represented” the black constituency, not because he had a “brilliant” mind. His white patron, Mrs. Mason, the real “magneto,” seemed to grasp this better than Locke. The major fault, according to Mason, was his audience. “Extreme hostility” is all that they would like, she said. In her opinion, the Foreign Policy Association expected him to play the nigger—to attack the entire apparatus of colonial government and League of Nations sanctions through the mandate system. In that scenario they would then be able to use the report to attack their enemies while at the same time dismissing the report as hysterical and racially biased. Mason articulated his dilemma as an African American scholar working on this type of subject: “Alain, your not being ready to tell what you think is the exact truth about the mandate is the matter with your paper. It is not, of course, the time to do it.”20

Close reading of the report reveals the truth of Mason’s comment. Throughout the report, Locke wears the mask; his cautiousness, tentativeness, and self-consciousness pervade a report that is trying to put across what was at base a brilliant strategy for using the existing international apparatus to create a road map to freedom for colonized Africans. His tendency toward “natural diplomacy” had the effect of weakening his ability to convince his readers that he really represented the view of the Negro community. Absent was the essence of the New Negro as opposed to the old Negro: the ability to represent while mediating black anger. The report, in short, was not “black enough,” especially for a progressive white audience that was now used to the harangue of a Marcus Garvey or a W.E.B. Du Bois but also willing to ignore such harangue because it lacked the power to persuade. As Mason explained, “They think your opinion is the best balanced of any among Negroes and that you won’t go to an extreme about anything. That was why they asked you to do it. Not because you had written a fine article in the Survey.”21

(p.43) One can imagine how Locke felt hearing this in the drawing room of a powerful white patron whom he relied on to translate for him what the other white people thought of him. It must have left him no less defeated than when he arrived at her drawing room to discuss his “failure” and now hearing his life reduced to a formula by a powerful friend, whose cruel words were true. He knew he had spent much of his adult life twisting himself around a pivot of trying to use the black experience as a calling card to get in the door of white power brokers and gain attention for his views as an individual. Now, once again, he was reminded that he was not seen as a brilliant intellect, but as a little man who embodied the black problem, the black issue, to be managed, still, by powerful whites who continued to orchestrate world affairs themselves, despite it being the era of the “New Negro.” He had spent his life placating whites who would listen to him but who wanted safe, optimistic, positive-thinking Negroes, every one of them said to his face. Yet when faced with one, they turned and laughed and treated him like a puppet and a fool. Inside, if only for a moment, largely through the promise to represent Negroes on the outside, he now heard from his white patron that those on the inside did not take him seriously because he was not “black” enough, not radical enough, for them to use.

Fortunately, 1929 ended more propitiously than it began. That fall, Ralph Bunche, newly minted with a master’s degree in government from Harvard, arrived at Howard University, possibly the result of Locke’s maneuvering. Since being hired back at Howard in 1927, Locke had been an unofficial adviser to its new president, Mordecai Johnson, a Baptist minister and visionary black college administrator, who had rehired Locke and sought his advice on how to recast Howard as a leader in modern higher education. Locke’s recommendation was to build a powerhouse social science division by hiring the top Negro scholars from prestigious white universities like Harvard to come to the nation’s capital and nurture a new generation of activist scholarship of disciplinary rigor and theoretical innovation. Bunche had already caused a stir at Harvard, impressing his professors in government to such an extent that they offered him a graduate fellowship to stay on campus. But a sixth sense in Bunche told him to come to Howard, the nation’s most powerful Negro university, and join forces with Locke to remake the field of what today is called Black Studies.

Hired as a professor, and charged with starting a political science department at Howard as part of his job, Bunche was nevertheless relatively poor and after getting married took on additional work as an assistant to Mordecai Johnson, work that Bunche found challenging because of Johnson’s mercurial and bombastic personality—a personality type that Bunche struggled with throughout his long career. Locke, too, found much to dislike in Johnson, even though Johnson had been the one who had brought him back to Howard. But (p.44) Johnson represented to Locke and Bunche the vagaries of the old-style Negro leadership, a leadership class that was disproportionately, in their minds, based in the black church affiliations of those leaders and the political connections to old-style Washington, where telling jokes to whites, currying favor, and scooping up money were key parts of the game of Negro-white “liberalism.”

It is in this context that Bunche began to think seriously about what topic he would select for his doctoral dissertation at Harvard and that Locke likely suggested to Bunche that he take an African topic for his dissertation, one aligned with the research Locke had undertaken with Raymond Buell and the Foreign Policy Association. While the final topic came from Buell, as Bunche biographer Charles Henry suggests, the orientation toward Buell and the whole perspective of an African topic came from Locke.22 Pearl Robinson asserts that in those early years of Bunche’s residence as a professor at Howard, Locke mentored him on how to negotiate his way through the sometimes hostile and intrigue-based academic politics at Howard.23 In Bunche, Locke saw an earlier version of himself, a rebel against the notion that Negro intellectual thought should be confined to the small, the narrow, and the segregated American mind-set, which Locke and Bunche saw as being co-constructed by whites and blacks in the American context. Africa allowed a way out of petty in-group Negro politics and into globalism, a larger and more capacious context in which the calculus of race was changed because globally black people were not only more of a majority but also in need of modernizing intellects like Locke and Bunche. A global dissertation opened doors for Bunche that Locke had wanted to open for himself in 1928 but that his limitations as a scholar and political scientist closed. Now, by putting Bunche in conversation with Buell, Locke achieved a kind of deliverance from the ghosts of his failed Foreign Policy Association paper by bringing African American eyes, a lived experience of colonialism at home, into the conversation about the future of Africa and global affairs. The point of view of the black American intellectuals was crucial not only because they were natural diplomats but also because by heritage and lived experience they embodied the discourse of racism.

But the road to approval of Bunche’s final dissertation topic—“French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey”—would be a bumpy one. In a letter to Howard University dean E. P. Davis in December 1930 requesting a leave of absence, Bunche said the leave would be spent conducting research for a doctoral dissertation on “The League of Nations and the Suppression of Slavery.”24 But the matter was not settled even though Bunche asserted in that letter that the topic had been approved. Some of his advisers at Harvard wanted him to write a dissertation on the political activities of blacks in West Virginia, a relatively narrow topic. Most important, his dissertation director, Arthur N. Holcombe, favored another topic, a comparative study of race attitudes in Brazil and the (p.45) United States.25 There was also the implicit problem of a study of slavery in Africa; while the project naturally flowed out of the League of Nations’ demand that under the mandate system, the colonial powers would suppress slavery in Africa, investigation of such practices might expose Bunche to danger. In addition, Bunche did not want to disappoint Holcombe if the latter was set on having Bunche research Brazilian versus American racial attitudes. But a funny thing happened when Holcombe contacted Edwin Embree, the so-called liberal president of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, one of the few foundations that would fund overseas research by a Negro, about the research project. Embree expressed reservations about an “American” doing a comparative study of race attitudes in Brazil and America. According to Holcombe, Embree opined:

The interracial conditions in Brazil are so different from those in this country that I wonder if much can be carried over from the experience in one country to that in the other. As I understand it, there is practically no racial discrimination as among the three bloods that comprise the population: Indian, Negro, and Latin. Might there also be some danger that an American student would really be led astray by the position of Negroes in public affairs in Brazil? Indiscreet utterances and reports on the basis of Brazilian experience might really do harm in this country.26

Bunche had not yet received Holcombe’s letter with its information that as a Negro doing a comparative study of Brazil and the United States he might be “led astray by the position of Negroes in public affairs in Brazil” and make “indiscreet utterances” about the greater freedom of Negroes in Brazil to the embarrassment of the foundation and the racial hegemony in the United States. But as Bunche later confessed to Holcombe, Locke had known even before this confidence finally reached Bunche in a second Holcombe letter in February 1931 that the foundation would not support such a study.

Your letter of February 17 is a very kindly one and has been of inestimable value in aiding me to map out a definitive course. …for next year. The statement which you quoted from Mr. Embree’s letter was a distinct surprise and somewhat of a shock to me. His statement is of no little significance in respect to the decision which I have made however. Dr. Locke in particular seems to feel that there is scant possibility of aid from the Rosenwald Fund for the Brazilian study. He thought so before he saw Mr. Embree’s statement and is quite convinced of it now.27

Bunche was “shocked” because Embree’s statements reminded him that as a Harvard scholar proposing to conduct comparative foreign-domestic policy research abroad, he still embodied the Negro problem at home. As an heir of slaves (p.46) without inherited wealth, and proposing a dissertation topic in foreign affairs that required extensive travel, Bunche was “constrained to pursue whatever course promises the likeliest possibility of support.”28 Ironically, the African project, the more thoroughly “foreign policy” project, offered “far greater possibility of aid” if endorsed by his dissertation director “than the Brazilian question, which sounds, at least, much more ‘dangerous’ in its implications to the situation in this country.”29 Here, the greater “foreignness” of the Africa project—that it was less an embodiment of the American situation than the Brazilian—made it more acceptable. Here, therefore, was one of the benefits of the New Negro working on a foreign affairs thesis in Africa: it seemed to the conservative-minded white philanthropic community to be less relevant to the situation of the Negro in America and therefore less “dangerous” for Bunche to pursue. That America was not considered an official “imperialist nation” meant that pursuing a critical study of imperialism did not threaten elicit white philanthropic fears that their funding would be used to critique American racial practices. And the threat of no funding for the Brazilian project, ironically, freed Bunche from having to bow to his adviser’s demand for a topic on Brazil. Racial hegemonic discourses could have unusual effects in the life of a young scholar!

Bunche flew to meet with Raymond Buell about his thesis topic, no doubt at Locke’s suggestion, and Buell refined it and gave him a different one, although still on the subject of Africa and the mandates. Rather than try to document the elusive and dangerous practice of slavery under the mandates, why not do a comparative study of two colonies administered by one nation (France) in Africa to find out if the mandates proscription to rule in the former German colonies under the mandates was actually better than under traditional colonial rule? When Bunche informed Holcombe of this newly refined African mandates topic and the dilemma of funding, Holcombe allowed Bunche to choose whichever topic he wished. In July 1931 Bunche received the good news that the Rosenwald Fund had approved financial support for his dissertation research in Africa.

The resultant dissertation, “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey,” was a tour de force, thoroughly researched from years of combing the archives in Geneva and Paris, as well as on-the-ground research in Africa, and powerfully written. Finished in 1934, the dissertation won a prize for Bunche and led, some argue, to the establishment of the field of international studies at Harvard for the first time. The success of the dissertation was due not only to Bunche’s obvious competence as a political science scholar but also because he added something new to the New Negro foreign policy paradigm: he brought a level of criticality to the study of colonialism that situated the particularities of the administration of Togoland and Dahomey in a larger narrative of the failure of imperialism. He brought something to the study of the mandates that had been (p.47) lacking in Locke’s Foreign Policy Association paper: the kind of critical assessment of the ideological fictions of race in justifying colonialism that Locke had articulated in his Race Contacts lectures but had silenced in The New Negro and his Foreign Policy Association paper. At the same time, Bunche preserved the New Negro impulse to avoid simply a doomsday assessment of Africa’s future by suggesting that a way out could be on the horizon if Europeans approached Africa anew with a rational plan by which it, too, could partake of the democracy and self-determination that the West said was the self-evident right of all peoples.

Martin Kilson suggests that in Bunche’s dissertation an almost schizophrenic tension exists between the Marxist voice of the Young Turk, who along with E. Franklin Frazier and Abram Harris would attack Du Bois and the NAACP for not pursuing a class analysis of American racism, and the Enlightenment voice of a young optimist who believed in the power of reason and intellect—especially his own—to bring more freedom and justice to the African.30 I see it slightly differently. More than the typical Marxist analysis that race is a myth or illusion to distract the oppressed white and black from their solidarity, Bunche’s dissertation shows that the racial dehumanization of the victims is what distinguishes colonialism from other forms of capitalist greed. Indeed, Bunche mentions the economic motive of imperialism as something obvious that does not need proving in the systematic way that Lenin provides it in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.31 Rather, the drafts of the dissertation chapters in the UCLA archive do not so much advance a classic Marxist critique of French colonialism and mandates in Africa as provide an acid dismantling of the racist self-deception, overt manipulation, and denigration of the African by the European.32 Indeed, the self in self-deception is perhaps Bunche’s best arrow into the heart of imperialism, because he shows how imperialism is a mix of motives, sometimes humanitarian, sometimes naked greed, but always self-interested and self-congratulatory, so that even when helping the African, the European is really writing the history of Europe’s glory in the African’s mind. The consequence of this arrogance is not simply economic exploitation, but a warping of African minds such that they will find it difficult to properly value what is valuable in their own traditions after internalizing Europe’s doctrines. In short, Bunche’s dissertation is a great work because it brings forth a detailed black radical critique of colonialism that is far more nuanced and sophisticated than the narrower Marxist portrayal of how race functioned that he would fall back on in A World View of Race, published two years later.33 What Kilson calls Marxian I call Bunche’s criticality—a criticality emerging from his experience of race in the United States that frames the way he has assimilated the lessons of Marx so that the African empire emerges as not only a praxis of economic greed but a discourse of race as well.

(p.48) What does this mean for a New Negro foreign policy? First, it seems that away from America, Bunche could allow a racial analysis to ground and contextualize his Marxian criticality so that something akin to the black radical tradition of imperialist analysis could emerge.34 Second, his analysis was New Negro in that it placed the subjectivity of the African at the center of the foreign policy discussion. As Bunche put it, “Too often, however, in the earnest consideration of Africa and her myriad problems, sight is loss of the African.”35 But third, and just as important, the success that greeted his dissertation suggests that the intellectual conditions for New Negro scholarship had advanced so that whites in the academy in the United States could hear criticality of imperialism that was grounded in first-rate research. The Negro might be the ideal diplomat because of the ability to don the mask, but Bunche’s refusal to do so here (at least in the first drafts of his dissertation) created a powerful exegesis of colonialism that was compelling because it was true. Locke had failed to realize that his white people were aware that Negroes were deeply critical of white imperialism, and any document that did not indict them for it was suspect. Bunche, not nearly as naïve as he sometimes wanted others to believe, knew that the whites he must please at Harvard were sophisticates and were quite aware of the crimes of the Western civilization they nevertheless wanted to preserve. Therefore, he knew that he must reveal his anger, his criticality, his sense of outrage at the “rape of Africa” if his dissertation were to have validity. And in this sense he was right; white people would distrust him if they suspected he was holding back.

Nevertheless, once Bunche turned in the drafts of the chapters, someone, most likely his senior adviser, marked them up with those sections that were most critical—and to be honest, those most ad hominem in their criticism—marked with “omit” at the top, while the other, less sweeping, more descriptive sections of the chapters were marked with “begin.” It was as if now knowing the full extent of Bunche’s indictment of French self-congratulatory colonialism, his advisers took him by the hand and showed him what not to say along the way to saying what was nonetheless true.

Here, then, was the tightrope the New Negro foreign policy thinker had to walk. As a diplomatic mind the New Negro must tell enough of the truth about white discourses of domination to be credible—and match the actual reality with analysis—yet also be measured in the indictment lest the leadership shut his mouth. That his dissertation was awarded prizes and opened up an area called “international relations” proved he had hit it just right—and been rewarded for having said enough but not too much about how the New Negro saw “imperialism.” And this lesson was not lost on Bunche, who by 1934 seemed to have developed a strong criticality that was sweeping and indicting of almost everyone and yet a mind that already knew and calibrated that anger depending on the audience it addressed.

(p.49) Of course, when that audience was a black one, Bunche was not as nuanced in his blending of class and race analysis. One problem with Bunche’s analysis, which persisted throughout his career up into the 1960s, was his devaluation of the value of race as a tool of liberation for the oppressed. While the discourse of colonialism could be race—along with its economic ramifications—the oppressed were not to use race or any form of racial cooperation to forge their freedom. As Kilson notes, Bunche is particularly dismissive of African nationalists in his dissertation; they do not constitute the modernist African Bunche believes to be the way out for the continent politically. Here I am not talking about the issue of essentialism, that some black soul existed to be recuperated through political action, but the notion that solidarity among black people in economic and social struggle brought benefits. Indeed, Bunche’s abhorrence of group politics extended beyond blacks to even Mahatma Gandhi and anti-imperialistic Indians; Bunche criticized Gandhi’s nonviolent activism in his earliest writings as a mistake. Even nonviolent boycotts could not bring about change in a system in which the whites, in this case the British, held all the money and military power.

The other aspect of Bunche’s perspective is his notion that real change could come only from the top down, not the bottom up. Bunche seemed as unsympathetic as Locke—indeed, in some ways, more unsympathetic—to the power of grassroots organizing to bring about substantive change. And this underestimation of what could be called the “power of the people” meant that Bunche’s only alternative to complete defeatism and nihilism was a faith in technocratic rationalist political action, directed, of course, by academically trained and culturally broadminded elites like him and Locke. This points to a weakness in the New Negro formulation in Bunche: it was elitist in its belief that fundamental social change required the Negro (and the Indian and other colonized peoples) to give up those modes of organization and communitarianism that had sustained them under imperialist practices, even though the operation of those practices in different forms had not ended with the formal end of imperialism or segregation. Laudably anti-romantic, such a position tended to isolate the New Negro foreign policy theorist as an individual, if brilliant, thinker and expose him or her to the kind of vagaries that Locke experienced trying to lead the New Negro into the field of foreign policy studies without bringing the mass movement that had created the New Negro along with him. Criticality alone, detached from the social movements that spawned them, made the New Negro foreign policy thinker an easy target to take down.

Hence, the dichotomy that Kilson places between, let us say, the radical and the Enlightenment sides of Bunche is not an accident, but a kind of revolutionary elitism, since Bunche has no faith in the untutored people to bring about substantive change. This means that his doctoral dissertation is in sync with his (p.50) political activity during the mid-1930s in Washington, D.C., when he criticized students and workers who were advocating in the New Negro Alliance a grassroots boycotting of stores in the black community that did not hire blacks as workers.36 Again, Bunche’s disposition was against those who were the “people” served by these imperialistic institutions; he criticized such students for involvement in a race-based boycott, because that would alienate them from the white workers they would displace. While theoretically understandable, Bunche’s position seemed not to recognize that for the starving black unemployed residents of Washington, the philosophical question of whether their self-activity to feed their families interrupted some future bonding with white workers was irrelevant. Bunche could not transfer the kind of nuance he allowed in foregrounding the discursive dismemberment of the African by the English and French colonizers to the white middle and working classes, who, in a different way—certainly to the black body—benefited just as inexorably from structural segregation of American employment as the British upper classes who pocketed the transcontinental wealth. With no real alternative to such race-based boycotting, since black-white worker solidarity was at best a work in progress, Bunche, in effect, left the black lumpenproletariat domestically with nothing to hope for in the matter of real change. In that sense Bunche could neither inject his own class position into his discussion of class solidarity politics in America nor see that his perspective as a professor at Howard University in a segregated school hierarchy gave him access to income in ways that complicated his authority to preach integration to working-class blacks in Depression-era Washington.

This theoretical dismissal of the functional workings of race as political practice also distorted A World View of Race, one of the few books produced by Bunche, and one wholly orchestrated by Alain Locke shortly after Bunche completed his dissertation. Here the conflict outlined was even more explicit. In what was a theoretical blueprint for global action, Bunche completely dismissed the role of race as an organizing principle of progressive political change. Indeed, the resultant pamphlet actually was toned down from the original version submitted to publication by the Associates of Negro Folk Education, since Locke debated Bunche on his dismissive attitudes about race as a factor in global self-organization among the oppressed. Bunche agreed to Locke’s edits in part because Locke could argue with Bunche on the same level of analysis, but with one additional caveat: that Locke’s own Race Contacts lectures argued that the truly Marxist approach to race was to treat race as Marx had treated class: as the vortex of social and economic relations, not as an epiphenomenal illusion. Race was the stand-in for power just as class was the stand-in for property, and to ignore that race also structured social relations was to miss the contribution that the American “experiment” had added to the history of capitalism in the West.

(p.51) Perhaps here was the real “schizophrenia” Bunche struggled with as a New Negro foreign and domestic policy theorist. He had difficulty reconciling the efficacy of race as a tool of group organization and struggle with his desire for integration as the goal of all domestic and global progress. He could recognize how powerful the racial imaginary was in fueling European and American dominance while abroad, yet he could not see—until the end of his career, during the Black Power movement of the 1960s—how powerful some racial and ethnic collaboration was to those who resisted imperialism and segregation. In that sense the arc of New Negro foreign policy thinking in Locke and Bunche is limited by the range and trajectory of their domestic policy thinking on race. Bunche’s New Negro, therefore, was a struggle to reconcile his training that class was the explanation of all things racial with his experience, in studying in Africa and in observing self-activity in the 1930s in India and America, that group struggle and bonding were key elements of transformation.

To his credit, Bunche allowed his debate with Locke over A World View of Race to amend his notion—seemingly stronger in his U.S. policy statements than in his dissertation—that class was the only thing that mattered, an intellectual trajectory that would eventually culminate in a much more sympathetic view of black self-organization based on race that appeared in Bunche’s 1940s work with Gunnar Myrdal. There, as one of the lead social scientists on a project that excluded “old heads” like Locke, Bunche began to see the significance of self-organization among Negroes even as he decried the intellectual buffoonery and political crassness of many black political and social nationalist organizations. That movement toward greater sympathy toward the middle-class Negro leadership in the American community was not the only change in Bunche’s posture in the 1940s. I use the term “posture” in response to what Jonathan Holloway calls the ambiguity of Bunche’s revisionism in the 1940s, when the firebrand radical who could not stomach gradualism and liberalism suddenly dropped the fire and brimstone of socialist criticality from his speeches and writings and became, in effect, a liberal progressive himself.37 The dualism that Kilson observes in Bunche’s dissertation became a monism—pure Enlightenment, no longer Marxist, rationalism was the tool that the oppressed around the world needed to begin to free themselves from the yokes of imperialism and oppression. Of course, several factors probably accounted for this: Bunche’s resignation from the National Negro Congress, which he had cofounded, because of its takeover, he asserted, by communists; World War II itself, which seems to have stunned Bunche into recognizing that the very existence of liberal democracy itself was not guaranteed in the face of mechanistic worldwide fascism; and his inclusion in the federal government intellectual apparatus to fight the threat of fascism to Africa and the Negro worldwide.

(p.52) But I use “posture” to suggest, as Holloway hints at, that no one knows exactly whether this shift was a genuine change of ideological position or an adaptation to the changed political environment in which he had to survive as a policy wonk in the federal government. I suspect that the real Bunche did not change as much as he became more aware that his earlier views would get in the way of his being an effective steward of black interests in the 1940s. Here it is not so much opportunism that I want to get at, but rather something more fundamental: the way that the participation of the Negro in foreign policy in America requires, in effect, a deployment of masks in order to be taken seriously at all. Of course, earlier in his career, when he wrote his dissertation for Harvard, Bunche was able to bring his criticality to bear on imperialism in part because even liberals like Buell’s and Bunche’s professors at Harvard knew capitalism fused with racism drove imperialism. Even the untutored knew that the cause of imperialism was economic and the rationale was race. Not to foreground those elements had doomed Locke’s treatise on a “third way” as much as the lack of detailed analysis from the archives in Geneva.

What Locke had struggled with was also something Bunche struggled with: how to elevate one’s authority to propose and be taken seriously as an advocate of a “third way”—a progressive solution to the problem of colonialism in Africa—without having that position undermined by critiques of the bias attributed to any Negro who proposed a set of solutions about Africa. To be a radical was expected, almost a calling card to the conversation. But to remain a radical meant to eliminate oneself from the inner sanctum where the real decisions were made among the power brokers who did not look like him. And Bunche wanted to be in that room, wanted to be a player, not just an academic, and that is when he turned to the kind of New Negro vision Locke had advocated in his Foreign Policy Association paper, a visionary approach to solving thorny foreign policy and international conflicts that Bunche would adopt in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

I wonder, therefore, if Mrs. Mason’s reflections on the dilemma of Locke in writing the Foreign Policy Association report are not also relevant to understanding the post-radical career of Ralph Bunche in the 1940s and perhaps the New Negro foreign policy paradigm more broadly. Recall that Mason said: “Alain, your not being ready to tell what you think is the exact truth about the mandate is the matter with your paper. It is not, of course, the time to do it.” The report, she intimated, was not “black enough,” especially for a progressive audience of white people now used to the harangue of a Marcus Garvey or a W.E.B. Du Bois but also willing to ignore such harangue because it lacked the power to persuade. “They think your opinion is the best balanced of any among Negroes and that (p.53) you won’t go to an extreme about anything. That was why they asked you to do it. Not because you did a fine article for the survey.”

Was this not also true of Ralph Bunche? When Gunnar Myrdal asked Bunche to research and write analyses of Negro nationalist organizations and politics in America for the Carnegie Corporation–financed book An American Dilemma,38 did he select Bunche, an Africanist, because he had written an award-winning dissertation on the mandate system in Africa, or because he was on record as critiquing Negro nationalism and being, in short, “the best balanced of any among Negroes,” who would not endorse the “extremes” of Negro nationalist discourses, discourses that Myrdal was already critical of? When Bunche was selected by the American government to develop policy on Africa, was it because of the radical criticality in his doctoral dissertation or his Enlightenment faith in proper management, especially educational policy, to create an educated elite in Africa that the West could deal with? And when Bunche began his pivot away from radical socialist critiques of domestic and foreign policy, did he do it because of a real conversion experience, a fundamental renouncement of his earlier views, or because he knew that to continue to succeed, especially outside of a relatively harmless academic career available to him at Howard, he would have to be seen as one of those Negroes who “won’t go to an extreme about anything”? Of course, on one level the decision, the transformation, was nothing so crass. Bunche was a principled man and would bristle at any idea that his was naked opportunism in the refinement of his views.

The point is really larger than any idea of personal responsibility narratives so frequent in critiques of whether Bunche or Locke or whomever was “black enough.” Rather, I suggest that the very process of being welcomed into the realm of foreign policy discourse at the national level in the United States requires what we used to call in the 1960s “regrooving” if the Negro wants to be taken seriously. In American politics, after all, the proper place for the outspoken Negro according to the majority discourse is domestic policy making. If in fact the intellectual wishes to escape that policy ghetto and enter a new space of directing out loud the future of the world from a United States perspective, the calling card is a kind of erasure of race consciousness. And this was easier to accomplish for Bunche because from the beginning of his career he was skeptical of race consciousness as a political tool of liberation. All that was required, then, in the 1940s was to stop speaking about Marx.

Indeed, I conclude by arguing that the New Negro approach to foreign policy has roots in the intellectual tradition of the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920s, but it continues beyond that contextual frame. Its characteristics are familiar to us now. It emerges out of a criticality toward the exercise of white power as (p.54) fundamentally imperialist—that race is fundamentally a power relationship, not a real cause of conflicts, but a kind of justification for what is really at stake: money and control of subject peoples in order to generate long-term profitability. But the concept of the New Negro is also a faith in Enlightenment blackness, involving self-conscious individuals who have internalized into their consciousness all of this knowledge about the function of race to justify exploitation as well as the freedom to pick and choose which aspects of that racial conundrum they will foreground in their public politics. In other words, the New Negro is always a cosmopolitan subjectivity who deploys race when it is convenient but holds it at bay when necessary to construct a politics of the willing, those who are willing to work for change in the quality of life for the oppressed.

The New Negro is also committed to a vision of change, an intellectual construct of what the world should look like in the future that is largely invisible to current players, but that the New Negro can gleam as the unrealized possibility pregnant in the moment that can birth through later if, and when, the right combination of right-minded people are in a position to exercise power with vision. And finally, and critically, the New Negro as operative in foreign policy debates is largely alienated from grassroots political struggles and committed to technocratic solutions to world problems, solutions that are generated by supremely rational and rationalizing black intellects who, in their conceit, believe they know what is best for the masses as well as the masters.

As for its current iterations, we can glimpse some of this New Negro positionality with regard to foreign policy in the presidency of Barack Obama. His Cairo speech, for example, at the beginning of his presidency and his Jerusalem speech, at the beginning of his second term, suggest that he carries forward some of the visionary thinking Locke outlined in his Foreign Policy Association paper, that a “third way” between violent reactionaryism on the part of the historically oppressed and hegemonic domination on the part of the historically privileged is possible if the Arab world chooses the path of enlightened reason and rationalistic pursuit of self-interest.39 The Jerusalem speech offered the same kind of vision to young Israelis as twentieth-century New Negroes, who should break with the politics of the past and chart a new future that is not based exclusively on group predestination. But as a critical position on that positionality might also mention, there exists as well in Obama’s approach a disposal toward technocratic rather than grassroots politics, a top-down approach built on the notion that having downloaded all of the radical politics of Chicago earlier in his career, he can, like Locke and Bunche before him, mask some of that criticality in trying to forge a “coalition of the willing.”

(p.55) The question that dogs this New Negro approach to foreign policy remains: Will a rationalist politics of the willing trump the politics of the will to power, which is still the dominant motivation in state-on-state and stateless struggles in the global landscape? And will an Enlightenment New Negro politics be able to escape the kind of historical determinism that the younger Bunche—no less than the younger Locke—recognized as the logic of power and capital in the world? And can that determinism be deterred without energizing grassroots progressive forces, however unpredictable or naïve they may be at times? We really don’t have the answers to those questions. But so far the jury is out on how successful the New Negro foreign policy approach is in the world of realpolitik.

Notes

This chapter is dedicated to Pearl T. Robinson.

(1.) Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask,” in The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1913).

(2.) Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro: An Interpretation (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925).

(3.) Jeffrey C. Stewart, “The New Negro as Citizen,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, ed. George Hutchinson (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 13–27.

(4.) Alvin B. Tillery Jr., Between Homeland and Motherland: Africa, Foreign Policy, and Black Leadership in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011).

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Jeffrey C. Stewart, ed. Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures by Alain Locke (Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 1996). See Lecture 2: “The Practice of Race.”

(7.) Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1996), 1.

(8.) W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson, 1973), 3.

(9.) For a brief discussion of black criticality, see “Terms and Questions, 1968: A Global Year of Student Driven Change,” Department of Black Studies, University of California–Santa Barbara, http://www.blackstudies.ucsb.edu/1968/terms_questions.html.

(10.) Alain Locke, ed. Four Negro Poets (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927).

(11.) Article 22, “The Covenant of the League of Nations,” December 1924, Yale Avalon Project, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art22.

(12.) Ibid. A typed copy of Article 22 is also located in the Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

(14.) “Memorandum: Foreign Policy Association; Alain Locke re: African Mandates Study Project,” May 26, 1927, Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Emphasis added.

(15.) See Rose Cherubin, “Culture and the Kalos: Inquiry, Justice, and Value in Locke (p.56) and Aristotle,” in Philosophic Values and World Citizenship, ed. Jacoby Adeshei Carter and Leonard Harris (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010), 7–19.

(16.) Rayford Logan, The Operation of the Mandate System in Africa, 1919–1927 (Washington, D.C.: Foundation Publishers, 1942).

(17.) Raymond Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1928).

(18.) See Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism in America, 1889–1963 (New York: Norton, 1971); and Robert Lansing, Peace Negotiations: Personal Narrative (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921).

(19.) Stewart, “New Negro as Citizen.”

(20.) Charlotte Mason to Alain Locke, [1929], Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) Charles P. Henry, Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? (New York: New York University Press, 1999).

(23.) Pearl T. Robinson, “Ralph Bunche the Africanist: Revisiting Paradigms Lost,” in Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche, the United Nations, and the Decolonization of Africa, ed. Robert A. Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 73.

(24.) Ralph Bunche to Dean E. P. Davis at Howard University, December 22, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers, Collection Number 2051, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA (hereafter, Ralph Bunche Papers).

(25.) Arthur N. Holcombe to Bunche, August 7, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(26.) Arthur N. Holcombe to Bunche, December 11, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(27.) Bunche to Arthur N. Holcombe, Department of Government, Harvard University, February 28, 1931, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) Ibid.

(30.) Martin Kilson, “African American Intellectual,” in Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche, the United Nations, and the Decolonization of Africa, ed. Robert A. Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 3–9.

(31.) Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917).

(32.) For example, in chapter 4 of Bunche’s dissertation he writes: “The organized and official partition of Africa occurred. …[and]. …No single motive is applicable of course, but it is a safe assumption to make in a capitalistic, industrial world, the economic motive was the dominating one. The justification was easy to find. In the first place it was pointed out that no people have the right to isolate themselves (and their riches) from the rest of the world, while the world on the other hand has a superior right to take what it needs. (Footnote: Girault, Principles de Colonization). The creed of imperialism paraded economic necessity as adequate justification, which was simple enough—the raw materials of the ‘backward regions’ were necessary for a hungry and overpopulated world” (75). “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey,” 1934, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(33.) Ralph Bunche, A World View of Race (Washington, D.C.: Associates of Negro Folk Education, 1936; Bronze Booklet #4).

(p.57) (34.) For more on this “black radical tradition,” see Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

(35.) Bunche, introduction, “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey,” 1934, typescript, box 9, folder 1, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(36.) For more on the New Negro Alliance and Bunche’s reactions to it, see Michelle F. Pacifico, “‘Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work’: The New Negro Alliance of Washington,” Washington History 6 (Spring/Summer 1994): 66–88.

(37.) Jonathan Holloway, “Responsibilities of the Public Intellectual,” in Ralph Johnson Bunche: Public Intellectual and Nobel Peace Laureate, ed. Beverly Lindsay (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 36–44.

(38.) Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harper Brothers, 1944).

(39.) “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning,” Cairo, Egypt: Cairo University, June 4, 2009, http://WhiteHouse.gov,http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09; “Remarks of President Barack Obama to the People of Israel,” Jerusalem, Israel: Jerusalem International Convention Center, March 21, 2013, WhiteHouse. gov, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/21/remarks-president-barack-obama-people-israel.

Notes:

(1.) Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask,” in The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1913).

(2.) Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro: An Interpretation (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925).

(3.) Jeffrey C. Stewart, “The New Negro as Citizen,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, ed. George Hutchinson (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 13–27.

(4.) Alvin B. Tillery Jr., Between Homeland and Motherland: Africa, Foreign Policy, and Black Leadership in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011).

(6.) Jeffrey C. Stewart, ed. Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures by Alain Locke (Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 1996). See Lecture 2: “The Practice of Race.”

(7.) Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1996), 1.

(8.) W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson, 1973), 3.

(9.) For a brief discussion of black criticality, see “Terms and Questions, 1968: A Global Year of Student Driven Change,” Department of Black Studies, University of California–Santa Barbara, http://www.blackstudies.ucsb.edu/1968/terms_questions.html.

(10.) Alain Locke, ed. Four Negro Poets (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927).

(11.) Article 22, “The Covenant of the League of Nations,” December 1924, Yale Avalon Project, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art22.

(12.) Ibid. A typed copy of Article 22 is also located in the Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

(14.) “Memorandum: Foreign Policy Association; Alain Locke re: African Mandates Study Project,” May 26, 1927, Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Emphasis added.

(15.) See Rose Cherubin, “Culture and the Kalos: Inquiry, Justice, and Value in Locke (p.56) and Aristotle,” in Philosophic Values and World Citizenship, ed. Jacoby Adeshei Carter and Leonard Harris (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010), 7–19.

(16.) Rayford Logan, The Operation of the Mandate System in Africa, 1919–1927 (Washington, D.C.: Foundation Publishers, 1942).

(17.) Raymond Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1928).

(18.) See Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism in America, 1889–1963 (New York: Norton, 1971); and Robert Lansing, Peace Negotiations: Personal Narrative (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921).

(20.) Charlotte Mason to Alain Locke, [1929], Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

(22.) Charles P. Henry, Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? (New York: New York University Press, 1999).

(23.) Pearl T. Robinson, “Ralph Bunche the Africanist: Revisiting Paradigms Lost,” in Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche, the United Nations, and the Decolonization of Africa, ed. Robert A. Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 73.

(24.) Ralph Bunche to Dean E. P. Davis at Howard University, December 22, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers, Collection Number 2051, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA (hereafter, Ralph Bunche Papers).

(25.) Arthur N. Holcombe to Bunche, August 7, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(26.) Arthur N. Holcombe to Bunche, December 11, 1930, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(27.) Bunche to Arthur N. Holcombe, Department of Government, Harvard University, February 28, 1931, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(30.) Martin Kilson, “African American Intellectual,” in Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche, the United Nations, and the Decolonization of Africa, ed. Robert A. Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 3–9.

(31.) Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917).

(32.) For example, in chapter 4 of Bunche’s dissertation he writes: “The organized and official partition of Africa occurred. …[and]. …No single motive is applicable of course, but it is a safe assumption to make in a capitalistic, industrial world, the economic motive was the dominating one. The justification was easy to find. In the first place it was pointed out that no people have the right to isolate themselves (and their riches) from the rest of the world, while the world on the other hand has a superior right to take what it needs. (Footnote: Girault, Principles de Colonization). The creed of imperialism paraded economic necessity as adequate justification, which was simple enough—the raw materials of the ‘backward regions’ were necessary for a hungry and overpopulated world” (75). “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey,” 1934, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(33.) Ralph Bunche, A World View of Race (Washington, D.C.: Associates of Negro Folk Education, 1936; Bronze Booklet #4).

(p.57) (34.) For more on this “black radical tradition,” see Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

(35.) Bunche, introduction, “French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey,” 1934, typescript, box 9, folder 1, Ralph Bunche Papers.

(36.) For more on the New Negro Alliance and Bunche’s reactions to it, see Michelle F. Pacifico, “‘Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work’: The New Negro Alliance of Washington,” Washington History 6 (Spring/Summer 1994): 66–88.

(37.) Jonathan Holloway, “Responsibilities of the Public Intellectual,” in Ralph Johnson Bunche: Public Intellectual and Nobel Peace Laureate, ed. Beverly Lindsay (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 36–44.

(38.) Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harper Brothers, 1944).

(39.) “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning,” Cairo, Egypt: Cairo University, June 4, 2009, http://WhiteHouse.gov,http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09; “Remarks of President Barack Obama to the People of Israel,” Jerusalem, Israel: Jerusalem International Convention Center, March 21, 2013, WhiteHouse. gov, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/21/remarks-president-barack-obama-people-israel.