TheRace against Empireby Penny M. VonEschen depicts the world during the Second World War.During this era, the journalists, American activists, and scholarsstrongly claimed that the independence movements in Asia and Africawere connected to the economic, political, and civil rights strugglesin America (VonEschen, 1997). VonEschen uses international sources toprovide a broad array of evidence to give the reader a vividdepiction of the African Diaspora since pan-African congress held atManchester in 1945 to the early collaboration with the UnitedNations. Thepan-African movement was founded by Du Bois to challenge the excessof colonial rule. Through pan-Africanism, the African leadersdesigned their external and internal politics mindful of theWestern’s powers caution against the communists and socialistinfluencesVonEschen tells an emotional story of the then widespread pan-Africanmovement and its rapid decline owing to the Cold War. The authoroffers a unique perspective as the United States emerged as theleading global power. Additionally, she discusses the significanteffect the cold war had on the development of the American society(VonEschen, 1997). These groups of people were associated with thepopular front approach of the American Communist party at differentdegrees. They formed a coalition, which fueled the domestic fightagainst the United States racial apartheid. VonEschen also explainsthe formation and significance of the Council of African Affairs(CAA), which forms the focus of the book. Thus, she devotes asignificant amount of attention to many short and long-termconditions, which influence the content and form of Diaspora identityin the 1940s (VonEschen, 1997). The book presents the 1950s as bothan era of tragedy but also one that facilitated the continuity in thestruggle. Thus, she reveals that although the CAA entered into adisgrace, new possibilities opened up by challenging the liberalconsensus through the affirmation of Diasporic identity. The UnitedStates was opposing Nazism that left the presence of the UnitedStates military in the Caribbean and Liberia, which enabled economicpenetration in these regions (Gallagher & Lippard, 2014).Therefore, it facilitated the need to stop colonialism and abolishthe structures of racism in North America
Besides,the author also explains how the continental Africans studyingoverseas in the United States were a significant factor in creatingthis Diaspora community (VonEschen, 1997). Famous people attendedhistorically the black schools and boarded in local black communitieswhere they learned the strong sense of the commonalities among peopleof color. The author shows that the most fundamental unifyingDiaspora awareness and unity were the international press for theblacks. She argues that the African American press was at itspinnacle, which played a crucial role in informing the blackpopulation about the strikes across the Caribbean and West Africa inthe late 1930s (VonEschen, 1997). She also reveals how thenewspapers for the blacks increased the sense of familial cohesionwith nations on the other side of the Atlantic, who they imaginedhaving a connection with based on racial identity. The bookillustrates how the social phenomena and institutions affected theworld. It also gives a clear impression of the significance ofseveral influential people in developing the pan-African movement.Furthermore, various protagonists in the book navigated theboundaries of journalism, labor, and pan-African movement. Forexample, one of the protagonists, Henry Lee Moon, a newspaperjournalist contributed a lot in familiarizing the black Americanswith strives of the African labor (VonEschen, 1997). Consequently,she discusses how the Cold War changed the problems in the UnitedStates from being historical and global issues to domestic andphysiological ones while altering racial identity and meaning ofracism in America. Thus, the Cold War defined the economic,political, and civil rights, which reshaped America and helped thepeople to have access to human rights. However, the war alsodestabilized the pan-African movement by undermining the leaders.
Howcold war politics helped to undermine the struggle
Thepan-African activists and scholars had an opportunity where theycould successfully challenge for the civil, political, and economicrights for the Africans living under colonialism and the onesoppressed as minorities in Western countries (Kini-Yen, 2015).However, the global dynamics of the Cold War animated the pan-Africandiscourse. Duringthe Cold War, the United States feared the influence the Soviet Unionwas attaining too much power and control in Africa, which created aproblem for African countries(VonEschen, 1997).Moreover, the Western nations viewed African independence through theopinions raised during the Cold War. Although some African leadersthought they could traverse the political issues of the Cold Warthrough political impartiality, the West viewed them as eitherpro-East or pro-West without accepting any leaders in the middleground. Therefore, the Cold War politics deprived the Africans thefreedom to shape their political paths, which undermined theexistence of the pan-African (Kini-Yen,2015).
Additionally,the Cold War undermined the pan-African leadership. Although theWestern European powers gave the African nations support, they alsopressured the governments to support their plans, initiated, andaided coups against the democratically elected governments. Besides,they stirred up civil conflicts to ensure that the governmentssupportive of their Cold War agendas stayed in authority, and thosethat did not comply with the West’s opinions were removed byassassination and political machinations, especially the pan-Africanleaders. For example, Joseph Mobutu was rewarded by the Westernpowers for strongly opposing the communists’ views. It did notmatter that he helped organize a rebellion that removed andultimately orchestrate the death of Patrice Lumumba in 1960, whichhad a significant impact on the pan-African movement (Kini-Yen,2015).
Moreover,the Cold War changed the direction the pan-African movement sincepan-African conferences that were taking place in Europe and otherparts of the world began to cease and the organizations that showeddisapproval for the direction of the United States foreign policystarted to receive much criticism from the government. The fascistItaly’s attack on Ethiopia in 1935 was a turning point in thehistory of the pan-African movement and African nationalism, whichlater facilitated the formation of the pan-African federation. Thepan-Africanists viewed oppression as a feature of the sameimperialism of which France, England, and the United States were allguilty of committing (Kini-Yen, 2015). Besides,the black Americans abandoned the pan-African movement, and when theyfinally reconnected, they did using the idea of cultural ornationalist terms instead of basing it on economic exploitation usedwhen the party was formed. Further,the afro-American exceptionalism was strengthened by the belief inAfrican simplicity, which they believed could be conquered throughWestern support and development schemes. Thus, even ifanti-colonialism persisted, it changed radically in its coreassumptions. VonEschen implies that anti-colonialism was related butnot similar to anti-imperialism (Kini-Yen, 2015). Therefore, even theCAA was shown much distrust over their support of good interactionswith the Soviet unions and the idea that communism was a goodgovernance system. Moreover, any organization that attempted tooppose the government policies such as the pan-African was put underheavy scrutiny (Kini-Yen, 2015).
Howthe cold war transformed the meaning of race and racism in the UnitedStates
Onthe other hand, the Cold War brought legality to demands fordemocratic liberty and supported anti-racists arguments. The Cold Warhelped the formation of international unions that assisted inredefining the meaning of rights and freedoms. Thus, it helped theactivists to argue for the economic reconstruction in Africa althoughthe plans had to be carried out along similar lines as those of thewar-torn Europe. Duringthe Cold War, the need to address foreign criticism pushed theAmerican government to support civil rights movement thus promotingthe fight against racial segregation and discrimination in thecountry(Gallagher & Lippard, 2014).Therefore, it helped in strengthening the campaigns to enddiscrimination and segregation and controlled the campaigns accordingto the diplomatic needs of the country(VonEschen, 1997).
Additionally,theCold War politics made it possible for the people to criticize theUnited States’ policy abroad publicly when the domain of the blackanti-colonial activists became unavailable. The hostile climateresulting from the Cold War gave the political elites a chance tointegrate the civil rights issues with communism. Accordingly, theyraised criticism on the United States foreign policy but paid muchattention to the domestic discrimination in the country (Gallagher &Lippard, 2014). During the cold war, the anti-colonial campaigns andblack civil rights became separate spheres. Likewise, racism was nolonger tied to the political economy but was reconceptualized as amoral and physiological problem that resulted in slavery. Besides,the issues of racial oppression were longer viewed as global issues,but rather problems limited to the United States based on racerelations.
Similarly,the Cold War helped in reconfiguring the black identity as thepopular black press encouraged the readers to think of themselves aspart of Americans who were separate from the other Diaspora. One ofthe Cold War’s missions was to convince the world that it wasfriendly towards the people of color and newly formed countries ofAfrica and Asia. Therefore, it had to change the meaning of race andracial identity to promote racial equality and stop the then ongoingracial segregation and discrimination. Accordingly, the United Stateshad to eliminate the flaws in their democracy so that they could showthe world that free democracy was the most civilized form ofgovernment (VonEschen, 1997).
However,some powerful forces were also using the Cold War to support theirdesires and maintain segregation. On the other hand, the black presswas the driving force that brought about the idea of the AfricanDiaspora (Gallagher & Lippard, 2014). Besides, people couldtravel between countries, which allowed the Americans to have abetter comprehension of the issues that were occurring in the worldoutside the United States. The conflict between the Soviet Union andAmerica caused the Cold War, which was harmful to the nationsinvolved. As the Cold War began to heat up, the tone of the civilrights movement and anti-colonialism began to change. The leftists’principles and radical thinking became more centered on the domesticcivil rights movement. According to VonEschen, the details of thecivil rights movement began to alter (1997). Thus, the Cold War erachanged the radical opinions that had fought to end imperialism andcolonization to facilitate the acceptance of the United Statespolicies. The new civil rights activist lost the idea of AfricanDiaspora as they accepted the capitalism as the best economic modeland the position of the United States as the leader of the freeworld. Thus, it transformed the meaning of racism and race in theUnited States (VonEschen, 1997).
Theidea of VonEschen’s book began to form during a time when the ColdWar was ending. The author starts the book with an account of theroots of the Diaspora during a period of the World War II and endswith the collapse of the Diaspora during the Cold War years.VonEschen’s book covers a fascinating description of a time whenthe country experienced the domestic black civil rights and radicalanti-colonialism before withstanding the challenges of the Eisenhowerand Truman years. VonEschen expertly documents the chain of eventsthat took place in the United States black political culture. Theattention to the struggles during the Cold War helped to draw out thecritical issues of how the United States attempted to influence theperceptions of the status of African Americans. The pan-Africanmovement was exerting considerable power over the Africandecolonization and promoted solidarity among postcolonial Africanstates. Thewar replaced the dilemma of freedom all over the world, and thedecolonization of countries in the United States was changed by thestruggle for African Americans to acquire similar rights as thewhites. The worry created by the Cold War was uncontrollable in arelatively short period. Therefore, the blacks were not immune to theimpacts of the anti-colonial struggles and anti-communist propaganda.Consequently, the Cold War had an intricate relationship with issuesof race in the United States and affected racial identity andrelations in the country.
Gallagher,C. A., & Lippard, C. D. (2014). Raceand Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the AmericanMosaic.Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood.
Kini-Yen,K. (2015). ism:Political Philosophy and Socio-Economic Anthropology for AfricanLiberation and Governance.Langaa RPCIG.
VonEschen,P. M. (1997). Raceagainst Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism 1937-1957.Ithaca, NY [u.a.]: Cornell University Press.