The Color of Empire


The Color of Empire

Race and American Foreign Relations

Michael L. Krenn

176 pages


November 2006


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eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

December 2011


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About the Book

At first glance, it may be difficult to accept that race and racism play a major role, whether conscious or subconscious, in policymaking. But leaders are products of their upbringing and era, and even some of America's best-educated presidents and secretaries of state have been slave owners, segregationists, or bigots. Some belong to America's distant past, but it was not so long ago that the civil rights movement began to correct America's troubled race relations. While race has rarely served as the primary motivating factor in America's foreign policies, Michael Krenn shows that it has functioned as both a powerful justification for U.S. actions abroad and a significant influence on their shape, direction, and intensity. Portraying nonwhite races as inferior allowed U.S. policymakers to rationalize territorial expansion at the expense of Native Americans and Mexico, to demonize the enemy in wars fought against Filipino insurgents and Japanese soldiers, and to justify intervention in developing nations. Racism made America's leaders soft on European colonialism, and U.S. racial segregation laws were an obstacle to winning hearts and minds in the developing world during the Cold War. Race plays a more subtle role in U.S. foreign relations today, but speeches about turning the war on terror into a crusade, the abuse of detainees in military prisons, and apathy toward genocide in Darfur can be explained, in part, by prejudice. The Color of Empire challenges readers to recognize that American perceptions and prejudices about race have influenced the conduct of U.S. foreign relations from the colonial era to the present. This concise survey is an excellent introduction to the topic for both students and general readers.

Author Bio

Michael L. Krenn is a professor of history and the chair of the department at Appalachian State University and the author of several books, including Black Diplomacy: African-Americans and the State Department, 1945–1969. He lives in Boone, North Carolina.


“Krenn’s scholarship is altogether informed and authoritative. This is a first-rate book and one that is sorely needed.”—Jonathan Rosenberg, author of How Far the Promised Land? World Affairs and the American Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam

"The Color of Empire is a scholarly analysis well suited to college-level collections strong in either ethnic studies or political history. . . .no college-level holding on either international studies or social studies should be without it."—Midwest Book Review

“Michael Krenn provides us with a fine introduction to the ways in which race-based understanding of humanity has colored American views of non-white peoples . . . .He is well-versed in his field and is able to apply his knowledge in a fashion that is both engaging and readable.”—Strategic Studies Quarterly

“Michael Krenn’s book offers us a very good introduction to an important issue.”—Strategic Studies Quarterly

"Race and empire have long been two central themes in American history. But only in the past fifteen years has an entire new field of scholarship emerged that links U.S. foreign policy to domestic American race relations. Michael Krenn’s well-crafted and very readable new book, The Color of Empire, offers the best brief introduction to this new historical literature."—Prof. Thomas Borstelmann, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of The Cold War and the Color Line

"The Color of Empire is an appealing introduction to a key aspect of American history. Michael Krenn has produced a concise and highly readable text on race as an integral part of the making of U.S. foreign policy."—Prof. Brenda Gayle Plummer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960

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