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67 UCLA L. Rev. 1652 (2020-2021)
"Unwhitening the World": Rethinking Race and International Law

handle is hein.journals/uclalr67 and id is 1691 raw text is: Unwhitening the World: Rethinking Race
and International Law
Christopher Gevers
International law was invented in 1789 when Jeremy Bentham introduced the term to replace the
outmoded Law of Nations. Since then, international lawyers have spent a lot of time thinking
about whether international law is in fact law, and little or no time considering how international
law is international, or what international actually means. In this Article, I want to suggest that,
with the reinvention of international law in the late nineteenth century, the term international
came to incorporate elements of both the terms world and global: as an imaginary, a world
international lawyers lived inside (and produced), and a global perspective they took of (and used
to take from) its Others.
In particular, I aim to show that this international was a racial imaginary-a White
International (or White World in W.E.B. Du Bois's terms)-that emerged from and
reinforced Global White Supremacy. This White World was consecrated as the de jure
international order with the founding of the League of Nations after World War I, and the
sociopolitical system of Global White Supremacy (or Racial Contract in Charles Mills's
terms) underpinning this international survived its formal demise with decolonization.
The whiteness of this international-both historically and in the present-has been rendered
invisible to most international lawyers, however, in part because of the current conceptualization
of race by both mainstream and critical accounts of the discipline. In order to begin to unwhiten it,
Part I of this Article rereads existing historical and theoretical accounts of the discipline, arguing
that aside from the racial aphasia that characterizes the mainstream, critical scholarship is prone
to either overparticularize, or underhistoricize, the role that race has and continues to play.
Part II of this Article then reconsiders the reinvention of international law in the late nineteenth
century, arguing that it was only thinkable and possible because of the racial imaginary-the
White World or the international-that its founders (that is, the Men of 1873) assumed and
reproduced, one that was based on a particular biological conceptualization of race. It aims to
show how, paraphrasing W.E.B. Du Bois, the Men of 1873 discovered that they were white and
international, and, by that token, wonderful, at the same time.

67 UCLA L. REv. 1652(2021)

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