An Un-American Story of the American Empire: Small Places, From the Mississippi to the Indian Ocean

This intervention gestures to histories of American empire from a perspective born outside America’s shores—in other words and other worlds, an un-American story of American empire. Seen from elsewhere, American empire appears both intimate and distant, at once singular and multiple, a vast terrain and a small place. For instance, how can we supplement a story of race and racial capitalism that includes the received parameters of the American story of race, but is not bracketed within them. Among other things, it may entail continued work drawing the shape of our blinders by developing a genealogy of the categories of race and colonialism in ways that speak to their dynamic and unstable histories. Even in our own work as Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholars, the categories of race and colonialism can be rendered rigid and reified. Understood in binaries of the West and the rest, or of whiteness and the other, these can present as stable, dichotomized, transhistorical categories recognizable across place and time. To rethink possible futures from the margins would require not only challenging Eurocentricism, but also revisiting, decentering, and reinventing established approaches to challenging Eurocentricism themselves.

About the Author

Vasuki Nesiah is Professor of Human Rights and International Law at The Gallatin School, NYU. She has published on the history and politics of human rights, humanitarianism, international criminal law, global feminisms, and decolonization. Her current project, Reading the Ruins: Slavery, Colonialism and International Law, focuses on international legal history, including reparations claims. Recent publications include the coedited Bandung, Global History, and International Law. Forthcoming publications include International Conflict Feminism with University of Pennsylvania Press. She is a co-founder of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL).