Race and Empire: Legal Theory Within, Through, and Across National Borders

In January 2020, we convened the UCLA Law Review Symposium, entitled Transnational Legal Discourse on Race and Empire. In this Article, which also serves as an introduction to the Issue that resulted from the Symposium, we seek to do two things. Our first objective is to situate this Symposium Issue within its broader intellectual context: renewed momentum among Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) scholars to engage Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholars in collaboration aimed at deeper understanding of issues of shared concern. Our second objective, is to offer a concrete example of the insights to be gained from TWAIL-CRT analysis through a brief consideration of the Libyan case, where humanitarian intervention, counterterrorism, and migration control regimes in international law cannot be fully assessed absent engagement with empire and race. Mainstream and official analysis casts the international system and its hegemonic actors in the role of humanitarian responders to a Libyan crisis not of their making. Instead, we draw attention to the ways in which the racial framing of Libya—and its subordination to imperial prerogatives—proved critical to international governance regimes for managing the country—and the bodies and territory within it—from 2011 to the present.

About the Author

E. Tendayi Achiume is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Aslı Ü. Bâli is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and faculty director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law. She is also Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division.