Political Science Now

Vaughn Rasberry– 2017 Ralph J. Bunche Award Recipient

The Ralph Bunche Award is given annually for the best scholarly work in political science that explores the phenomenon of ethnic and cultural pluralism. It carries a prize of $1,000.

Vaughn Rasberry is Associate Professor of English at Stanford University, where he teaches African American and African Diaspora literature, twentieth-century American fiction, political theory, postcolonial theory, and philosophical theories of modernity. His first book, Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination (Harvard UP, 2016), questions the notion that desegregation prompted African American writers and activists to acquiesce in the normative claims of postwar liberalism. During World War II and the Cold War, his book argues, the United States government conscripted African Americans into the fight against Nazism and Stalinism. An array of black writers, however, deflected the appeals of liberalism and its anti-totalitarian propaganda in the service of decolonization. Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham, C. L. R. James, John A. Williams, and others remained skeptical that totalitarian servitude and democratic liberty stood in stark opposition. Their skepticism, Race and the Totalitarian Century contends, allowed them to formulate an independent perspective that reimagined the anti-fascist, anti-communist narrative through the lens of racial injustice, with the United States as a tyrannical force in the Third World but also as an ironic agent of Asian and African independence.

He has published scholarly articles on James Baldwin, the Harlem Renaissance, black cultural politics, the John F. Kennedy administration, and the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, among other topics. An Annenberg Faculty Fellow at Stanford, he has also received an Early Career Fellowship from the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Vaughn also teaches in Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and programs in Modern Thought and Literature, African and African American Studies, and American Studies.

“Vaughn Rasberry’s Race and the Totalitarian Century is an ambitious, broadly interdisciplinary, and boldly original book that will change how many scholars think about race and global politics in the twentieth century. The book sets out to expose and foreground a rich body of midcentury Black internationalist critique and to challenge conventional genealogies of totalitarian practice and ideology. Working explicitly from the vantage of colonial modernity, from primary accounts of desegregation and decolonization struggles, Rasberry makes a compelling case that the color line, rather than liberal democracy, provides the conditions for a proper critique of totalitarianism.

The book is not merely an exposition and celebration of Black critique. Rasberry also shows how considerable pressure was bought to bear on Black intellectuals to curtail their criticisms of U.S. and Western foreign policy and to, in the U.S. context, corral their political work within the domain of domestic civil rights struggles. Also compelling is the way in which Rasberry’s research and argument move beyond familiar categories of domestic and foreign. Rasberry thinks not just transnationally, as we might invoke that term, but globally. Focusing on a wide range of historical events—from the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 to the Suez Crisis and Hungarian Revolt of 1956 to the Arab-Israeli War of 1967—, Rasberry shows how international alliances established around the color line allowed for, or generated, capacities for anti-totalitarian struggle and imaginative visions of a nonaligned postwar order.

Race and the Totalitarian Century will speak quite directly to several subfields within the discipline. The book will be of interest to political theorists who have been engaging Black politics directly for some time, though rarely in the historical and conceptual analysis of totalitarianism. Americanists and scholars of international relations will also find Rasberry’s reframing of the domestic and foreign both challenging and invigorating. And in its emphasis on Black cultural production and the political contributions of Black writers—figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Richard Wright, Frantz Fanon, Shirley Graham, William Gardner Smith, Ollie Harrington, and John A. Williams—, the book will encourage a rethinking of the scope and evidentiary bases of the study of race and politics. ”

Learn more.

Race and the Totalitarian Century Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination.