Hope Lewis

Document Type



Race, a key concept in international human rights law from the beginning, should still be high on today's global priority list. However, to remain a useful concept in our increasingly complex world, race must be defined and explored as a transnational and multidimensional social construct. I reflect here on the complex nature of "Blackness." I suggest that international human rights law should engage intra-racial diversity among Blacks along cultural, gender, political, economic, and ethnic lines. Because "Blackness" itself is a product of popular social consciousness, I draw here on popular accounts of U.S Black migration and stories about the Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Such stories reveal in stark relief how problematic an oversimplified approach to defining Blackness can be. Evocative stories can help make previously marginalized experiences and perceptions more visible. Underlying the discussion is the background belief that intra-racial political and cultural strategies and analyses that are cross-cultural and multidimensional remain relevant and helpful in the contemporary global economy. Such approaches, however, need not be inappropriately exclusionary or essentialist. Rather, they can contribute to cross-cultural engagement and enrich our ability to protect and fulfill human rights.

Date of Authorship for this Version



Race, African Americans, Blacks - Race identity, Barack Obama, transnational, Black, blackness, Afro-Caribbean, migration, Jamaica, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ICERD, UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, CESCR, Human Rights Law

Original Citation

Originally published in Albany Law Review, v.72 (2009), pp.999-1026.