Column: The U.S. sees itself as a white knight (emphasis on ‘white’)

A uniformed white man on horseback grabs one of two fleeing Black men
Border Patrol agents on horseback try to turn back Haitian refugees at the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas.
(Paul Ratje / AFP via Getty Images)

Temple University professor and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill summed up the biggest issue with the country’s approach to foreign policy shortly after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said the United States doesn’t have friends; it has interests.

We’re like that one relative who only calls when they want to borrow money. No one likes when that relative calls.

For nearly 200 years, we have behaved a lot like that relative when it comes to our Western Hemisphere neighbors. “How are you doing?” is just a euphemism for “I need you to do something for me.” That’s the seedy side of the Monroe Doctrine.


When President Monroe articulated that vision in an address to Congress in 1823, he declared an end to European interference in Latin America. This was not done out of respect for the Indigenous people who fought to win back their independence. It was so the U.S. could take the Old World’s place controlling and colonizing the hemisphere.

From the capture of Mexico City in 1847 to the support of Operation Condor in the 20th century, when eight U.S.-backed military dictatorships kidnapped, tortured and murdered tens of thousands of their political opponents, our country has been in the business of undermining Caribbean and Latin American sovereignty almost since we unilaterally declared ourselves its protector.

The recent treatment of Haitian refugees along the border is only a shock to those who do not remember our decade of Western Hemisphere invasions: Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 1994.

Let’s not leave out President Reagan’s support of supposedly anti-Communist Contra forces in Nicaragua, a foreign policy decision that has provided weapons to generations of geopolitical foes.

In 1964, the country straight-up interfered with the election in Chile. When he was the national security advisor, Henry Kissinger later said of the intervention: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Sounds like freedom to me.

Each instance took place under the guise of protecting freedom, when really it was about protecting our interests (usually commercial). When we weren’t seeking any gain, far too often we lean toward being inhumane, like separating migrants from their children or treating Haitian refugees like cattle at the southern border.


Look, I’m not saying the country should not protect our global interests or that some of the leaders the C.I.A. has helped to overthrow were not bad men.

I am saying that the disdain some Americans hold for refugees fleeing the untenable conditions that America helped create feels a lot like the European imperialism that Monroe claimed to be ending. The hypocrisy should have been predictable; history remembers Monroe as the abolitionist who enslaved 250 people.

The only neighbor whose sovereignty we appear to fully respect is Canada, which is nearly 73% white. I know, I know — there he goes making it about race again.

Well, look at those now-infamous photos and videos of U.S. Border Patrol agents and Haitian refugees: white men on horseback, running down desperately fleeing Black people. How do we speak honestly about that situation without talking about race? How do we talk honestly about how America treats its “friends” on this side of the world without acknowledging race?

We don’t.

Not when the United States aided the French in trying to maintain slavery in Haiti, not when the United States wouldn’t acknowledge Haiti’s freedom for nearly 60 years, not when asylum seekers from the world’s first Black led-republic currently hold the lowest acceptance rate among the 84 countries for which such data is collected.


No, when it comes to our neighbors, not addressing our on-again, off-again interest in Latin America or the role of race is not an honest discussion at all. But then again, neither was the Monroe Doctrine that set us on this course to begin with.