The racialization of expertise and professional non-equivalence in the humanitarian workplace

This paper aims to explore the ways which expertise is covertly racialized in the contemporary humanitarian aid sector. While there are considerable discussions on the expat-local divide among aid professionals, such dichotomization is still inherently nationality-based, which may be an over-simplified explanation of the group dimensions within aid organizations. This study seeks to uncover that professional categorizations of “expatriate” and “local” are not race-neutral and, instead, colorblind. Organizations within the contemporary humanitarian aid apparatus have come to appeal to what Michael Omi and Howard Winant would characterize as a new racial discourse—one that does not require explicit references to race in order to be perpetuated, as racial subordination has been reconfigured to rely on implicit references to race woven within the everyday social fabrics of the humanitarian profession. The research suggests that embedded under the contemporary professional structure of the liberal humanitarian space is a covert power hierarchy fueled by perceptions of expertise and competency along racial lines—particularly around one’s whiteness.

Resource Info

Resource Type

Journal Article


Published by

Journal of International Humanitarian Action

Authored by

Junru Bian


Anti-racism and Decoloniality
Humanitarian Sectors