U.S. president Barack Obama bowed deeply to the Japanese emperor Akihito in November 2009, which set off a huge outcry by conservatives and neoconservatives. Dick Cheney steamed, “There is no reason for an American president to be bowing to anyone. Our friends and allies don't expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” My essay argues that Obama's bows to Akihito followed by a slight bow to Chinese president Hu Jintao several months later should be seen as a displacement of what Denise Ferreira da Silva calls the “global idea of race,” where since the First Opium War Euro-American leaders have been expected to rise transcendentally above yellow, black, brown, and red leaders. In an attempt to gain rights to traffick as much opium as they wanted in the late eighteenth century, white Englishmen profiting from dealing drugs to the Chinese successfully lobbied the British Crown to send an official trade mission to urge the Qing emperor to lift the Chinese restrictions against opium. The Macartney mission of 1793 failed, but it consolidated two centuries of white upright transcendence over all other global races, when during his formal encounter with the Qianlong emperor, George Macartney refused to follow East Asian protocol and lower his head in a diplomatic bow (koutou, or kowtow). My essay will track the anxiety visible in those white and on the right with the recent displacement of a racial regime of transcendental uprightness and show how this displacement is one of the most important effects of Obama becoming president of the United States.

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