Should I Get a Pet From a No-Kill Shelter?

Posted in Articles, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2017-05-04 02:54Z by Steven

Should I Get a Pet From a No-Kill Shelter?

The Ethicist
The New York Times Magazine

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy, Law
New York University

…My mother is from Central America. She came to the United States for college and met my American father. I am, therefore, 50 percent Latino genetically, but I don’t identify as Latino. There were (to my regret) no Central American influences in my upbringing — no Spanish language, no Latino relatives, no foods from “the old country.” There was also no discrimination directed at me or my mother (we look “white”). Is it ethical to identify as Latino in social situations and on the census? Name Withheld

Our ethnic and racial categories drape loosely around the realities of our complex lives. I am the son of an English woman and a Ghanaian man. I am an American citizen. Am I a black American? African-American? Anglo-American? Anglo-African? “Latino” is a word that hovers uneasily between a category defined by culture and one defined by descent. The latter conception makes you Latino. The former doesn’t quite. There’s also a notion that ethnicity should be defined by your own sense of identity — by whether you think of yourself as Latino. But whether you think of yourself as Latino is shaped by ideas about culture and descent. There isn’t a single correct view about that. Still, here’s a solution: In cases in which you don’t have the time or space to explain your situation, probably the least confusing thing to say to people in the United States is that your mother is Latina. (As far as forms go, if they permit you to check two boxes, I’d do that. If they don’t, I don’t believe it matters much what you do.).

Read the entire article here.

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“The way that we talk about race today is just incoherent.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-10-19 01:11Z by Steven

Society still largely operates under the misapprehension that race (largely defined by skin colour) has some basis in biology. There is a perpetuating idea that black-skinned or white-skinned people across the world share a similar set of genes that set the two races apart, even across continents. In short, it’s what Appiah calls “total twaddle”.

“The way that we talk about race today is just incoherent,” he says. “The thing about race is that it is a form of identity that is meant to apply across the world, everybody is supposed to have one – you’re black or you’re white or you’re Asian – and it’s supposed to be significant for you, whoever and wherever you are. But biologically that’s nonsense.” —Kwame Anthony Appiah

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “Racial identity is a biological nonsense, says Reith lecturer,” The Guardian, October 18, 2016.

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Racial identity is a biological nonsense, says Reith lecturer

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Philosophy, Social Science on 2016-10-19 00:05Z by Steven

Racial identity is a biological nonsense, says Reith lecturer

The Guardian

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Culture Reporter

Kwame Anthony Appiah says ‘race does nothing for us’. Photograph: BBC

Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah says race and nationality are social inventions being used to cause deadly divisions

Two weeks ago Theresa May made a statement that, for many, trampled on 200 years of enlightenment and cosmopolitan thinking: “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”.

It was a proclamation blasted by figures from all sides, but for Kwame Anthony Appiah, the philosopher who on Tuesday gave the first of this year’s prestigious BBC Reith lectures, the sentiment stung. His life – he is the son a British aristocratic mother and Ghanian anti-colonial activist father, raised as a strict Christian in Kumasi, then sent to British boarding school, followed by a move to the US in the 1970s; he is gay, married to a Jewish man and explores identity for a living – meant May’s comments were both “insulting and nonsense in every conceivable way”…

Read the entire article here.

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When it comes to race, confusion is the most intellectually defensible position.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-01-28 23:44Z by Steven

Ethics generally commends telling the truth. But in a situation in which our ordinary ways of thinking are at odds with reality, there can be no easy truth to be had. When it comes to race, confusion is the most intellectually defensible position.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Can I Call My Nonbiological Twins Black Because My Husband Is?,” The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, January 27, 2016.

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Can I Call My Nonbiological Twins Black Because My Husband Is?

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, Social Science, United States on 2016-01-27 22:02Z by Steven

Can I Call My Nonbiological Twins Black Because My Husband Is?

The Ethicist
The New York Times Magazine

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy, Law
New York University

Illustration by Tomi Um

I’m a Caucasian woman married to an African-American man. Shortly after we married, I discovered that I couldn’t conceive my own biological children. We opted to ‘‘adopt’’ two embryos. (Couples who have successfully undergone in-vitro fertilization and don’t wish to have more children can donate remaining embryos to other couples.) I was soon pregnant and gave birth to twins. Based on the records of the fertility clinic, we know that our children are genetically mixed Hispanic and Caucasian. I am not comfortable being open about the origin of my children, except with family and close friends, until they are old enough for me to explain it to them. However, several times in the last three years, I’ve been asked about their race, most recently on a pre-K school application form. On this form, there is no option of ‘‘mixed race’’ or ‘‘other.’’ Therefore, I identified my children as black. Was this the right choice? Name Withheld, Chicago

Ethics generally commends telling the truth. But in a situation in which our ordinary ways of thinking are at odds with reality, there can be no easy truth to be had. When it comes to race, confusion is the most intellectually defensible position. Let’s try to sow some. If your children were your biological children, many people in our society would say that they were African-American, because we have a tradition, going back before emancipation, of treating people with one black parent as black . . . or Negro or colored or whatever the favored term was at various times in American history. That’s the ‘‘one-drop rule,’’ so called because consistent application of it would mean that anyone with any African ancestry at all was black. (Of course, unbeknown to those who started this system, we all have African ancestry in the long run, which shows how much our thinking is shaped by our lack of knowledge.)…

As it happens, millions of Americans are black according to the one-drop rule but don’t have any of the features that people associate with African ancestry. Lots of them ‘‘pass’’ for white. Many don’t, though. Walter White, the early-20th-century leader of the N.A.A.C.P., was able to travel the South investigating lynchings because, although his parents were ex-slaves, he ‘‘looked white.’’ His autobiography begins: ‘‘I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me.’’ (In a bio­pic, he could have been played by, oh, Bryan Cranston.) ‘‘ ’Cause it’s swell to have a leader/That can pass for white,’’ wrote Langston Hughes, who with his ‘‘copper-brown skin and straight black hair’’ — his description — was himself taken for white during a trip to Africa and could have passed for Indian if he troubled himself to do so…

Read the entire article here.

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Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Complexities of Black Folk

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2015-04-16 21:34Z by Steven

Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Complexities of Black Folk

The Stone
The New York Times

George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Law and Philosophy
New York University

Kwame Anthony Appiah

This is the 10th in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Kwame Anthony Appiah, who teaches in New York University’s department of philosophy and its school of law. He has been the president of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, and of the PEN American Center. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, “Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity.” — George Yancy

George Yancy: How did you become interested, philosophically, in the question of race? Did it grow out of something like a conceptual problem of reference, or did it come more out of lived experience? Or, perhaps this disjunction is a false start?

Kwame Anthony Appiah: I’m always skeptical when intellectuals give accounts of how they came about their interests! So you should take what I have to say as a set of hypotheses about my own past, not as the results of introspection, which yields nothing about this.

When I first started teaching in the United States in 1981 I had a joint appointment at Yale, in African and African-American studies, on the one hand, and philosophy, on the other, and I was casting about for things to do on the African and African-American side of my work, both as a teacher and as a scholar. I had been an undergraduate student at Cambridge in medical sciences for one year, and philosophy for two, and I was puzzled, as a newcomer to the United States, by the fact that many people appeared to think “race” was a biological concept, whereas I had been taught in my brief career in the life sciences to think it was not.

G.Y.: In your new book, “Lines of Descent,” you write that W.E.B. Du Bois saw himself as an American and a Negro (as opposed to an African-American). You state correctly how being an “American” and being a “Negro” did not fit well for him. I’m reminded of Du Bois’s encounter in “The Souls of Black Folk” with the tall (white) newcomer and how she refused to exchange visiting cards with him and how this signified early on in his life a deep tension in his sense of “racial” identity. Do you think contemporary African-Americans also find themselves possessed by, as Du Bois describes it, “two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps them from being torn asunder”?

K.A.A.: I think that Du Bois’s way of thinking about this, which was informed by 19th- century German social philosophy, can be put like this: Each people, each Volk, has a soul, a Geist, that is the bearer of a folk culture and of what he called spiritual “strivings.” American Negroes were possessed of the soul of America and the soul of the Negro. Since America’s folk culture was racist, they were possessed by a spirit that was, in some respects, hostile to them. The Negro soul gave them the resources for a positive sense of self, which helped to resist this, but it also gave them various other gifts…

…K.A.A.: Well, I should begin by saying that I think that a background of class privilege on both sides of my family has protected both my sisters and me from some of the worst challenges of living in a racist world. (They have also had the advantage of living much of their lives in various parts of Africa!) I was born in London but moved with my family to Ghana when I was 1. My sisters were all born there. When I was an undergraduate at college in England, Skip Gates and I and a Nigerian philosophy student we knew were the only black people in our college. But I had white upper-middle-class high school friends and upper-middle-class English cousins around, so I guess I didn’t feel that there was any question as to my right to be there, and I don’t think anyone else thought so either. (And I wouldn’t have cared if they did!)

As a young person in Ghana, many people I met in my daily life in my hometown knew my family, and knew why I was brown and not black. They knew my mother was an Englishwoman (and white) and my father was Ashanti (and black). And throughout my childhood in Ghana the Asantehene, the king of Ashanti, whose capital was my hometown, was my great-uncle by marriage. (To those who didn’t know me, though, I was a “broni kokoo,” a red [skinned] foreigner; “broni” is often mistranslated these days as “white person.”) So, in a way, the most interesting “problem” for me, having been in America and then an American citizen for much of my adult life (since 1997), has been how to figure out a black identity, having come from two places where my color had a very different significance.

One of the things that I have always been most grateful to this country for is the sense of welcome I have often felt from African-Americans as a person of African descent. There’s no necessity about this: my ancestors — and not so many generations back — were in the business of capturing and selling other black people into the Atlantic slave trade (and some of my mother’s kinfolk back then were no doubt in the business of buying and shipping them). So one thing that race does in the world is bring black people together in spite of these divided histories. But I suppose that the main effect of my being black has been to draw me to black subject matter, black issues, and to give me an interest — in both senses of the term, an intellectual engagement and a stake — in pursuing them. Without this connection to the world of Africa and her diaspora I would just be someone else…

Read the entire article here.

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Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity

Posted in Biography, Books, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy on 2015-04-16 19:29Z by Steven

Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity

Harvard University Press
February 2014
240 pages
4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674724914

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Law and Philosophy
New York University

W. E. B. Du Bois never felt so at home as when he was a student at the University of Berlin. But Du Bois was also American to his core, scarred but not crippled by the racial humiliations of his homeland. In Lines of Descent, Kwame Anthony Appiah traces the twin lineages of Du Bois’ American experience and German apprenticeship, showing how they shaped the great African-American scholar’s ideas of race and social identity.

At Harvard, Du Bois studied with such luminaries as William James and George Santayana, scholars whose contributions were largely intellectual. But arriving in Berlin in 1892, Du Bois came under the tutelage of academics who were also public men. The economist Adolf Wagner had been an advisor to Otto von Bismarck. Heinrich von Treitschke, the historian, served in the Reichstag, and the economist Gustav von Schmoller was a member of the Prussian state council. These scholars united the rigorous study of history with political activism and represented a model of real-world engagement that would strongly influence Du Bois in the years to come.

With its romantic notions of human brotherhood and self-realization, German culture held a potent allure for Du Bois. Germany, he said, was the first place white people had treated him as an equal. But the prevalence of anti-Semitism allowed Du Bois no illusions that the Kaiserreich was free of racism. His challenge, says Appiah, was to take the best of German intellectual life without its parochialism—to steal the fire without getting burned.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. The Awakening
  • 2. Culture and Cosmopolitanism
  • 3. The Concept of the Negro
  • 4. The Mystic Spell
  • 5. The One and the Many
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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The Trouble With Race

Posted in Africa, Articles, Europe, History, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, South Africa, United States on 2015-04-13 00:38Z by Steven

The Trouble With Race

Foreign Affairs
March/April 2015

Gideon Rose, Editor

Everybody knows that racial tensions have been at the center of American political debate in recent months, but the story of racial and ethnic division is actually a global one, with a long and tortured history. For the lead package in the March/April issue, therefore, we decided to do a deep dive into racial issues in comparative and historical perspective.

Kwame Anthony Appiah kicks it off with a sweeping review of the rise and fall of race as a concept, tracing how late-nineteenth-century scientists and intellectuals built up the idea that races were biologically determined and politically significant, only to have their late-twentieth-century counterparts tear it down. Unfortunately, he concludes, recognizing that racial categories are socially constructed rather than innate doesn’t make racial problems easier to solve.

Fredrick Harris and Robert Lieberman explore the paradox of a United States in which stark racial inequalities persist even as official and individual-level racism have dramatically declined: a country that might be postracist but is hardly postracial. They point to the influence of historical legacies that baked the racism of previous eras into the cake of contemporary institutions and practices, from housing to finance to criminal justice…

Read the entire article here.

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The Philosophy of Race

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Social Science on 2012-11-28 17:05Z by Steven

The Philosophy of Race

1,584 pages
Hardback: 978-0-415-49602-5

Edited by:

Paul Taylor, Associate Professor of Philosophy; African American Studies
Pennsylvania State University

Since at least the early 1990s, philosophical race theory has emerged as a dynamic and fertile area of serious scholarly inquiry, and this new four-volume Major Work from Routledge meets the need for a comprehensive collection to facilitate ready access to the most influential and important foundational and cutting-edge scholarship.

Volume I (‘Philosophy and the History of Race, Race in the History of Philosophy’) brings together the key texts to have shaped the most widely recognized forms of ‘race thinking’. The second and third volumes in the collection, meanwhile, explore the questions that race raises in philosophy’s traditional subfields. Volume II (‘Racial Being and Knowing’) gathers the best and most influential work to unravel the implications of racial practices for metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology. And Volume III (‘Race-ing Beauty, Goodness, and Right’) collects the key scholarship to deal with the consequences of racial practices for aesthetics, ethics, and politics.

The final volume in the collection (‘Intersections and Positions’) assembles the most important work to grapple with the methodological and geographical complications that accompany a commitment to racialism. (Race is an inherently contextual phenomenon and some of the material gathered in this volume—in particular, that exploring racialization in Japan, Brazil, and Norway—provides a refreshing counterweight to the philosophical zeal for abstraction.)

The Philosophy of Race is edited by Paul C. Taylor, a leading scholar in the field. The collection is fully indexed and has a comprehensive introduction, newly written by the editor, which places the material in its intellectual and historic context. It is an essential work of reference and is destined to be valued by scholars and students as a vital one-stop research resource.


  • Volume I: HISTORY
    • Part 1: Philosophical Historiography
      • 1. Cornel West, ‘A Genealogy of Modern Racism’, Prophesy Deliverance! Towards an Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (Westminster Press, 1982), pp. 47–68.
      • 2. Robert Bernasconi, ‘Race, Culture, History’ (plenary lecture at Sodertorn University, 28 May 2009), pp. 11–46.
      • 3. David Theo Goldberg, ‘The End(s) of Race’, Postcolonial Studies, 2004, 7, 2, 211–30.
    • Part 2: Early Figures and Moments
      • 4. Harry Bracken, ‘Philosophy and Racism’, Philosophia, 1978, 8, 2–3, 241–60.
      • 5. Richard Popkin, ‘Hume’s Racism Reconsidered’, The Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought (Brill, 1992), pp. 64–75.
      • 6. Meg Armstrong, ‘”The Effects of Blackness”: Gender, Race, and the Sublime in Aesthetic Theories of Burke and Kant’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 1996, 54, 3, 213–36.
      • 7. Bernard Boxill and Thomas E. Hill, ‘Kant and Race’, in Bernard Boxill (ed.), Race and Racism (Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 448–71.
      • 8. Patricia Purtschert, ‘On the Limit of Spirit: Hegel’s Racism Revisited’, Philosophy & Social Criticism, 2010, 36, 9, 1039–51.
      • 9. Tom Jeannot, ‘Marx, Capitalism, and Race’, in Harry Van der Linden (ed.), Democracy, Racism, and Prisons (Philosophy Documentation Center, 2007), pp. 69–92.
    • Part 3: Late Modern Race Theory in/and the Canon
      • 10. Berel Lang, ‘Heidegger and the Jewish Question: Metaphysical Racism in Silence and Word’, in Julie K. Ward and Tommy L. Lott (eds.), Philosophers on Race: Critical Essays (Blackwell, 2002), pp. 205–21.
      • 11. Kathryn Gines, ‘Race Thinking and Racism in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism’, in Dan Stone and Richard King (eds.), Imperialism, Slavery, Race, and Genocide: The Legacy of Hannah Arendt (Berghahn, 2007), pp. 38–53.
      • 12. Jonathan Judaken, ‘Sartre on Racism: From Existential Phenomenology to Globalization and “the New Racism”’, in Jonathan Judaken (ed.), Race After Sartre (SUNY Press, 2008), pp. 23–54.
    • Part 4: Critical Race Theory and the New Canon
      • 13. Diego von Vacano, ‘Race and Political Theory: Lessons from Latin America’, in Jorge Gracia (ed.), Race or Ethnicity? On Black and Latino Identity (Cornell University Press, 2007), pp. 248–66.
      • 14. Howard McGary, ‘Douglass on Racial Assimilation and Racial Institutions’, in Bill E. Lawson and Frank Kirkland (eds.), Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader (Blackwell Publishing, 1999), pp. 50–63.
      • 15. Nancy Fraser, ‘Another Pragmatism: Alain Locke, Critical “Race” Theory, and the Politics of Culture’, in Morris Dickstein (ed.), The Revival of Pragmatism (Duke University Press, 1998), pp. 157–75.
      • 16. Vivian M. May, ‘Thinking from the Margins, Acting at the Intersections: Anna Julia Cooper’s A Voice from the South’, Hypatia, 2004, 19, 2, 74–91.
      • 17. K. A. Appiah, ‘The Uncompleted Argument: DuBois and the Illusion of Race’, Critical Inquiry, 1985, 12, 1, 21–37.
      • 18. W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept [1940] (Transaction Publishers, 1992), pp. 97–103, 114–17, 129–33, 137–40.
      • 19. Frantz Fanon, ‘The Lived Experience of the Black’, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. R. Philcox [1952] (Grove Press, 1967), pp. 78–99.
      • 20. Lewis R. Gordon, ‘Racism, Colonialism, and Anonymity: Social Theory and Embodied Agency’, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: A Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Routledge, 1995), pp. 37–67.
  • Volume II: Racial Being and Knowing
    • Part 5: What Races Are, What ‘Race’ Means
      • 21. Charles W. Mills, ‘”But What Are You Really?” The Metaphysics of Race’, Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race (Cornell University Press, 1998), pp. 41–66.
      • 22. Lucius Outlaw, ‘Conserve Races? In Defense of W. E. B. Du Bois’, Critical Social Theory in the Interests of Black Folks (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), pp. 139–62.
      • 23. Ron Mallon, ‘Passing, Traveling, and Reality: Social Construction and the Metaphysics of Race’, Nous, 2004, 38, 644–73.
      • 24. Robin O. Andreasen, ‘A New Perspective on the Race Debate’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1998, XLIX, 2, 199–225.
      • 25. Philip Kitcher, ‘Does “Race” have a Future?’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2007, 35, 4, 293–317.
      • 26. David Theo Goldberg, Racist Culture (Blackwell, 1993), pp. 80–9.
      • 27. S. Haslanger, ‘Language, Politics and “the Folk”: Looking for “the Meaning” of “Race”’, The Monist, 2010, 93, 2, 169–87.
      • 28. Joshua Glasgow, Julie L. Shulman, and Enrique G. Covarrubias, ‘The Ordinary Conception of Race in the United States and its Relation to Racial Attitudes: A New Approach’, Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2009, 9, 1–2, 15–38.
    • Part 6: What Racial Identities Are
      • 29. Linda Martín-Alcoff, ‘Philosophy and Racial Identity’, Philosophy Today, 1997, 41, 1, 67–76.
      • 30. K. Anthony Appiah, ‘Synthesis: For Racial Identities’, Color Conscious (Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 75–105.
      • 31. Judith Butler, ‘Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytic Challenge’, Bodies That Matter (Routledge, 1993), pp. 167–86.
      • 32. Paul C. Taylor, Race: A Philosophical Introduction (Polity, 2004), pp. 84–7, 112–15.
    • Part 7: Power, Knowledge, Self-Knowledge, and Experience
      • 33. Charles Mills, ‘White Ignorance’, in Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana (eds.), Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance (SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 11–38.
      • 34. Anika Maaza Mann, ‘Race and Feminist Standpoint Theory’, in Kathryn Gines, Donna Dale-Marcano, and Maria del Guadelupe Davidson, Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2010), pp. 105–20.
      • 35. Shannon Sullivan, ‘Ignorance and Habit’, Revealing Whiteness (University of Indiana Press, 2006), pp. 17–44.
      • 36. Ned Block, ‘How Heritability Misleads About Race’, Boston Review, 1996, 20, 6, 30–35.
      • 37. Michael Root, ‘The Problem of Race in Medicine’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2001, 31, 1, 20–39.
      • 38. Ronald Sundstrom, ‘Race and Place: Social Space in the Production of Human Kinds’, Philosophy and Geography, 2003, 6, 1, 83–95.
  • Volume III: Race-ing Beauty, Goodness, and Right
    • Part 8: Racism
      • 39. Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Racisms’, in D. T. Goldberg (ed.), Anatomy of Racism (University of Minnesota Press, 1990), pp. 3–17.
      • 40. Lewis R. Gordon, ‘Racialism, Racism, Racialists, Racists’, Bad Faith and Anti-Black Racism (Humanity Books, 1999), pp. 67–77.
      • 41. J. L. A. Garcia, ‘The Heart of Racism’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 1996, 2, 5–45.
      • 42. Tommie Shelby, ‘Is Racism in the Heart?’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 2002, 33, 411–20.
      • 43. L. Faucher and E. Machery, ‘Racism: Against Jorge Garcia’s Moral and Psychological Monism’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2009, 39, 1, 41–62.
      • 44. Robert Bernasconi, ‘The Policing of Race Mixing: The Place of Biopower within the History of Racisms’, Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 2010, 7, 2, 205–16.
    • Part 9: Race, the Right, and the Good
      • 45. Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 1–19.
      • 46. Anna Stubblefield, ‘Races as Families’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 2001, 32, 1, 99–112.
      • 47. L. Blum, ‘Three Kinds of Race-Related Solidarity’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 2007, 38, 53–72.
      • 48. Linda Martín Alcoff, ‘Latino/as, Asian Americans, and the Black-White Binary’, Journal of Ethics, 2003, 7, 1, 5–27.
      • 49. Howard McGary, ‘Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression’, in Lewis R. Gordon (ed.), Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy (Routledge, 1996), pp. 263–72.
      • 50. Samantha Vice, ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 2010, 41, 3, 323–42.
    • Part 10: Selected Issues in Racial Politics
      • 51. Richard Wasserstrom, ‘Preferential Treatment, Color-Blindness, and the Evils of Racism and Racial Discrimination’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 1987, 61, 1, 27–42.
      • 52. Howard McGary, ‘Achieving Democratic Equality: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Reparations’, Journal of Ethics, 2003, 7, 1, 93–113.
      • 53. Angela Y. Davis, ‘Racialized Punishment and Prison Abolition’, in Tommy L. Lott (ed.), A Companion to African-American Philosophy (Blackwell Publishing, 2003), pp. 360–9.
      • 54. Glen Coulthard, ‘Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the “Politics of Recognition”’, Contemporary Political Theory, 2007, 6, 4, 437–60.
    • Part 11: Aesthetics
      • 55. Monique Roelofs, ‘Racialization as an Aesthetic Production: What Does the Aesthetic Do for Whiteness and Blackness and Vice Versa?’, in George Yancy (ed.), White on White/Black on Black (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), pp. 83–124.
      • 56. Dan Flory, ‘Spike Lee and the Sympathetic Racist’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 2006, 64, 1, 67–79.
      • 57. Mariana Ortega, ‘Othering the Other: The Spectacle of Katrina for our Racial Entertainment Pleasure’, Contemporary Aesthetics, 2009, 2.
      • 58. Robert Gooding-Williams, ‘Aesthetics and Receptivity: Kant, Nietzsche, Cavell, Astaire’, Look, a Negro! Philosophical Essays on Race, Culture and Politics (Routledge, 2006), pp. 43–68.
      • 59. Falguni A. Sheth, ‘The Hijab and the Sari: The Strange and the Sexy Between Colonialism and Global Capitalism’, Contemporary Aesthetics, 2009, 2.
  • Volume IV: Intersections and Positions
    • Part 12: Intersectionality
      • 60. Nira Yuval-Davis, ‘Intersectionality, Citizenship and Contemporary Politics of Belonging’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 2007, 10, 4, 561–74.
      • 61. Patricia Hill Collins, ‘It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation’, Hypatia, 1998, 13, 3, 62–82.
      • 62. Jorge J. E. Gracia, ‘The Nature of Ethnicity with Special Reference to Hispanic/Latino Identity’, Public Affairs Quarterly, 1999, 13, 1, 25–42.
      • 63. Ladelle McWhorter, ‘Sex, Race, and Biopower: A Foucauldian Genealogy’, Hypatia, 2004, 19, 3, 38–62.
      • 64. Stuart Hall, ‘Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance’, Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism (UNESCO, 1980), pp. 305–45.
      • 65. Étienne Balibar, ‘Uprisings in the Banlieues’, Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, 2007, 14, 1, 47–71.
    • Part 13: Mapping Racial Imaginaries: Inventing the Other
      • 66. Edward Said, ‘Introduction to Orientalism’, in Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin (eds.), The Edward Said Reader (Vintage, 2000), pp. 67–74, 78–81, 90–3.
      • 67. David Haekwon Kim, ‘Orientalism and America Enlarged’, Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies, 2003, 2, 2, 30–4.
      • 68. V. Y. Mudimbe, ‘Discourse of Power and Knowledge of Otherness’, The Invention of Africa (Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 1–23.
      • 69. Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers (Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 41, 56–9, 73–5, 80–90, 98–102.
      • 70. David Theo. Goldberg, ‘Racial Europeanization’, Ethnic & Racial Studies, 2006, 29, 2, 331–64.
      • 71. Nadia Abu El-Haj, ‘Racial Palestinianization and the Janus-Faced Nature of the Israeli State’, Patterns of Prejudice, 2010, 44, 1, 27–41.
    • Part 14: Positioning Critical Identities: Inventing Self and Community
      • 72. Sonia Sikka, ‘In What Sense are Dalits Black?’ (presentation to ‘Beyond the White–Black Binary’, conference held at Pennsylvania State University, 12 November 2010).
      • 73. Linda Martín Alcoff, ‘Mestizo Identity’, in Naomi Zack (ed.), American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity (Rowman and Littlefield, 1995), pp. 257–78.
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Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2012-02-08 04:30Z by Steven

Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

The Philosophical Forum
Volume 43, Issue 1 (Spring 2012)
pages 27–49
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2011.00409.x

Andrew J. Pierce
Loyola University, Chicago

The claim that race is “socially constructed” has become something of a platitude in social science and philosophy. At a minimum, such a claim means to reject the notion that conceptions of race have some biological or “scientific” foundation and suggests instead that the notion of race is a purely human invention—a conventional way of ordering societies rather than a natural fact about the world. But the political and normative implications of this basic agreement are far from clear. Some have taken it to mean that we ought to stop talking about “races” as though they were real and work to develop other kinds of identifications to replace so-called “racial” identities. Others have suggested that though race may not be ontologically real, political structures that take races as basic make race an unavoidable social reality, such that as a matter of political practice, it is unwise to eliminate talk of race. And others still have argued that racial identity can be reinterpreted in such a way as to shed its deterministic connotations, but retain important features that have come to flourish under the oppressive force of, say, black identity. In short, the fact that race is “socially constructed,” important an insight as it is, tells us relatively little about what role, if any, race ought to play in a more just social order and in the construction of healthy collective identities. This paper aims to get clear on the normative implications of the “social construction” thesis, not just for political practice in nonideal societies where racial oppression remains, but in “ideal” (presumably nonracist) societies as well. That is, I am interested in the question of whether race and/or racial identity would have any legitimate place in an ideally just society, or to state it another way, whether the concept of race can be extricated from the history of racial oppression from which it arose. The position I defend is a version of what has come to be called a “conservationist” view. I argue that racial identities could be normatively justified based upon modified principles of discourse (which, I argue, are appropriately applied to contexts of collective identity formation), though I do not endorse the stronger claim that racial identities are an inevitable feature of any form of social organization that societies now structured by race could aspire to, as some other conservationists claim. Moreover, I do not take conservationism to imply that future racial groups would be the same as current racial groups, a point I illustrate through an analysis of whiteness.


The social construction thesis has led some to argue that since the concept of race has no real referent (and moreover, since “race-thinking” is often morally problematic), it should be discarded altogether. Kwame Anthony Appiah, one of the most fervent proponents of this kind of eliminativism, argues succinctly that “there are no races. There is nothing in the world we can ask race to do for us,” in short, that race “refers to nothing in the world at all.” Given, in other words, that modern science has failed to identify any discrete entities called “races,” use of the term lacks a referent and so is, strictly speaking, meaningless. Continued employment of the term rests on a conceptual mistake, one that is frequently morally pernicious besides.

But one may wonder, does the lack of a scientific foundation for race really mean that our everyday race terms lack reference? After all, do we not know who we mean when we talk about blacks, whites, Latinos, etc.? Perhaps not. Naomi Zack shares Appiah’s skepticism about the existence of races, and in Race and Mixed Race, she provides similar arguments to show that race has no scientific foundation and further, that folk criteria of race, which attribute racial membership based primarily upon heredity, fail to achieve their purported goal of completeness (such that all persons would have a designated racial membership) since mixed-race persons do not fit within their classificatory scope, and further, since there is no defensible way to distinguish mixed race persons from “pure” race persons. For example, there is no logical reason why a person with three white grandparents and one black one should be considered black, while a person with three black grandparents and one white one should not be considered white. And insofar as most if not all persons in racialized societies like the U.S. (not to mention Latin American nations) are “mixed” to some degree, then folk criteria of racial membership are fatally flawed as well.

But there are good reasons for hesitating to make the leap from this ontological claim (that races do not exist) to the normative claim that we should retire racial categories from our vocabulary, and so, presumably, from our laws and policies as well. This hesitance is based on the recognition that racial categories are useful for picking out, for example, “persons whose ancestors were victims of American chattel slavery,” and who might have legitimate moral claims based on that ancestry. That is, one intuitively plausible answer to the question, “why continue to talk about ‘races’ if there are no such thing?” is that, though race is not “real” in any ultimate metaphysical sense, it is still an important concept for understanding contemporary social reality, given that racial categories still structure the experiences of individuals and the functioning of institutions in “racialized” societies. One need not believe in God to understand the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition (or to use Appiah’s example, one need not believe in witches to understand the functioning of the concept of witchcraft in early colonial New England). One can continue to hold that such concepts have a social reality, even if one denies that they are real in the deeper senses above. In relation to race, such a position has come to be called constructivism. Racial constructivists accept that race has no biological foundation, yet they argue that as a result of human action and the widespread, consequential successes of pseudoscientific and folk theories of race, race has come to be inscribed in the institutions and practices of contemporary societies in ways that cannot be illuminated without recourse to some conception of race. Accordingly, they hold that race does have a sociohistorical reality, even if it cannot be linked to biologically significant “racial” differences…


Is it the case, one might wonder, that whites, when confronted with a confusing array of diverse racial identities, might simply “shrug and call themselves white?” That is, could whiteness continue to exist as an option for racial identification under nonracist conditions, and if not, what options does this leave for persons traditionally considered white? The question is an especially pressing one if collective identity is of the kind of constitutive importance that many have argued it is, and since one might think that the lack of a positive reconstruction of white racial identity leaves a void that is too often filled by traditionally racist, white supremacist conceptions of whiteness. The answer, I believe, is that white identity is not discursively justifiable, mainly because it is inherently coercive and exclusionary, failing, at least, the first and fourth conditions of discourse. Yet, I will argue this lack of justification need not cause too much worry since white identity lacks the intersubjective resources and benefits of other kinds of collective identity, such that, in the absence of other, illegitimate kinds of benefits (i.e., all of the economic, political, psychological, and social benefits associated with being in a position of relative dominance) one would not expect it to remain of much value to those it purported to describe anyway. That is, in precise opposition to the standard view that sees whiteness as the norm and nonwhiteness as the deviation or exception, I will argue that white identity is actually the anomalous identity, one that, when uncoupled from the system of racial oppression in which it formed, fails to provide the benefits typical of collective identity. If this is true, then one should expect that white identity would eventually be replaced by more useful and democratic forms of collective identification. The outlines of such alternatives are already visible even in our own society and demonstrate that the illegitimacy of white racial identity does not leave white people “marooned” without any resources for collective identification.

In order to begin to understand why white racial identity is illegitimate, one must understand its history, and the conditions under which it formed. Presumably, white racial identity stands in some relation to European heritage, though one should be cautious about equating the two. Previous to the eighteenth century, the idea of race as denoting specific lines of descent still marked a division between the “noble races” of European stock and their ignoble, though nonetheless similarly pigmented, countrymen. At its most general, this idea of race allowed for a commonality among nations or peoples, circumscribing the membership of the French, German, or English “races.” It was only in the New World, where English and other Europeans were confronted with the reality of slavery, that whiteness came to denote a commonality among Europeans of different types. Putatively setting aside old and deeply ingrained internal inequalities, the express purpose of such an identity was to distinguish the free European from the enslaved African, based upon the latter’s supposedly inherent dependency. In this way, slavery could be reconciled with the nascent values of liberalism. This opposition of slave and freeman is at the root of the U.S.’s binary racial system, a system into which successive waves of immigrants would be forced to assimilate…

Read the entire article here.

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