This past fall I taught the philosophy senior seminar on Plato and Baldwin. I had several reasons for putting these thinkers together. One, I wanted students to see the ways that knowing oneself, individually and collectively, remains of pressing importance for producing a just world. I wanted students to see the philosophical aporiae involved in distinguishing between a true account and an ideology–an account propogated for the sake of power. I wanted them to think about how difficult it is to distinguish the two and how dangerous it is to assume the distinction is clear. I wanted them to think about how philosophers make claims to power by assuming they can make this distinction easily. I wanted them to think about how our own investments in being right make it difficult for us to change our minds. And finally, I wanted them to consider what the implications of that difficulty are for the status of our own self-evaluation. I also wanted students to think about both the individual and the collective process of self-examination, as Plato has Socrates asks of Athenians and of Athens. Read more
Posts from the ‘Race and Racism’ Category
In last week’s episode of blackish, the character played by Laurence Fishburne tells his grandson about the other parts of the “I Have A Dream” speech that no one ever talks about. In this week’s issue of the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv documents how the prosecutor of the Angola 3 opposed the Black Panthers to the non-violence of Martin Luther King, Jr. In American public discourse, King is the respectable Black man to Malcolm X’s violent scary Black man. Accepting King becomes a marker of diversity and inclusion that allows individual white people to absolve themselves of racism without confronting and changing the racist structures of their worlds. Parts of King’s speeches get used to conjure images of diversity and to lend support to colorblind public policy. But much of King’s speeches point to his call for justice, freedom and equality.
Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, in 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated one of the key legislations to come out of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Unfortunately, this decision was not reached because there was no longer any evidence of discrimination in access to the vote. The economic inequalities King addresses in his “I Have a Dream” speech similarly remain today. Thus, King’s concern with the follies of political gradualism in this speech seem all the more pressing. Read more
In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (see these collected reviews), Coates refers to “people who believe they are white.” In his 2004 book, The Abolition of White Democracy, Joel Olson says he will capitalize Black when referring to people of African descent in the book because Black refers to a culture, but white does not (xviii-xix). Read more
There was a lot of talk during the general election cycle about false equivalencies in the coverage of the two major party candidates. The concern was that vastly different actions were treated as similar under the guise of journalistic balance or objectivity: Clinton’s emails treated with the same degree of coverage as Trump’s recorded statement about how he grabs women. But these false equivalencies have moved beyond election coverage. Identity politics, a term that refers to political efforts by groups who are marginalized on the basis of some aspect of their identity, has been taken up by those who occupy the position of the norm–Christians, white people, men–and made equivalent to the political efforts of those whose identities make them the systemic targets of injustice. An opinion piece in The Washington Post argued that Democrats lost this election because of SCOTUS decisions against Christians’ rights to refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings. Jeremy Carl argued last August for the legitimacy of white interests in National Review. New York Magazine reports on the revitalization and politicization of the men’s rights movement in the era of Trump. The idea in each of these cases is that the identities of those who because of their identity are structurally situated as having power occupies an equivalent political position to those who because of their identity are structurally situated as lacking power.
There has been a lot of wringing of hands over the move toward false equivalencies of this kind. I submit that this situation in which every identity is treated as equal to every other one is what is on offer from liberalism, and here I mean liberalism in the sense of the political theory that both parties in the United States affirm. Read more
Image from PODNetwork, logo for 2015 conference.
Just left my first PODnetwork meeting in San Francisco. POD is the acronym for Professional Organizational Development, which, I know, sounds like something I’d never be a part of. But the meeting was about pedagogy, which I am very much a part of. I’m a faculty member who does not have an official role in a Center for Teaching and Learning, but I am the program chair of the Gender Studies minor; I administer a GLCA grant on Ancient Philosophy Teaching and Research where one component is a pedagogy workshop; and I’m actively engaged in discussions of pedagogy as many other faculty are on my campus (as part of the academic honesty task force, for example). All this to say, I was thinking about the discussions at the meeting very much from a faculty perspective. Read more
I went looking for reviews of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, ahead of our last reading group meeting on it. In case you needed evidence that Coates has sparked a national conversation, here it is. The reviews point up the issues raised by the book: who is this book for? what kinds of demands do White and Black readers bring to the book and how do those demands point to the very issues Coates raises about the relation between the Dream and the struggle? Read more
In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:
Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just.
Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable. And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.
The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy. Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage. Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice. What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more
Wednesday night a terrorist attacked a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. I was in the middle of working on this post when I heard about it and wondered if in light of current events the subject of this post mattered. I have come to think that it does. It seems to me that part of the reason that people think these incidents can be and should be treated as isolated incidents is that we forget our history. I’m not a historian. I am sure there are others who know this history better than I do, but I couldn’t find a short condensed history of race relations in Indiana when I went looking for it (except this archive). I think it is important that we remember our history and how it continues to affect our present. As Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” Another reason I’m writing this is that today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the earliest celebration of commemorating the end of slavery because it was on June 19, 1865 that Union soldiers showed up in Galveston, TX and informed the slaves that they were free, two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I used to live in Texas, where I learned about Juneteenth, but now I live in Indiana. I’m from Philadelphia, and I have a pretty good sense of the history (and the present) of race relations in Philadelphia, but when I moved to Texas and Indiana, I wanted to better understand the history of those places. So I was thrilled when a friend from graduate school who is now a Hoosier, Nazareth Pantaloni, gave me IU history professor James H. Madison’s book: Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana. Madison spends considerable space addressing the history of race in Indiana (though I was disappointed to see no entry for race or racism in the index). In the spirit of Juneteenth–of learning about emancipation long after it has been declared but does not seem yet to be in force–I want to blog about the history of race relations in Indiana that I learned from Madison’s book. I just want to give some of the highlights. I am limiting this list to highlights, especially to highlights that continue to echo in today’s climate. Read more
As I was writing my book on Aristotle’s political thought, I became interested in how and why institutions fail to achieve the end they purport to achieve almost as a matter of course. Institutions seem to shift their goal from the end they were established to fulfill to merely preserving their existence. What happens is that the desire to preserve their existence contravenes their efforts to fulfill the goal for which they were established. I wrote about this in a critique of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series. The notion that institutions become more concerned with their preservation than their proclaimed goal now resounds from every corner (eg., protecting the police force trumps the peace and justice the police force is meant to maintain and enforce).
Over the last two months, I have been making my way slowly through Sara Ahmed’s book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity In Institutional Life (Duke University Press 2012). Ahmed argues that institutions institutionalize ‘diversity’ as a way to protect and preserve themselves without ever adequately recognizing diversity. Ahmed exposes the ways that what seems to be institutional recognition becomes institutional justification of ignoring its grave problems. So the rest of this post isn’t so much a review (good reviews can be read at Society and Space, Graduate Journal of Social Science, Erina Frost, Hypatia Reviews Online and the American Association of University Professors), as a list of the ways that diversity works that contribute to how institutions fail to diversify through appeals to their instituted diversity projects.
So the list includes three things: 1) diversity statements function as non-performatives; 2) diversity programs and policies are implemented to protect the institution rather than to further diversify the institution; 3) the language of diversity comes to have commercial value and to reflect the commercial value of the institution.
The week since November 24, 2014 when the grand jury in Ferguson, MO guided by Prosecutor Robert McColloch decided not to indict has been a sad and devastating one for many people. For those of us who continue against all evidence to trust the institutions and processes of contemporary America to bring justice, this decision forces a reckoning with the racism that pervades our institutions and our very perceptions and judgments about other people. This post draws together some of the things I have read in the last week that made me think better and harder about what is happening.
Photo is of a protest last Tuesday at a Memphis high school. It’s all over the internet, but I believe it can be traced back to jcole here.