PHIL 2251: Philosophy of Race

"Mississippi Goddam”
Nina Simone

What is race?  Do races even exist? And what exactly is racism?  Most people agree that it is wrong to be racist, but what are they referring to?  Individual beliefs?  Or perhaps sociopolitical structures?  There is, it seems, no consensus regarding these basic questions — questions that are undeniably important given the history of the modern world, to say nothing of the reality of race and racism today.  This philosophy course is an exploration of these questions, and it is premised on the observation that we are definitely not living in a post-racial, post-racist world, and that we need to consider these fundamental questions critically and soberly.

In the first part of this course, we will consider some of the challenges to “race-thinking,” one of which is the desire among some whites to dismiss the testimonies and analyses of people of color and to speak for them.

In the second part of this course, we will explore the complex and contested question of race, not only in terms of its existence or non-existence, but also in terms of mixed race, Latinx, and Asian identities.

In the third part of this course, we will look at the problem of racism, not only as an individual phenomenon, but also — and more importantly — as a complex sociopolitical and historical one.

In the fourth part of this course, we will address the systems and structures of institutionalized racism (or white supremacy), many of which are cited by activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Finally, in the fifth part of this course, we will discuss the meaning — and future — of “whiteness” as a racial category, taking into account some of the key insights from the field of Critical Race Theory.

These are the materials that we will cover:

GETTING STARTED

“The Problem of Speaking for Others” by Linda Martín Alcoff; PDF

“Three Challenges to Race-Thinking” by Paul C. Taylor; PDF

THE QUESTION OF RACE

“The Conservation of Races” by W.E.B. Du Bois; PDF

“Illusions of Race” by Kwame Anthony Appiah; PDF

“Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy” by Naomi Zack; PDF

“Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race — In Theory” by Lewis R. Gordon; PDF

“Latinos on Race and Ethnicity: Alcoff, Corlett, and Gracia” by Lawrence Blum; PDF

“The Invisible Asian” by George Yancy and David Haekwon Kim; PDF

THE PROBLEM OF RACISM

“Of Our Spiritual Strivings” by W.E.B. Du Bois; PDF

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon; Amazon.com

“Racism as a Form of Bad Faith” by Lewis R. Gordon; PDF

“A Genealogy of Modern Racism” by Cornel West; PDF

SYSTEMS & STRUCTURES

The Racial Contract by Charles W. Mills, Amazon.com

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Amazon.com

WHITENESS

“The Souls of White Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois; PDF

“White Man's Guilt” by James Baldwin; PDF

“Whiteness as Property” by Cheryl I. Harris; PDF

The Future of Whiteness by Linda Martín Alcoff; Amazon.com

© Douglas Ficek