Philosophy of Race

Course Description:

The topic of race can arouse a range of emotion from discomfort, to indignation, to pride, to respect and to frustration. It is seen as a controversial, and sometimes even taboo, topic to discuss. However, many philosophers have made important contributions to untangling the messiness of these conversations. This class is meant to serve as an introduction to the philosophical ideas contained within these conversations of race and racism. We will first discuss metaphysical questions such as: what is race itself? Is it something real and existing in the world, or is it a social construction? In conversations about race, often this concept of “whiteness”, and “white supremacy” arises. Where did these ideas come from? When did these concepts appear historically? And what do we mean when we use the term “white”? After discussing the above abstract concepts, then we will move on to discuss the phenomenology of race. Phenomenology is the philosophical study of phenomena, which are experiences observed by the mind. In other words, we will discuss what it is like to experience race and being racialized. Within this unit we will also look at other variations of identity such as ethnicity, being mixed raced and the phenomenology of such differences; as well as the philosophical questions that arise out of the intersections of gender and sexuality. Some central questions for this unit might be, how is one’s race tied in with one’s sense of self? Who decides questions of identity? And is there a difference between how one self-identifies and how the world sees them? And then finally, we will talk about larger social forces (such as class differences and imperialism) that may have played a role in constructing, propagating or complicating the concept of race and racism. By the end of this class, you will not only be able to articulate and think critically about contemporary issues on the topic of race, but you will have also practiced different limbs of philosophy in the process of unpacking the concept of race including: metaphysics, epistemology, normative ethics, phenomenology and social philosophy.



Week 1: What to expect | The syllabus | Reading & Writing Philosophy

Unit 1 (Week 2-4): The metaphysics and theories of the concept of “race”

Racism, Leonard Harris (ed)

o Objective Realism

o Constructive Realism

o Moderate Objectivism

Unit 2 (Week 5 & 6): Theories of “whiteness” and “white supremacy”

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev; The Invention of the White Race

by Theodore Allen; Back Lash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about

Racism in America by George Yancy; Look a White! Philosophical Essays on

Whiteness by George Yancy; White by Law by Ian Haney Lopez

--- Midterm questions given end of week 6 to be due beginning of week 7----

Unit 3: The phenomenology of race – beyond black and white – intersections of race,

gender, and sexuality

(Week 7 & 8) Phenomenology:

“Five Faces of Oppression” by Iris Marion Young; Living Alterities:

Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race by Emily S. Lee; Souls of Black Folks

by W.E.B. DuBois; Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon, American Mixed

Race: The Culture of Micro-diversity by Naomi Zack

(Week 9 & 10) Beyond Black and White:

Langston Hughes “Passing”; Gary Okihiro “Is Yellow white or black?”; Louise

Cainkar “Thinking Outside the Box: Arabs and Race in the United States”; Race

and Arab-Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible

Subjects by Amaney A. Jamal and Nadine Christine Naber; “Mexican

Americans and Whiteness” by George Martinez; “The Latino Imaginary” by

Juan Flores; “Is Latina/o Identity a Racial Identity?” by Linda Alcoff;

(Week 11 & 12) Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexuality:

Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis; Black Feminist Thought by Patricia

Hill Collins; “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and

Violence against Women of Color” by Kimberle Crenshaw; The Man-Not by

Tommy J. Curry, Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop (film) by Derrick L.

Middleton; Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzeldúa;

Sister/Outsider by Audre Lorde; Pilgrimages/Pilgrimages: Theorizing Coalition

Against Multiple Oppressions by Maria Lugones;

Unit 4: Race and Class (Week 12 & 13)

Class, Race, and Marxism and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of

the American Working Class by David R. Roediger, How Capitalism

Underdeveloped Black America by Manning Marable; “Inequality in America:

The Failure of the American System for People of Color” by Edna Bonacich;

Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider

--- First draft of final essays due (end of 13th week)---

Week 14

Buffer for topics that extend longer than their assigned weeks (out of student

interest) | Big picture conversations | Lesson: how philosophers give feedback

--- Peer response papers due ---

Week 15


Finals Week

---Final essays due---