Apr 102012

[Editor's Note: This post is a follow-up on some of the discussion near the end of ep. 52.]

I have often found that great comedy can be deeply philosophical. Wittgenstein once said that one could write a substantial work of philosophy consisting only of jokes. This is certainly true when it comes to philosophy of race. The following are some of the things I show in class to both entertain and spark conversation. Who knew racism could be so darn funny?

White Privilege:

Watch on YouTube.

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Apr 092012

John DerbyshireJohn Derbyshire has been fired from the National Review for an openly racist column on how white people should advise their children with respect to “blacks”: for the most part, avoid them. Because on the whole, they are unintelligent, antisocial, hostile, and dangerous. Or as he puts it, avoid “concentrations of blacks” or places “swamped with blacks,” and leave a place when “the number of blacks suddenly swells,” and keep moving when “accosted by a strange black” in the street. The language is alarmingly dehumanizing: black people come in “swamps” and “concentrations” (and presumably also in hordes, swarms, and just plain gangs). And it’s clearly meant to be a dismissal of the notion — much talked about recently in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting — that African Americans should be able to walk down the street without being shunned, much less attacked.

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Mar 302012

As mentioned on the race episode, I thumbed through a book edited by Andrew Valls called Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy,which includes essays on Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, and Nietzsche. To give Valls’s words on the last of these, since I mentioned it in the discussion:

…James Winchester examines Nietzsche’s views on race. Against those who charged that Nietzsche was a racist, Winchester shows that his relation to race is far too complex to be captured by this label. Although Nietzsche made some disturbing remarks on this score, he also departed from conventional racial thinking of his day by claiming, for example, that Jes constituted a strong race and Germans a mixed and weak one. These views, among others, do show that Nietzsche was a racialist–he believed that races were real and had great causal significance in shaping thought and culture. This view, combined with his assessment of the German and Jewish races, led Nietzsche to recommend “mixing” of the two in order to strengthen the German race. While Nietzsche sometimes thought in racial terms, his use of racial ideas was neither consistent nor well worked out.”

Knowing that Nietzsche didn’t have his shit together on this topic despite talking about it so much doesn’t make me feel much better about him in this respect, but then again, I was already looking past the many unforgivable things he said about women, so the race issue doesn’t require any further stretching of the brain on my part.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Mar 282012

In this post brought to my attention by our commenter DMF in light of our race episode, Kristie Dotson of Michigan State University attacks the question that one might ask when reading DuBois, for instance: Is this really philosophy?

The question, how is this paper philosophy, is a poorly formulated question. At best, when asked in good faith, the question could in fact be one of several questions. At worst, when asked with ill will, the question indicates pernicious ignorance in the asker. Either it is a well-intentioned, problematic question or a poorly intended, bad question…

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Mar 262012

One of the names dropped during the Race and Philosophy episode was that of Stokely Carmichael. Below is a famous recording of one Carmichael’s “Black Power” speeches, given after Carmichael was appointed Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC:


Watch on YouTube.

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Mar 222012

Political philosophy through the prism of Black-American thinkers: Tommie Shelby is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Harvard university. In this text, he examines the political thought of black thinkers to arrive at a philosophical articulation of black solidarity. This is a great text to examine if one is interested in understanding black philosophical thinking about politics.

Womanist Perspective on Race: Womanism is concerned with what Bell Hooks calls the “unholy trinity of sexism, class, and race.” Womanists argue that feminists should focus on sex and class, but they must not forget the ill of racism. This is a seminal text in the Womanist tradition.


Mar 172012
W.E.B. DuBois

On W.E.B. DuBois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (1903), Cornel West’s “A Genealogy of Modern Racism” (1982), and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) and “The Black Power Defined” (1967), plus Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution” (1963).

What kind of philosophical lessons come out of the history of black oppression in America? Historian and intellectual DuBois describes the “double consciousness” involved living as a black man in the white world (he was the first black man to graduate from Harvard); he sees the oppression experience as providing some spiritual insight that the rest of us could use. West analyzes the codification of racist aesthetic standards in western philosophical history, leaving us with traces (a white “normative gaze”) that require more than a tolerant attitude to root out. The American civil rights writers discuss the practical ways to combat this legacy, the upshot being that whites will not in themselves become enlightened and fix everything, but that blacks simply needed more economic, political, and cultural power. So where does this leave us some decades later? Read more about the topic and get the texts.

The full foursome is joined by Lawrence Ware of Oklahoma State University, who serves as the token professional in our amateur melting pot. Contemplate our liberal bias! Snicker at my awkward white guilt!

End song: “Bankrupt” by The MayTricks, from the album Happy Songs Will Bring You Down (1994), one of my more amusing musical crimes against the inventors of funk. Download the whole album for free.

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Feb 232012

We PELers spent black history month actually reading black history, and on 2/28/12 spoke with Law Ware of Oklahoma State University about philosophy and race. Is there a philosophically viable concept of race at all? What are the potential sources of past and current oppression, and what general strategies seem promising to deal with them? Is “understanding” all one needs to beat prejudice? Here’s what we all read:

“Of our Spiritual Strivings,” by W.E.B. DuBois, which is chapter 1 of his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. DuBois was a historian who took classes with William James and knew his philosophy. This essay gives an existential take on what it’s like to live with a “double consciousness:” to see through the eyes of Western culture (from his white teachers) as an intellectual, but also to see through the eyes of his oppressed brethren. Far from simply wanting blacks to integrate, he saw the black experience as providing a spiritual viewpoint that commercial white America sorely needed. You can read the book online; however, the Norton Critical Editionincludes lots of helpful footnotes and supplementary essays.

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