ETMP Discussion: Symposium on Urquidez’s “(Re-)Defining Racism”

Welcome to our latest Ethical Theory and Moral Practice discussion! Our featured articles are from a symposium on Alberto G. Urquidez’s (Re-)Defining Racism: A Philosophical Analysis, with contributions from Megan Mitchell, César Cabezas, José Jorge Mendoza, George N. Fourlas, Naomi Zack, and Urquidez.

To kick off discussion, we have a critical summary of the symposium by Grant Silva. Take it away, Grant!

 

Of What Value is a Definition? A Critical Précis of Alberto G. Urquidez’s (Re-)Defining Racism: A Philosophical Analysis

 

Allow me to first express my gratitude for being invited to partake in the conversation between Alberto G. Urquidez and his critics in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (Vol. 24, Issue 3). I shall begin these comments by noting that contrary to what most people might think, we live in a time in which there is a great deal of public discourse on matters connected to race and, more importantly, racism. This perhaps sounds odd given the various attempts at both the state and local levels to prohibit the teaching of those terms or ideas often used to educate students of our nation’s history of white supremacy and racism. While for the most part the manufactured crisis of “Critical Race Theory” is intended to rouse a particular voter bloc, and hence its claims should be dismissed outright, at some point those committed to racial justice must take on the content of these claims. These anti-CRT efforts, after all, are not intended to stop discussions on racism. That would be foolish in a society with glaring racial inequalities. Instead, the goal is to control them: racial inequality is not systemic but the fault of individuals; only a racist sees race; those committed to ending racism do not judge others by the color of their skin; only hateful persons are critical of their nation’s history, etc.

It is for this reason that Urquidez’s meticulously argued and bold book, (Re-)Defining Racism: A Philosophical Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), is so important today. It offers a theory of racism derived from a philosophical methodology that conjoins Wittgensteinian inspired intensionalist semantics with a normative-pragmatic pluralism. This method, conventionalism, allows Urquidez to prescribe a definition of racism, i.e., a grammar and set of rules for how “racism” ought to be used, that enables philosophers and theorists of race to adequately characterize or depict existing phenomena as “racist” without (a) losing sight of why this concept was originally created and (b) becoming mired by metaphysical debates about racism’s “real” nature. To the chagrin of those who demand neutrality or even “objectivity” from a definition of racism, Urquidez’s theory prioritizes the victims of racial injustice, particularly those harmed by white supremacy. Central to his view is a functionalist account of racial oppression that focuses more on the consequences of racist action and less on the moral-psychology behind racist behavior (RR, 28). This oppression-based approach stems from his underlying semantic commitments: the prescribed definition of racism is not merely delineated by necessary and sufficient conditions but also contoured by the concept’s origins as a term of art meant to depict an oppressor-oppressed relation of domination.

The bulk of (Re-)Defining Racism consists of Urquidez’s argument for the theory of linguistic meaning at the center of his project. While this argument is instrumental to his thesis, I worry that the work will be hijacked by philosophers of language who will pick at the semantic theory but leave behind the focus on racism and racial oppression. Nevertheless, drawing heavily from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grammatical turn, Urquidez argues that linguistic meaning is a product of human convention and rule-producing language norms. Language is not a mirror reflecting nature or reality but a goal-directed activity through which human beings have created networks of meaning to help understand and interact with the world we live in. As such, linguistic meaning is ultimately “arbitrary” in two senses of this word: first, human languages do not derive meaning from reality (RR, 27); second, concepts like racism are fundamentally sociocultural, and we are free to determine grammatical conventions according to our own values and desired ends. This second (and older) sense of “arbitrary,” as in having been decided or dependent on someone’s choice, is critical to the antiracist dimensions of Urquidez’s project. Put differently, the justification for a grammar is immanent to the linguistic community putting it forward. A grammar, on this account, is not only conditioned by the facts which it strives to characterize, but these characterizations are selected based upon human values, interests, and goals shared by members of this community (RR, 127).

The upshot of this grammatical approach is that the concept of racism cannot be confined to traditional forms of conceptual analysis that divorce it from its sociohistorical contexts. In the face of widespread disagreement and confusion regarding what counts as racism, philosophers and race theorists must consider how “racism” has been used in order to assess what it should mean. This concept’s contested nature, therefore, is Urquidez’s point of departure.

For the most part, as he explains, the term is used in myriad and often contradictory ways, not all of which are genuine or sincere. Most popular discussions of racism, especially those operating in politized contexts, are mired by self-interest and bad faith (RR, 4). This contentiousness does little more than enable moral evasion and helps to weaponize the charge of racism such that one can undercut its historical role in criticizing white supremacy. For example, note how proponents of the anti-CRT movement emphatically exclaim that discussing our nation’s racist history is “racist” towards white people alive today. Urquidez writes, “We need to reclaim the concept of racism because it is, and has been, under attack; because the term ‘racism’ is highly overused; and because the concept is often hijacked for political gain at the expense of the interests of people of color for whom the concept ought to be employed” (RR, 24). Accordingly, Urquidez argues that “racism” should be cached out in collectivist and not individual or personal terms; this concept should reference longstanding forms of group-based (specifically racial) oppression and injustice caused by the sociopolitical paradigm of white supremacy.

Given this contrived contentiousness, Urquidez’s theory can expect a great deal of resistance from both philosophers and non-philosophers alike, a concern articulated by George Fourlas and José Jorge Mendoza in their respective commentaries. However, like these commentators, I must admit to appreciating this boldness. Much of my philosophical work being on racism, I am frequently surprised (but should not be) that after presenting my views on racism I am often (almost always) asked how my theory or comments work with instances of nonwhite racism against white people, as if a theory of racism holds no water unless it can castigate nonwhites too. Although there are good reasons for expecting a theory of racism to be so thorough and consistent, such a request often fails to recognize what Urquidez describes as the concept of racism’s Janus-face, a point that I find to be especially helpful when confronting racism’s contested nature today.

Racism, like any concept, consists of both a necessary and contingent side, its essential and accidental features. The necessary side of racism boils down to those elements of the concept that are essential to any account of it. As examples Urquidez offers racism is a racial phenomenon, which is to say, “it is impossible to make sense of the term ‘racism’ (what it means) without reference to the idea of race,” and racism is morally objectionable, that is, “it is impossible to know what ‘racism’ means without knowing that this term is used to condemn” (César Cabezas takes issue with this moralized approach to racism in his comments). The contingent side of the concept of racism is the empirical and sociohistorical side; how the concept came into existence and its original purpose. Making use of Wittgenstein’s example of chess, one can know how to play the game, even be a student of it, without knowing how the game came into existence. Through this metaphor Urquidez’s goal is to explain how the necessary side of racism can easily be decontextualized and stripped from its historically contingent context. When this happens in philosophy one gets talk of “necessary and sufficient conditions” for what makes something racist. When this happens in society, you get charges of “reverse racism” or the type of colorblind ideology that purports that “only a racist sees race,” the idea that all race-conscious policies are racist. Such an approach to racism is wrong, argues Urquidez, because “racism’s necessary side is deeply bound up with its contingent side” (RR, 13).

One can see the importance of racism’s Janus-face in the exchange between Urquidez and Megan Mitchell. In her comments, Mitchell asks for more detail regarding the role of personal responsibility in Urquidez’s framework. In particular, she takes issue with his claim that white people must assume responsibility for their racial biases (RR, 288). Drawing from the work of Robin Zheng, Mitchell suggests that all people in a society contoured by racism and racial injustice should have to assume responsibility for the racial biases they harbor, not just whites. Yet, as Urquidez argues, while such a claim is undoubtedly true, it elides the relationship between racial biases and longstanding forms of racial injustice. While all people might harbor racial biases, not all benefit in the aggregate in the same way by these biases. The point being, it does not mean the same thing, so to speak, for everyone to reckon with their biases. This talk of bias can easily distort, if not abscond from altogether, racism’s contingent half in the hope of establishing a workable—essential—theory of responsibility.

Whereas the contentiousness one finds in popular discussions of racism are not products of genuine confusion as much as they are intentional misrepresentation, the theoretical- or philosophical-level disagreement typically boils down to three debates: (1) whether empirical or non-empirical approaches are best at characterizing the nature of racism; (2) monist versus pluralist approaches to racism (i.e., is racism one thing or are there many kinds?); and (3) whether the concept of racism is essentially moralized or simply appreciated for its explanatory power. Worse, for Urquidez, is the tendency of philosophers to believe that their theories of racism describe an existing state of affairs in the “real” world. Such approaches reify a particular understanding of racism, which is imprudent given the tendency for racism to be dynamic and wily. At the very least, such philosophers are mistaken in terms of what the role of philosophical inquiry ought to be. He writes,

The goal of philosophical theory is normative rather than ontological, and prescriptive rather than descriptive.  The warrant it must ultimately attain is pragmatic rather than epistemic. The goal is not to define “what racism is” in the ontological sense (for there is no “racism-as-it-is-in-itself” to discover), but to define “what racism is” in the normative sense of providing a rule for correctly applying the word “racism.” Our project aims to define how the word ought to be used for purposes of moral representation (RR, 26).

For Urquidez there is no “racism-as-it-is-in-itself” to discover because “racism” is a sociocultural concept. A sociocultural concept is characterized as one that overlays ongoing social relations. In racism’s case, the social relation is one marked by relations of domination that themselves reference not reality per se but a social construction—the concept of race, a social construction graphed onto reality. Racism is real, he exclaims, but how this empirical phenomenon is (and ought to be) carved-up is determined by linguistic rules that come from how the term is used and not some state of affairs that tether the term’s meaning.

Without a doubt, the above point is contentious, as Naomi Zack argues in her response. Some of the confusion stems from Urquidez’s insistence that the reality of racism is not the same as the concept of it. Along these lines, one point I would like to hear more about is the relationship between Urquidez’s intensionalism and the functionalist account of oppression he adheres to. Although he argues that there is no thing called “racism” that exists independent of human representation, oppression, especially that connected to material inequalities and privilege, is real. My worry is that in going after metaphysically inclined arguments that strive to ground a theory of racism in some essence or quality, he underplays the “metaphysical” aspects of his own pragmatic approach.

I would also like to offer one last point regarding this emphasis on oppression. Racism as a racial phenomenon is an essential aspect of racism’s grammar. Often, though, this notion implies, as Urquidez does, that the victims of racism are targeted because of their race, i.e., because of their group-status. This might very well be the case. However, this focus on the racialized status of the victim often overlooks the significance of the aggressor’s race and their own sense of group position. For instance, in trying to explain how anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States today constitutes a form of racism, one option is to liken “illegality” to some kind of racial designation. While this might work, an easier means of describing anti-immigrant sentiment as “racist” would be to focus on the focal object neo-nativists and nationalists are concerned with: the status and centrality of whiteness in the United States (an argument I provide in here).

Why does this matter? Given that the grammar of racism is open to revision, perhaps it ought to be augmented in a way that recognizes this term’s ability to not only characterize the harms caused by racial oppression but also the benefits it confers? Such is the type of analysis I offer in Racism as Self-Love. The upshot of this particular grammatical revision is that not only can we use “racism” to characterize racial oppression, but also that we can recognize that the flipside of that oppression is often racial privilege. Granted, racial privilege does not always confer the material benefits most think it does (perhaps even, following Urquidez, it does not have the reality many think). Many impoverished whites would benefit by the same public policies meant to address racial inequality. However, much like the concept of racism, the concept of racial privilege can help in the struggle against racial injustice, especially in light of tropes of “victimization” stemming from efforts at promoting racial equity. That is to say, a great deal of the anti-CRT movement is concerned with decontextualizing the term “racism” in a way that allows for those identifying with the group that has, as a matter of actual history, been afforded social, legal, and institutionalized privilege by means of racial terror (i.e., whites) to become victims of “racism.” What greater example of racial privilege is there than being able to claim that one is psychologically or morally harmed by inquiries into their nation’s history? My point is, as much as I understand and agree with Urquidez’s focus on oppression, I think his contextualized approach needs to emphasize, even more, the white racial privilege this oppression enables.

While one might not ultimately agree with Urquidez’s methodology or conclusions—and given his antiracist commitments there are many who (sadly) will not—there is much to appreciate in his work. I will continue to factor it into my own projects and look forward to the conversation about his work.

 

 

 

12 Replies to “ETMP Discussion: Symposium on Urquidez’s “(Re-)Defining Racism”

  1. I would like to begin by thanking PEA Soup and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin for the invitation to discuss my work on racism. I would also like to thank Grant Silva for taking the time to read and comment on my book.

    (Re-)Defining Racism: A Philosophical Analysis was published in 2020 by Palgrave Macmillan. Since its publication, I have participated in two Author Meets Critics sessions and a symposium hosted by Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. In my comment here I offer a reply to Grant Silva’s request to clarify the relationship between intensionalist semantics and my functionalist theory of racism. Specifically, he requests that I say more about “the relationship between Urquidez’s intensionalism and the functionalist account of oppression he adheres to. Although he argues that there is no thing called ‘racism’ that exists independent of human representation, oppression, especially that connected to material inequalities and privilege, is real. My worry is that in going after metaphysically inclined arguments that strive to ground a theory of racism in some essence or quality, he underplays the ‘metaphysical’ aspects of his own pragmatic approach.”

    I will try to alleviate some aspects (though not all) of the worry. Generally, intensionalist semantics analyzes linguistic meaning in terms of rules, intentions or other mental states. This semantic approach contrasts with extensionalist semantics, which analyzes linguistic meaning in terms of entities outside the mind or in the external world. Later Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, which I employ in my book, is intensionalist rather than extensionalist, because it centers rules of grammar (which specify conditions of sense). The meaning of a word is determined by its use in accordance with rules for its proper use. Wittgenstein’s account is normativist, which means that meaning is the sort of thing that involves norms of correctness. To use a word in accordance with the rules for its use is not merely to conform to a pattern or expectation, but to use it correctly (as one ought to use it vis-à-vis the grammatical standard).

    What puzzled me about the concept of racism when I set out to write my book was that the grammatical rules governing the use of the terms “racism” and “racist” are hotly contested. I do not mean that they are merely contested by philosophers of race (for virtually every term that a philosopher sets out to analyze is contested by other philosophers). Nor do I mean that these terms are merely contested by experts (scholars of racism). I mean that they are contested in the primary domains wherein they are most at home—the moral, social and political spheres. This raises the question: Is there a way to resolve the conceptual contestation of racism? I am inclined to think that racism is an essentially contested concept in part because it is politically contested. For instance, whites and nonwhites frequently invoke the concept for their own interests. However, I also argue that it is possible and reasonable for scholars vested in racial justice to debate what the terms “racism” and “racist” should mean, both for moral-political discourse and for theoretic purposes.

    To my thinking, there are certain grammatical rules that are nonnegotiable. Silva notes, for example, that, for me, racism is both a racial phenomenon and morally objectionable. These feature of the concept of racism fall on the necessary side of racism: they are and should be constitutive features of the concept. The game of chess is instructive. The constitutive rules of chess are necessary in the sense that failing to follow the rules means one is no longer playing chess. Of course, we could redefine the game of chess by holding on to some of its constitutive features and trading in, modifying, or eliminating others. However, chess playing makes patent that these constitutive norms are generally nonnegotiable—which is a point about our normative attitudes: we do not permit changes. A necessary feature of racism, like a necessary feature of chess, is not a feature that cannot be changed. It is a feature that is not permitted to be changed. If and when it does change, it ceases to be nonnegotiable and thus becomes negotiable. (There are limits, however, to the changes we can make—see below.) While the concept of racism is essentially contested, it resembles chess in that there are well-known conceptions of racism that, for many, are nonnegotiable. If the concept is contested, then the way to address this is by articulating, clarifying, defending and employing the best conception, on the one hand, and criticizing the alternatives, on the other hand. This is where philosophers can help.

    Grammatical rules are expressed in grammatical propositions (forms of words, typically sentences, that are used as expressions of grammatical rules). Two examples: “Racism is morally objectionable” and “Racism is a racial phenomenon.” They are grammatical propositions, not by virtue of their sentential form, but by virtue of their role in our language games. In addition to these, I propose that “Racism is racial oppression” be added to the list of nonnegotiable grammatical propositions. Silva helpfully sums up my argument. The concept of racism is one that aims (should aim) to speak to the needs or interests of racism’s historical victims. If we think of racism as a sociocultural phenomenon, as a historical phenomenon, as a system of evolving forms of racial oppression, which in virtually all instances aims to uphold white supremacy, then it will become much more difficult for the concept to be co-opted by whites who wish to appropriate it for their own political gain. In a forthcoming article (mentioned below), I develop this argument further by analyzing what I call “white individualism,” or the way in which many whites define racism in abstracted categorial and individualistic terms in order to promote white interests.

    Having provided a brief sketch of my argument, I now turn to Silva’s request. To clarify the relationship between intensionalism and functionalism, I will focus on the distinction between grammatical propositions and framework propositions. A grammatical proposition is the expression of a rule for the proper use of a linguistic sign. A framework proposition is a statement of fact. The idea in respect to the latter is that there are general facts that are constitutive of the empirical framework wherein our language games exist and wherein the constitutive grammatical rules of our language games govern. These general facts set limits on the possibility of grammar. I now elaborate further.

    There are general facts about the world and human nature which exist independent of human decision. If humans did not exist, the world would still exist, spatiotemporal objects in the world would still exist, and events in the world would still transpire. The Wittgensteinian need not deny any of this, as far as I can see. These general facts do not determine linguistic meaning, however, for linguistic meaning is a human convention and thus a function of human practice. The system of general facts within which grammar is created is the framework for our language games. These facts set limits on the possibility of language games, but again they do not determine them. For it is linguistic Wittgenstein identifies three kinds of “natural facts,” as Hans-Johann Glock (in A Wittgenstein Dictionary, p. 136) has observed:
    1. General regularities concerning the world: objects do not vanish or come into existence spontaneously, grow or shrink in a rapid or chaotic manner.
    2. Biological facts concerning humans: our perceptual capacities allow us to discern certain colors; our memory permits calculations of a certain complexity; our shared patterns of reaction allow us to teach
    3. Sociohistorical facts concerning particular groups or periods: our ways of speaking express practical needs and interests shaped by history.
    Given these facts, Glock explains, certain forms of representation will be practical or impractical. Moreover, drastic changes in these facts could render our rules inadequate if not inapplicable, in this pragmatic sense. In this way, the facts condition our grammar and language games.

    Grammatical rules must be distinguished from these general facts. As Glock explains, the rules of tennis do not include that it is to be played at Earth-gravity. (This is not a grammatical proposition about tennis.) However, tennis would be pointless on the moon and could not be played on Jupiter. This general fact conditions the game of tennis and thus belongs to the framework within which tennis is played. As this example suggests, framework conditions do not determine what the rules of the language game are, although they partly determine what language games are played. A change in the framework conditions would not render our rules incorrect, but pointless or obsolete.

    Applying this distinction to the concept of racism, the grammar of “racism” is constructed within a certain framework. We may call this empirical framework white supremacy, for short. Elements of this framework include sociohistorical facts, which include a psychological and subjective facts and facts about our forms of life, on the one hand, and a slow-evolving yet roughly stable set of systems of racial subjugation (chattel slavery, racial segregation, mass incarceration, etc.). Further, we could investigate white supremacy from the victim’s and/or perpetrator’s perspectives. It is in light of this framework that the question “What is racism?” emerges, at least for many theorists. Further, as Silva points out, the concept of racism emerged within this framework, as a way of characterizing it. The concept of racism is, of course, contested; so, there may be some who would contest even this basic framework for elaborating the grammar of racism. More commonly, the conceptual contestation of racism’s grammar trades on prioritization of the various elements within this framework. For instance, Silva is inclined to describe white privilege as racist—a point I agree with, but a point many would contest.

    My general point—getting back, finally, to Silva’s concern—would be that the framework of white supremacy (this particular set of facts) does not determine what the grammar of racism must be. On my view, general sociohistorical facts condition the grammar of racism, insofar as they set limits on what can be called racism. For instance, the antiracist’s values emerge as a response and in resistance to white supremacy. But there are competing conceptions of antiracism (gradualist versus abolitionist schools of thought, for example). It seems to me that values and goals must be adduced in developing (pragmatic) arguments about what the grammar of racism (and thus antiracism) should be. Arguments about the nature of racism are pragmatic rather than epistemic because the aim is to identify the rules that are best suited to meet our antiracist and social justice ends. It seems to me that this depiction of the philosophical task is consistent with pragmatic arguments being practical in the sense that they are contingent on facts. Said differently, the facts are general enough as to leave room for a multiplicity of possible grammars or language games with the terms “racism” and “racist,” as well as to leave room for the contouring of the concept. (Of course, we cannot simply snap our fingers to make grammatical changes, because a grammar must govern linguistic usage in order to be “correct” and nobody can wave a magic wand to force a community to adopt a grammar.)

    What I sought to undermine in critiquing metaphysics was not human practice or our representational practices as such. If “metaphysics” means lived experience and practice, or if it means the conceptual categories that mediate said experience, then I am not an anti-metaphysician. The metaphysics I oppose treats definitions of racism, such as “Racism is morally objectionable,” “Racism is racial ideology,” and “Racism is racial hatred” as descriptions of reality. For on my view, they are not descriptions of anything at all, but norms of description. They are rules for describing things in the world as racist, including attitudes and psychological phenomena, among other things. One reason why I endorse “Racism is racial oppression” as valuable grammatical proposition is that conceptualizing racism as a system of oppression allows us to create a space for talk of racial ideology, racial hatred, and moral and social criticism of racist phenomena. After all, racial oppression is a function of a multiplicity of categories working together to produce a racial hierarchy. Of course, it is one thing to propose a grammatical rule, another thing to clarify and defend it in a sustained and systematic way. I do not, alas, provide a comprehensive grammar of racism in the book. My primary aim was to argue for a turn away from metaphysical characterizations of racism that are, as Silva points out, abstracted from experience. If philosophical analysis is to properly characterize and critically assess white supremacy, it must exist alongside of, and be informed by, the empirical and historical analysis of racism. So in my view, a priori and empirical analyses of racism are not essentially at loggerheads, or at least need not be.

    Perhaps the above reply fully addresses Silva’s concern about whether my approach to racism can accommodate empirical facts (in adducing pragmatic arguments about what “racism” should mean) while at the same time eschewing metaphysics. I hope, however, that it contributes something of worth to the conversation.

  2. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion through your published work and comments here. I look forward to lots more of it!

    I’m hoping for some further clarification of Urquidez’s reply to Silva. In part, this comes from a desire to better understand what Urquidez sees as the pragmatic nature of arguments about the nature of racism; but it also comes from a desire to better understand how the appeal to Wittgensteinian philosophy of language is supposed to work.

    Silva sets up his request for clarification, to which Urquidez replies here, by noting Urquidez’s claim that “popular discussions of racism, especially those operating in politicized contexts, are mired by self-interest and bad faith” and connecting this up to “how proponents of the anti-CRT movement emphatically exclaim that discussing our nation’s racist history is ‘racist’ towards white people alive today.”

    In his reply in the comments, Urquidez’s says:

    Arguments about the nature of racism are pragmatic rather than epistemic because the aim is to identify the rules that are best suited to meet our antiracist and social justice ends. It seems to me that this depiction of the philosophical task is consistent with pragmatic arguments being practical in the sense that they are contingent on facts. Said differently, the facts are general enough as to leave room for a multiplicity of possible grammars or language games with the terms “racism” and “racist,” as well as to leave room for the contouring of the concept. (Of course, we cannot simply snap our fingers to make grammatical changes, because a grammar must govern linguistic usage in order to be “correct” and nobody can wave a magic wand to force a community to adopt a grammar.)

    My question is this: Can we interpret the anti-CRT folks as making these emphatic exclamations in an attempt to shift the grammatical rules that govern our use of the term “racism” in the furtherance of particular ends, which they may (or may not) sincerely (or not) see as social justice ends? One point in favor of this interpretation is that this is pretty close to what some, eg. Rufo, have told us they are up to. One may worry, however, that if this interpretation is consistent with Urquidez’s analysis of racism, then that’s all the worse for his analysis. And this because it would show how the analysis leaves the concept open to naked hijacking—and worse, hijacking of a sort that many would recognize as racist (in the pre-hijacked sense of the term). That is, if I am understanding the analysis correctly, it seems possible that “racism” may come to mean pretty much the opposite of what it currently means, and this due to a concerted effort to ensure that our linguistic community adopt a grammar that serves particular (perverse) ends.

    Am I understanding the view and the issues correctly? Is what I try to describe a genuine possibility? Is it worrisome? I’m truly curious here and would love to hear more.

  3. Thanks for pushing this point, Ben. I think anti-CRT folks can appropriate the term “racism” only by de-contextualizing and de-historicizing the concept’s usage. This is basically the same move they want to pull with society, that is, take our nation’s history of injustice out of the mix so that we cannot account for racial inequality except for blaming it on “race.” Their goal is to use “racism” in a way that evades history and assists their political plans. Thus, any attempt to promote equity is unjust to them.

    This is why Urquidez emphasizes the sociocultural dimensions of this concept and grounds it in historical conditions of oppression. Grammars don’t come from nowhere. They are products of history. I think this is also why Urquidez asks us to engage in the normative battle over these terms. Right, Beto?

  4. Thanks, Grant. You’re right about the de-contextualization and ahistoricality of the move I’m describing. And I think you’re probably right about how Beto wants to guard against this. But I’ll be interested in what he has to say, of course.

    My question comes from curiosity about whether the guardrails, so to speak, will hold. Perhaps the answer is that they will, and to see this I need to have a better understanding of what they are. But I was struck by the passage I quote from his reply to you. In particular, the claim that “the facts are general enough as to leave room for a multiplicity of possible grammars or language games with the terms ‘racism’ and ‘racist,’ as well as to leave room for the contouring of the concept.” The sociocultural and historical facts that provide the framework within which the grammar of “racism” is constructed would seem to constrain the anti-CRT move I’m worried about. But I’m not sure whether they really do, and I suspect the view leaves room for them not to.

    What would happen to the grammatical rules governing our use of “racism” if enough of our linguistic community became convinced that the relevant facts are as the anti-CRT proponents claim they are? I worry that this is a real possibility and, worse, goal of some powerful actors–eg, the Tucker Carlson’s of the world. Put another way, while history up to now would seem to constrain the grammar of “racism” in a manner that guards against this, there seems to be a possible future such that, once it’s history, will make room for this. And there are some who are openly and actively pursuing this.

    I’d love if the view can guard “racism” from this sort of hijacking, but I’m not sure that the way in which history factors into it does the trick. Perhaps this just ends up highlighting the role of normative battles. But then the worry about what ends feed these battles comes into play. What strikes one group as social justice might strike another as injustice. How does the view fix the relevant normative facts, as it were?

  5. CONTEXT: I am replying here to Ben’s first comment only (as I’ve just left class).

    Thank you for your question, Ben. To try and answer it, I think you are right to worry that the concept of racism can be so easily hijacked. In fact, I would argue that it has been and currently is being so hijacked. The problem of “naked hijacking,” to adopt your term, is a real one. However, I don’t think this is all the worse for my analysis of racism. After all, the phenomenon reflects the contested nature of racism, which one might have thought an adequate descriptive theory of racism ought to explain. From that perspective, my framework for theorizing racism would seem to be consistent with the phenomenon of naked hijacking (or what I call white co-optation). I suppose depending on what you mean by “ ‘racism’ may come to mean pretty much the opposite of what it currently means” I would agree with this point. As mentioned, I think there are very general empirical constraints on grammar, but certainly these constraints are consistent with the term “racism” meaning the “opposite” of what many of us in fact mean by it, insofar as the use of the term might reverse the victim and oppressor groups (the hijackig move). Because of the phenomenon of white co-optation, I believe it is prudent for people (including philosophers) to articulate and defend nonwhite-serving conceptions of racism. This is where pragmatic argumentation can come into play. One appeals to the need for the concept. Of course, such appeals do not prevent naked hijacking. For instance, we can imagine (or bare witness to) white people advancing similar arguments about their “need” for the concept. At least part of the point of the Wittgensteinian analysis is to make this hijacking phenomenon perspicuous, hence to reveal what is really at stake in the debate. It is not a purely philosophical or conceptual one, but a political one. For, in my view, the debate over the nature of racism is not going to be resolved by reason, in the sense of justifying the metaphysically or ultimately correct conception, which is beyond critique, because it is “true.” We can either pretend that we can arrive at such a conception and engage in arguments about the nature of racism that may be detached from some or all of the constraints of white supremacy; or we can acknowledge that the task before is a constructive, creative or what Sally Haslanger calls “ameliorative” analysis. I am on board with the latter.

  6. Thank you for the comment, Ben. Here I am mostly thinking out loud, so I am happy to revisit these ideas. But here is my thought. I think Grant makes a point I agree with when he writes that white co-optation requires the “dehistoricizing” of the concept of racism. “Their goal is to use ‘racism’ in a way that evades history and assists their political plans. Thus, any attempt to promote equity is unjust to them.” Nevertheless, I take Ben’s point. If enough people in the linguistic community begin to believe that the relevant facts are as the anti-CRT movement says they are, then we are in trouble. Given where the anti-CRT seems headed, it seems to be going down the path of a radically individualist definition of “racism.” For example, former President Trump’s Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping arguably presupposes a race conscious definition of racism (“Racism is racial categorization or awareness”).
    However, it’s not clear to me what philosophy can do to stop this sort of “whitelash.” Philosophers (qua philosophers) can and should contribute philosophical analyses, arguments, and other conceptual tools. However, suppose Derrick Bell is correct (or near correct) that racism, conceived as a system of white supremacy, is permanent or probable on the historical evidence. Then philosophy can do little more than push back (discursively and philosophically). Or is there an unstated premise to the effect that philosophy can achieve more than this? It seems to me that the way in which philosophy can “guard” against the whitelash of the anti-CRT movement is by critically engaging it, exposing it for what it is, and providing conceptual resources to similar ends. A public philosopher could of course do more than this, but then we are moving beyond a mere philosophical account of racism. I guess what I am getting it is a question: In what way or in what sense can/should a philosophy “guard against” white co-optation of the term “racism”? One possibility that Ben raises at the very end of his comment is that philosophy might “fix the relevant normative facts.” I don’t see how philosophy can do this, but it would be great to discover that I am wrong! Suppose, however, that the normative facts exist in the sense that some knockdown argument could be given that establishes a normative proposition as unassailable. It seems to me that, even then, people are not always rational and whites in particular are unlikely to follow the argument where it leads. For whites have an interest in dismissing such arguments. Given the politicized nature of the concept of racism, how likely is reason to get anti-CRT proponents to get on board? Where racism and racial injustice are concerned, it seems to me that values are deeply embedded in the depiction of the facts. Hence, if “guard against” means rationally persuading anti-CRT proponents, then philosophy will likely have limited effect. (Similar points were made by George Fourlas and Jorge Mendoza in their replies.) Rational persuasion is possible if there is a substantial overlap of values, but it seems the sorts of cases you (Ben) have in mind are cases that call into question even the basic framework for thinking about racism. (I’ve probably misconstrued your objection, so again, I am happy to revisit these thoughts.)

  7. The discussion thus far reminds me of what Mendoza says in his commentary: “[(Re-)Defining Racism] exposes what I think is the worst kept secret in philosophy of race. This is that the definitions we provide of racism are prescriptive (i.e., telling us how we ought to use the concept) rather than descriptive (i.e., capturing the real or actual essence of the concept).” As Ben notes above, Rufo, et al, are aware of this poorly kept secret and are explicitly engaged in the aforementioned forms of appropriation.
    In order to combat this, I think it’s necessary (but insufficient) to engage in the normative debate about what racism is, continuing to offer definitions driven by anti-racist values. If Bell is right, as Beto reminds, then we must keep in mind that we shall not win this ideological war but must find value in the struggle itself.
    That being said, exposing anti-CRT “values” might also be helpful (perhaps even more so than the normative debate itself). By this I mean, following Beto, that definitions are driven by not only facts but also underlying values and commitments. We should therefore ask people to consider why these anti-CRT folk wish to work with an individualist conception of racism that strives to undermine any structural/systemic dimensions? What’s driving them to confine or restrain the definition of racism in the way they do? Rather than only combat them on what “racism” should mean, since its obvious that were speaking cross-purposes, perhaps ask readers/listeners to consider their motivations. Besides motivating their voter bloc, their definitions are coming out of a desire to devalue and dismiss and their movement is entirely reactionary to the summer of 2020.
    While portions of the general public–white and nonwhite–share their ideological worldview and thus will not care about their motivations, not all do. For those who might be slightly impressed by their claims but realize there’s something up, perhaps they can be convinced to think in a more racially just way. Or at least be given the tools to help see through their agenda. At the end of the day these anti-CRT folk are simply sophists given way more airtime. They make the weaker argument stronger not because they’re good at it but because it resonates with many who wish to maintain the status quo.
    This is in part why I’m a bit perplexed by Urquidez pulling back from grounding his project in the historical struggle against white supremacy in his initial response to my comments. The oppressor-oppressed relation of domination that “racism” characterizes is not universal or abstract, but rooted in a specific context. As I read it, the emphasis on oppression was meant to undercut claims that racism can be defined absent extant forms of inequality or asymmetrical power relations.

  8. Thanks for the replies, Beto and Grant. This is all very helpful. In particular, some of your comments have helped me to better understand what I was initially trying to get at. So, let me try to be a bit clearer.

    Beto’s thinking aloud about what role philosophers can play in guarding against the hijacking of “racism” helps me to realize that I wasn’t quite clear about what this “guarding against” was all about. I think what I had in mind was that we should want our account of the concept to be such that it doesn’t allow for it to be hijacked like this. Consider other views. Suppose we analyze racism in terms of hatred or ill-will targeted at an individual or group on the basis of their racial designation or in terms of structures and relations grounded in the belief that particular racialized groups and individuals are inferior. These don’t seem like views that can be hijacked in the way that the one under discussion here can be. One might claim that, contra-fact, one’s own group is hated or structurally disadvantaged. But this isn’t to alter the concept or meaning of the term; it’s to misapply it. So, perhaps my worry about the view is that it allows for the concept or meaning of racism to shift in a way that strikes me as problematic.

    Grant’s comment about his surprise that Beto pulled back from grounding his project in the actual history as it has unfolded up to now and that has shaped our concept and use of the term “racism” expresses something I’m also puzzled about. I am all for rooting our analysis of racism in history and, in particular, historical relations of domination; that’s the way to do it, on my view. Of course, there are revisionist histories that can be marshaled in support of white grievance and so on. But, again, this doesn’t seem to me to change the concept or meaning of the term. It changes to whom or what it applies. And philosophers can certainly point out nefarious motivations and offer arguments to show why views fall apart under scrutiny, but we can also, I think, articulate accounts of racism that aren’t subject to hijacking. At the very least, it seems like this is worth a try.

  9. I will here respond to some specific points (not all!) from both Grant and Ben.

    I think I alluded in my last comment to the idea that the anti-CRT example might be an example that falls outside the framework of white supremacy. Upon reflection, this seems false. Anti-CRT sentiment seems to presuppose the framework. To elaborate this point, I here introduce the term “anti-white discourses,” by which I mean notions of “anti-white” resentment, prejudice and racism, as well as the interest among whites in preserving what I would call “white privilege,” which no doubt will be framed as an “entitlement” or “desert” by others (including anti-CRT proponents).

    Discourses of anti-whiteness presuppose the empirical framework I call white supremacy, it seems to me. White discourse definitions of racism, such as the race conscious view of racism, are informed by the history of white supremacy (as I suggested in my Trump Executive Order example). One of the points I was trying to make previously was that the history of white supremacy underdetermines this or any other definition. The grammar of racism remains to be decided within the framework. The decision to define racism as race consciousness is often informed by values and beliefs that are tethered to white interests. (If, however, we instead lived in a truly post-racial society, we could imagine that the race conscious view of racism is tethered to truly progressive values, such as the desire to prevent racism from re-emerging.)

    No doubt many if not most anti-white racism definitions are disingenuous. To Grant’s point, it seems plausible that the anti-CRT perspective, and the conceptions of racism that inform it, are for the most part grounded in bad faith. I suspect that most of the public figures propounding anti-CRT views and corresponding conceptions of racism, including Rufo, are bad faith actors. However, it is an empirical matter whether this generalization is true for most anti-CRT proponents. (Side-bar: I speculated previously that I doubt most anti-CRT proponents could be convinced otherwise. Grant is more sanguine than I apparently am. But here I want to make clear that I was merely speculating and that this is a matter of fact that should be decided by evidence.)

    What I would like to argue is that some elements of anti-white discourse are not rooted in bad faith. In particular, I have in mind definitions of racism that are consistent with the phenomenon of anti-white racism. “Racism is racial hatred,” “Racism is race consciousness,” “Racism is racial disrespect,” and “Racism is whatever goes wrong in the racial domain” are examples of definitions that are consistent with anti-white discourse. It would seem that these definitions are not necessarily rooted in bad faith.

    Consider two sets of values that might inform the adoption of individualist definitions of racism:
    1. Gradualist-serving conceptions of racism versus abolitionist-serving conceptions of racism
    2. Conceptions of racism that fall within “political morality” versus those that fall within “personal morality.”
    A gradualist believes that incremental progress can lead to liberation. Common among gradualist strategies are small but significant political victories. Ian Haney Lopez explains how allegations of racism advanced by the Left fuel right-wing political discourses that are effective in mobilizing the Right. While he himself does not argue that systemic racism does not exist, or that the race hatred model of racism is the only form of racism that exists, one can easily imagine someone informed by his arguments holding these views. If the winning political strategy for the Left is a discourse of unity that brings a substantial number of whites into the Democratic Party, then one might define racism as racial hatred in order to eschew allegations of white racism and achieve small but significant political victories. Suppose then that the racial hatred model of racism is (or is perceived to be) a gradualist-serving conception, which is instrumental to liberation. Then the adoption of this conception is not necessarily adopted in bad faith, is it?

    The debate between personal morality and political morality conceptions of racism is another example of a genuine dispute that does not seem rooted in bad faith.

    How then do we decide whether a definition of racism is best conceived in individualist terms rather than political terms, or in abolitionist terms rather than gradualist terms? Clearly, appealing to the facts is only part of the solution. Adducing facts seems insufficient, as Grant (when mentioning Jorge Mendoza) has explained. Our values must also play a role. In fact, to my mind, our values will inform which aspects of the framework of white supremacy will inform our pragmatic arguments.

    This does raise the hijacking concern that Ben raises, but he also seems to think (though perhaps I have misread him) that some conceptions of racism are immune to such hijacking. Yet, if I am right that individualist definitions presuppose the framework I call white supremacy, then no such definition is immune from hijacking. Ben offers the example of racial hatred as one example. However, to my mind, this particular conception is one of the most hijacked conceptions of racism on the market. In “White Individualism and the Problem of White Co-Optation of the Term ‘Racism’” I argue that individualist definitions of racism generally are hijacked by whites in part because it is possible and natural to analyze their negative valence (for example, the negative valence of racial hatred) in a way that is independent of a system of white supremacy or racial oppression. You don’t need a story about oppression to understand that hatred is (or can be) wrong. Anti-white discourse has too often welcomed the racial hatred conception of racism. For if racism is racial hatred, then anybody can be a racist (provided they harbor racial hatred in their hearts), hence anti-white racism is possible even in a society that is not defined by a history of anti-white racism. So, in regard to Ben’s puzzlement about hijacking, I am a bit puzzled by the example of racism as racial hatred as an un-hijackable conception. But, again, I may be misunderstanding Ben’s claim. So it would be great to hear more about what he has in mind.

  10. Thanks for the follow-up, Beto. I’m in the middle of several things, so I don’t have a very detailed reply. But I do get the sense that I haven’t been making my worry clear enough. Apologies. I’ll try once more.

    I think we are operating with two different senses of “cooptation” or “hijacking” in mind. On one sense, which I think is the one you are working with (though please correct me if not), the concept or term “racism” can be mis-applied. Call this cooptation. On the sense I am working with, the definition of the concept or meaning of the term shifts. Call this hijacking.

    To illustrate the difference, consider the racial hatred account. It would be coopted if what counts as hatred or racialization were reconceptualized in a decontextualized and ahistorical manner, such that, eg, teaching about the role of wealth accumulation due to the Atlantic slave trade and its connections to contemporary wealth disparities counts as racist. In this case, the definition of racism–targeting a racialized group with hatred–would remain the same, but it would be mis-applied. This teaching doesn’t really issue from hatred or ill will and there is no targeting of anyone on the basis of their racialized identity.

    Hijacking goes deeper than this. And, as I understand things, your view allows for the very definition of “racism” to be hijacked. In part, this seems to me to be due to the intensionalist aspect of the view. The meaning of a term, as Grant notes, is “a product of human convention and rule-producing language norms.” Thus, as discussed above, if enough members of a language community come to accept new rules of grammar, the meaning of the term is changed. Now, as both Grant and I have noted, one way to guard against this hijacking is to tether the framework to actual sociocultural and historical facts in a manner that constrains possible shifts in meaning. But you seem to have backed off that a bit.

    Ultimately, my worry is not simply that the view allows for the way we apply the concept or term “racism” to shift (cooptation), but that it allows the definition or meaning of “racism” to change (hijacking). And worse, it allows for this to happen in bad faith or in the pursuit of ends that are directly antithetical to the anti-racist project. In other words, it allows the concept racism to be hijacked for (what we would now recognize to be) racist ends. This seems to me a much worse problem than cooptation. In that case, we can at least argue, on the basis of a shared understanding of the concept or meaning of the term, about how it should be applied. But if we lose our grip on the concept or term, or if we face a situation where there are altogether different concepts/terms in use by different linguistic communities, the disagreements seem to me more intractable and the situation more dire for the anti-racist project.

    I hope this clarifies my worry a bit. Thanks for continuing to engage with me on this.

  11. Thank you, Ben; that definitely clarifies the issue for me, if I understand you correctly. I think have a better understanding of Grant’s initial objection as a result of the back-and-forth between the three of us. This is certainly helping me to think more clearly about matters.

    I agree with a qualified version of Ben’s statement: “Now, as both Grant and I have noted, one way to guard against this hijacking is to tether the framework to actual sociocultural and historical facts in a manner that constrains possible shifts in meaning.” The way I would put this is: One way to guard against the meaning of the term ‘racism’ being hijacked is by tethering the conception to the big picture that emerges when one takes an overall perspective on the system of sociocultural and historical facts. Where I disagree is that the empirical framework by itself can settle the dispute for us, as I don’t the think the framework determines correct and incorrect definitions of racism. I think it is we that adopt definitions, which are themselves the standards for determining correct and incorrect representations of racism in the world. I see the empirical framework itself as akin to the space within which the need for some conception of racism emerges, so in a sense we could say that the framework conditions grammatical needs (the need for representation), but not grammar itself. One crude way to put this would be: the framework presents us with problems, including moral, social and political problems. These problems prompt us to represent them in the ways that we do. So we lay down grammatical norms, or norms of representation. But the problems one finds within the framework are conditioned by a wide range of elements of the framework. Constitutive elements of the framework include one’s social position (e.g., whether one is white or nonwhite), one’s beliefs and values, and social phenomena more generally.

    So in what sense can I claim that a conception of racism can be tethered to the actual sociocultural and historical facts? In one sense (which is ultimately inadequate) all conceptions of racism, assuming that they are not fundamentally confused or incoherent, will be tethered to some sociocultural and historical facts (i.e., elements of the framework). For they all seem to be responses to “problems” (moral, social, political) that emerge within the framework, even though the nature of these problems will be relative to one’s positioning within the framework, beliefs, values, etc. Hence, this response to the hijacking problem is insufficient.

    A further move that could be made is to advance a pragmatic argument that identifies patterns within the framework, patterns of disproportional benefit and burden, patterns of moral and material harm, patterns of despair, suffering and sociopolitical instability, and, above all, patterns of overall unequal social positioning which are the sum total, as it were, of relevant patterns. For it is these patterns that establish the need among historical victims of racism to represent racism as a system of racial oppression. The argument will ultimately have to explain why it is instructive—for purposes of liberation—to conceptualize racism in these terms. One consideration that inspires my work, for instance, is provided by Leonard Harris’ insurrectionist ethics. Its particular focus on liberation as the goal, and its defense of abolitionist logics over gradualist logics, is a good starting point for a theory of racism. For if the abolitionist is correct that gradualist logics will not ultimately lead to liberation, then it seems plausible to target the entire society as the problem—of course, this includes the structures of society, but also the individuals (their psychologies, ideologies, etc.) that make up its individual members. This is one reason for thinking about racism as a system of racial oppression. In light of my liberationist value and my belief about the ineffectiveness of gradualism, I find it reasonable to tether two things: (a) the existing urgency and negative valence conveyed by the term “racism,” and (b) the holistic and big picture conception afforded by terms like “racial oppression” and “systemic racism.” There are many reasons why one might reject this definition. Among these are that one might not share my value in liberation, or one might believe that gradualism is a more effective means of liberation. I believe and hope, however, that many people do share my focus on liberation as the main guiding value. To the degree that there is overalp in beliefs/values, we can have good faith conversations about whether and how a definition of racism might be instrumental to liberation. We could point out inconsistencies in our shared values; we could take into account trade-offs, and so on. This is the sort of pragmatic conversation I would like to occurring more within the philosophy of racism. It is in this sense that I see the nature of racism as fundamentally a question about practice. This helps to explain my reservations about some contemporary metaphysical discussions about racism’s nature. All too often they seem to be decontextualized in a way that downplays the role of human need and decision, hence also the significant role that experience could, and to my mind, should be playing in thinking about racism.

    Grant and Ben are right that my “move” remains within the empirical framework and so does not provide an objective defense of my proposed definition of racism as racial oppression. For example, it is possible to settle for a conception of racism that limits our understanding of racism to the phenomenon of racial hatred alone. Suppose, as an objection, I were to argue that an oppression conception of racism has more explanatory power than essentialist-individualist conceptions of racism that are narrowly focused on select elements within the framework. Since the racial hatred conception is part of the same empirical framework as the racial oppression conception, there is no way to resolve the disagreement by reference to the facts alone. Notice that the proponent of the racial hatred conception could readily concede that this model has less explanatory power than oppression-centered conception. However, their objection might be that it is misguided to want a theory of racism to explain, for example, patterns of social inequality; for racism is a matter of personal morality, and so is relegated to a narrow set of moral claims (about personal character and personal duty). The racial hatred proponent (or the individualist more generally) might be motivated by the thought that a good moral character is the end goal. Given this goal, we should distinguish between racism and racial inequality—and we ought to let the theory of racial inequality deal with the various patterns that go beyond what a hatred conception of racism is able to explain. In short, the objection might be: Why should we expect a theory of racism to be able to explain racial oppression? Is it because it is a metaphysical fact that racism is a system of racial inequality? I don’t that will work—it seems to beg the question against the individualist. Is there a moral fact that can resolve the disagreement? If there is, I would like to see the argument.

    It seems to me that values must come into the grammatical decision. It also seems to me that philosophers of racism ought to articulate both the patterns and the values that inform how we weave the facts together into a conception of racism. Such are pragmatic arguments, to my thinking. For the facts alone seem consistent with all sorts of conceptions of racism—many of which seem not to aim at social explanation at all. Grant makes an insightful point relevant to my argument. He points out that philosophical arguments cannot be relegated to the narrow concern about what we want racism to be. We need arguments that expose the underlying values, and perhaps inconsistencies in people’s values, which inform judgments such as “It is wrongheaded to want a theory of racism that produces a robust social explanation of racial inequality.” What are the assumptions, values, psychology, and material interests informing such judgments? Examining all of this—which of course takes us beyond mere patterns of inequality—is important, on my view, for a theory of racism. I agree with Grant that I have thus far placed too little emphasis on this point—not just in this symposium but in my book. More important, I think Grant is correct that examining these other elements of the framework can be instrumental to the task of persuasion, at least to some degree.

    On persuasion, I will close with two points. First, adducing facts in our philosophical arguments and in the means of persuasion strikes me as a pragmatic endeavor. It involves facts (of a wider range than I have thus far emphasized) and values (wider than I have thus far emphasized). Second, it is to be expected that our pragmatic arguments will not persuade everyone. The jury is still out on how convincing our pragmatic arguments can ultimately be in regards to those who are sufficiently likeminded.

    In my next reply I will address a different point raised by Grant’s opening comment.

  12. Grant rightly argues that an explanation of the racist character of anti-immigrant sentiment need not focus on either of two things—usage of the term “illegal” or the treatment and harms inflicted on the targeted immigrant group (which would likely be conceived as a racialized group for purposes of the analysis). Instead, the explanation might center the targeting group, “the focal object neo-nativists and nationalists” and, specifically, their interest in protecting “the status and centrality of whiteness in the United States.” This is another astute observation contained in Grant’s commentary that merits discussion. How does this insight fit into an oppression conception of racism?

    Before addressing the question, it is instructive to simply acknowledge that we do use the term “racist” to describe both anti-immigrant sentiment and the neo-nativists and nationalists who harbor it. An adequate analysis of anti-immigrant sentiment, Grant avers, must go further into the moral psychology of neo-nativists and nationalists. Ashley Jardina’s White Identity Politics would seem to confirm this contention. She argues that a substantial number of whites in the U.S., somewhere in the ball park of 30-40%, understand that they have white privilege and are vested in protecting said privilege; further, the vast majority of these white identifiers “reject assertions of white supremacy and racism” (WIP, p. 8). Consider two examples:

    Ex 1. “The wave of new immigrant groups that have sought refuge in this country, who have looked to build their own lives, and to raise families, have also led many whites to feel as if their racial group has been threatened. White identifiers perceive these immigrants as arriving with darker skin, foreign languages, and with unfamiliar traditions. They view immigrants as having come to this country in great numbers, and believe they threaten to alter the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. In short, immigration, by its very nature, is seen by some whites as provoking a challenge to whiteness.” (Jardina, WIP, 184)

    Ex 2. “Now we have even greater evidence indicating that white iden¬tity and white consciousness are quite distinct from racial animus; their predictive power lies primarily in the domain of policies that protect whites and their status, rather than with respect to policies that benefit out-group members. For instance, neither white identity nor white consciousness are implicated in opinion on welfare, Medicaid, or fed¬eral government assistance for blacks. Furthermore, white racial soli¬darity is not tied to opposition to affirmative action policies in college admissions or in the workplace.” (Jardina, WIP, p. 214)

    Following Grant, I agree that this has (ought to have) significant ramifications for the theory of racism. The idea of racial oppression implies an oppressive system or set of structures. However, it also implies a set of oppressor-oppressed social relations, as Grant points out. Since the theory of racism I advocate is pragmatic and guided by the ideal of racial liberation, it is imperative that we understand both sides of this social relation. Insufficient attention has thus far been paid to the oppressor side of the coin. Thankfully, the field of “critical whiteness studies” is committed to changing this. Grant’s comment raises an important question: In what sense are whites who openly reject white supremacy yet recognize and strive politically to protect their white privilege racist? The racial hatred model is ineffective here in light of Jardina’s empirical analysis. For many seem not to be motivated by racial animus, but by a desire to protect their group status.

    Silva’s account of racism in “Racism as Self-Love” provides a way into the conversation. After arguing the limitations of Jorge Garcia’s racial hatred model of racism, and the limitations of implicit racial bias models, he articulates his own account of racism: “self-love racism is the inability and unwillingness to stop viewing the self in ways that depend on the oppression, objectification, and/or exclusion of racialized others. Whereas one might not explicitly think of themselves as ‘superior’ to others, the importance that we assign to ourselves and those assumptions we have for what we can expect from them on account of how they ought to view us is indicative of the arrogance, narcissism, and/or egoism that accompanies self-love racism.” (sec. III) So, self-love racism is a kind of racial viciousness that does not involve racial hatred. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has given us the expression “racism without racists.” Silva alludes to a related expression: “white supremacy without white supremacists.”

    Here we find an empirical pattern that provides a pragmatic justification for extending the grammar of racism to cover many run-of-the-mill whites—the 30-40% of U.S. whites whose attitudes are examined in Jardina’s book. Crudely put, the justification would be that this substantial bloc of whites is an important source of racial oppression. Silva argues that this bloc is racist in virtue of its racial viciousness, principally for manifesting the vices of callous disregard, arrogance and narcissism. After all, self-love racists understand that their racial advantage is predicated on the derogation of nonwhites and, therefore, willingly act to protect the system of white supremacy that confers white advantage. Further, they understand that it is not just Blacks but also darker immigrant communities that pose a threat to their dominant racial/social status. He points out that “The debate over immigration is about control of the future of the United States, that is, its demographic composition and, more importantly, the political, economic and social power dynamics operative within it.” If this is correct, then the expected diversification of the U.S. may be an ominous sign of heightened racial tensions and a growth in neo-nationalists, white extremist hate groups, and white identity politics more generally. For those of us who value nonwhite liberation, there is good political (and not merely moral) reasons to condemn self-love racists. Hence, an oppression conception of racism furnishes grounds to condemn white identity politics and self-loving whites as racist.

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