Dec
03

Black Rights / White Wrongs - Critique of Racial Liberalism

In 2017 Charles W. Mills brought together past work with more recent additions and reflections into the book "Black Rights / While Wrongs: The Critique of Radical Liberalism". For readers of The Racial Contract (1997), many of the key arguments will be familiar in this book. The author passed away in 2021, this book brings together much of his critical political and philosophical thought for those unfamiliar with his work. A few notes from the book:

"... the hope of redeeming liberalism by self-consciously taking this history into account: recognizing the historic racialization of liberalism so as better to deracialize it - thereby producing a color-conscious, racially reflexive, anti-racist liberalism on the alert for it's own inherited racial distortions. Abstract Platonized liberalism erases actual liberalism's racist history, a blinding white Form that, in pretending a colorlessness that it did not and does not achieve, obfuscates more that it illuminates. The problem is not abstraction as such but a problematic mode of idealizing abstraction that abstracts away from social oppression, and in that way both conceals its extent and inhibits the development of the conceptual tools necessary for understanding and dealing with its workings." (p. xv)

"The promise of liberalism was famously the granting of equal rights to all individuals, destroying the old social hierarchies and establishing a new social order where everybody, as an individual, could flourish, free of "estate" membership. But the reality turned out to be the preservation, albeit on a new theoretical foundation, of old hierarchies of gender and the establishment of new hierarchies of race. Thus the struggle to realize the liberal ideal for everybody and not just a privileged minority still continues today, centuries later. If this struggle is to ever be successful, a prerequisite must be the acknowledgement of the extent to which dominant varieties of liberalism have developed so as to be complicit with rather that in opposition to social oppression." (p. xxi)

"Racial liberalism, or white liberalism, is the actual liberalism that has been historically dominant since modernity: a liberal theory whose terms originally restricted full personhood to whites (or, more accurately, white men) and relegated nonwhites to an inferior category, so that it's schedule of rights and prescriptions of justice were all color-coded. Ascriptive hierarchy is abolished for white men but not for white women or people of color." (p. 31)

"Kant believed in a natural racial hierarchy, with whites at the top, and blacks and Native Americans ("savages") at the bottom. He saw the last two races as natural slaves incapable of cultural achievement, and accordingly (like an old time southern segregationist) he opposed intermarriage as leading to the degradation of whites. Ultimately, he thought, the planet would become all white." (p. 97)

"Unlike the current, more fashionable "white privilege," "white supremacy" implies the existence of a system that does not just privilege whites but is also run by whites for white benefit. As such it is a global conception, including not just the socio-economic but also the juridical, political, cultural, and ideational realms." (p. 117)

"... if a single textural (non-)reference could be chosen to summarize and epitomize Rawls' lack of concern about race it is the following startling fact: nowhere in these 2,000 pages on justice penned over five decades by the American philosopher most celebrated for his work on social justice is the most important American postwar measure of corrective racial justice - affirmative action - even mentioned. It is not merely that the concept is not discussed - even the term itself never appears. Such is the whiteness of Rawls' dikailogical world." (p. 147)


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