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2021 | 1 | 5-8

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Editorial: RACISM


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There is some consensus that philosophical reflection and work aims to isolate and identify the essences of things rather than simply the specific manifestations of things. Philosophy seeks to uncover and thereby reveal the deepest and core structures of reality. This goal or task of philosophy is not simply an “academic” affair. It is intimately connected with projects of liberation, social justice, and the quest for a more humane, peaceful, and decent world. To change the world, we must first adequately understand the world. For this reason, philosophy is an intrinsically practical activity—although rarely recognized as such. During times of crisis and social upheaval, such as our own, this practical feature of philosophical inquiry becomes more and more vital. The traditional philosophical task of revealing the essence of things is often, and properly, understood to transcend the particularities of place and time. And yet, the projects of liberation, social justice, and the quest for a more humane, peaceful, and decent world are inherently timely. These projects require both an understanding of the essential nature and structure of the forces of oppression and the causes of injustice as well as an understanding of how those forces and causes manifest themselves in our unique moment in history. This issue Dialogue and Universalism is devoted to the promotion and encouragement of a deep philosophical reflection on the phenomenon of racism that aims at elucidating the essential structures of racism and the possibilities for its dismantling and cultural overcoming in our place and time. Although the phenomenon and tragedy of racism is global, the effects and lived experience of racism vary greatly. The essays published here typically reflect differing perspectives on the phenomenon of racism that emerge from within the generative histories of the home culture(s) and world(s) of their authors. This opening editorial echoes that pattern as it attempts to reflect on the current state of racial dynamics within the USA and from the perspective of this author. Just as the phenomenon of racism is experienced in many ways, the term “racism” is understood in varied and distinct ways. The word often serves as an umbrella term covering widely different practices, beliefs, prejudices, etc. While it has because common to recognize that racism is more than simply a belief or practice of individuals but also a systemic or structural feature baked into the taken-for-granted fabric of many societies, there is still no widespread consensus on how to properly understand the phenomenon of racism. Our moment in history is shaped by contradictory and contested cultural trajectories that are subject to acceleration, mutation, and tipping points. We are simultaneously moving towards ever greater forms of global integration and exclusionary enclaves of national, ethnic, and racial identities. At the very moment when the human capacity for a life of reason and a capacity for shared deliberation is needed most, we retreat into factionalism, delusions of exceptionalism, religious fanaticism, and the empty promise of authoritarianism. The lure of authoritarianism is increasingly tied to the rise of ethnic and racial nationalisms that are supported by exclusionary forms of identity politics. This is a fertile landscape for the propagation and cultivation of new and old forms of racism. The widely celebrated election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the USA led to proclamations of a new post-racial and color-blind American society. This new moment of hope and optimism now appears as a prelude to the rise of new varieties of American exceptionalism supported by new forms of openly expressed and celebrated white supremacism and white nationalism in the USA. In recent years, the USA has suffered increasing violence and hate crimes against members of Jewish, Latinx, Asian, and Black communities. In these circumstances it becomes easy to think of racism as more than a concept, a set of practices, or a systemic or structural feature of society but as a movement with its own direction and inner telos. Racism seems to be on the march— headed towards some destination that is not yet settled. Political ideologies such as Liberalism or Socialism not only encompass an interrelated and reinforcing body of conjectures, ideals, goals, and values about human and political life, they also sketch a broad trajectory or directionality that guides the continual development of their core ideas and practices. Living political ideologies are always unfinished as they point to aspirations that can rarely be clearly anticipated from where we now stand. The same is true for social and political conjectures that do not rise to the status of ideology. Notions such as “Western Chauvinism” “American Exceptionalism” or “White Supremacy” are more than a body of assumptions about the characteristics of a civilization, nation, or race but are also implicit guides to the development and the longed-for or imagined “rightful” place in the world of a culture, nation, or race. The phenomenon of racism is similarly structured by a set of beliefs, goals, practices, and value assumptions that offer a guide for constructing the future. The expression and impact of racism, regardless of its conscious intent, is implicitly tied to a body of thought and a set of practices that assemble a directionality as it involves a reference to something beyond itself. It is an aspiration, a goal, a telos without predetermined criteria for fulfillment. Like the best and worst of philosophical and political ideas, it points towards something to be worked out in ways that are difficult and perhaps impossible to predict. Fortunately, the inner telos and drive that animates much of the world’s racism does not rise to the status of an autonomous vital force or entelechy. The directionalities of each of the various manifestations of racism are subject to various steering currents within particular societies, currents that are constantly and consistently maintained by people and institutions. The growing intensity, scope, and direction of racism is influenced by broader social forces and the shifting, intersecting patterns of multiple forms of domination and hierarchy. In the USA, anxiety about a unique American Identity has escalated as religious affiliation has waned, immigration and shifting demographics have upset traditional power hierarchies, and rising economic inequality has heightened a fear of being left behind. Growing partisanship in politics has sharpened and solidified formerly negotiable and permeable differences. Political factionalism is becoming a new source of identity formation and now resembles a form of secular political religion that is increasingly expressed and self-identified as White Christian nationalism. Within this framework, the complementary and yet opposing instincts of social solidarity and factionalism are easily manipulated as the celebration of religious, ethnic, gender, and racial diversity becomes seen to many as an existential threat to traditional American Identity and prevailing social hierarchies. In this setting, racism becomes one more tool to magnify fear and conflict as overt and covert forms of racism are pressed into the service of legitimating and rein forcing the caste-like boundaries within traditional social orders. For such reasons as these, philosophical reflection requires both a point of view that is distanced from our everyday practical concerns and yet is attentive to the unique particularities of our time and place. Philosophers must do more than contemplate the world and the meaning of human existence. We must offer insightful understandings that provide roadmaps to a better future. We must continue to provide compelling critiques but also provide compelling alternative destinations/directionalities to the unfortunate conjectures of “Western Chauvinism” “American Exceptionalism” and “White Supremacy.” A promising direction here may be found in the influential and prevailing critiques aimed at the aspiration toward a “color-blind” society. Many of the essays in this issue begin with the premise that a powerful and vicious form of racism “color-branding” must be eliminated to end prevalent forms of violence, injustice, and racial hierarchies that are too often passively accepted. While the path toward the elimination of color-branding necessarily calls for a systemic and global rethinking of taken-for-granted color-branding practices, the contemporary understanding of a “color-blind” society points us toward the wrong directions as it leaves us blind to racism and racial injustice. When we do not see race or color, we are unable to acknowledge the manifestations of racially motivated patterns of social injustice and thus unable to analyze its root causes or the conditions of its possibility. The familiar prescription of a color-blind society aims to end racism by ceasing to speak about race. The seductive illusion of a color-bind society is no more than magical thinking and the empty promise “If we do not speak its name, it will not exist.” Color-blindness promotes the notion that race-based differences do not matter and overlooks the realities of systemic racism, thus depriving us of the language and conceptual framework to examine and talk about important features of racial injustice. Color-blindness aims at raceblindness and is a not a path to the elimination of racial or color injustice but a path towards blindness to racial injustice as well as blindness to the culturally enriching diversity of racial and ethnic contributions in art, music, and ways of seeing the world, i.e., blindness to the multiple forms of cultural enrichment and renewal necessary for vibrant, thriving, and flourishing cultures. The editorial policy of Dialogue and Universalism features the hope and belief that dialogue and discussion between clashing philosophical traditions, ideologies, and conflicting points of view lead to a synergy which not only enhances the discipline of philosophy but is necessary to promote the projects of liberation and social justice. The current aspiration of a color-blind society aims at silencing racial dialogue and silencing the perspectives of those whose lived experiences are shaped and animated by racial injustice and thus seems to us a dead end. Constructive paths forward must begin with the recognition of the plurality of our differences and similarities both within and between cultures. The essays included in this Dialogue and Universalism issue demonstrate philosophy’s commitment to the project of making the world a better place through philosophical reflection on the essential structures of racism and its various historical and cultural manifestations. In differing ways, these essays attempt to clarify those essential structures of racism, to critique the rational legitimacy of such structures, and to offer strategies for the dismantling and overcoming of those structures and their attempts at legitimation. And finally, these essays attempt to point the way toward a renewal of cultural life that is immune to the seductive temptations of power, caste, and hierarchy. Many of these essays are on the border of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, geography, history, and political science and thereby reveal the practicality of philosophy and its productive relations with other fields of knowledge without losing any of its autonomy or identity. Their authors are situated in different cultures, in different socio-political situations, and feature different styles of philosophical and critical thinking. The resulting moments of tension, paired with the moments of overlapping consensus between these perspectives, provide multiple openings for creativity and future dialogue.



  • Emporia State University, USA


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