PHIL 274.001 – Race, Racism, and Social Justice: African-American Political Philosophy

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Instructor: Alex Campbell. This course meets MWF 12:20 – 1:10 p.m. in MU 105.

In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois predicted that the problem of the twentieth century would be “the problem of the color-line” – that is, of the ways in which race affects Americans’ relations with one another. We can find evidence that Du Bois was right in all sorts of places: in representations of black Americans on television and in film, in the war on drugs, in relations between black Americans and the police, and in segregated cities across the country. The “problem of the color-line” is not a single problem, but a collection of many diverse problems that the American institution of race regenerates through the decades. African American philosophy addresses these problems through a variety of critical lenses. In this course, we will investigate the meaning of race, unearthing tensions between its origins in outdated biology and its social significance today. We will explore several varieties of racism, and the ways in which racism manifests, not only in individuals’ hearts and minds, but in our culture and institutions. And we will discuss the ways in which race complicates itself in its interactions with gender and class. Special attention will be dedicated to two topics that have recently received significant attention: prison abolition and political protests.

The course will include a mix of historical and contemporary readings. Historical authors include James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Huey Newton, and Malcom X. Contemporary authors include Kwame Anthony Appiah, Bernard Boxill, Patricia Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Chike Jeffers, J.L.A. Garcia, Alicia Garza, Charles Mills, Ijeoma Oluo, and Cornel West. We will also occasionally supplement course readings with films.

Content Warning: It is in the nature of a course focused on the black experience in the United States that many of the topics discussed will be especially difficult for students from a variety of backgrounds. These topics include slavery, murder, rape, torture, suicide, and other forms of violence and oppression. Furthermore, the texts that we will read and films that we will watch will not always discuss these issues in a very sensitive way and sometimes may even express deeply problematic attitudes and views. In addition, some of these texts and films will use or mention slurs, including the n-word. If you have any concerns about any elements of the course, or if there is any way that we can together make things easier to bear, please contact me by email.