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. DuBois 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 DuBois 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 In this course, we will investigate the meaning of race, unearthing tensions between its origins in outdated biology and its social significance today.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, class, and in the lives of people with mixed racial heritage. Special attention will be dedicated to two topics that have received significant attention this past year: prison abolitionism and political protests.

We’ll use a mix of historical and contemporary readings to explore these issues. Historical authors include James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). Contemporary authors include Bernard Boxill, Patricia Collins, Angela Davis, J.L.A. Garcia, Charles Mills, Tommie Shelby, and Naomi Zack. Occasionally, we may also supplement course readings with films and short videos.

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 will not always discuss these issues in a very sensitive way, and sometimes even express deeply problematic attitudes and views. In addition, many of the texts that we will read use 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 either by email or by Zoom.