Race and racism in political theory


I’ve just finished my half of a new undergraduate course on Race and Racism in Political Theory. I’ve covered ‘Western’ thinkers; in the second half of the course, my colleague Humeira Iqtidar will be covering ‘non-Western’ thinkers.

I’ve found the material tremendously stimulating, and I learned a great deal, both from the literature and from my students. To my shame, I haven’t addressed these issues until a couple of years ago: I have definitely been guilty of what Robert Bernasconi calls the “sanitising” of Western philosophy, by sidestepping racism or by treating it as not central to (some) philosophers.

(And incidentally, if your first instinct – as mine was – is to reply that race and racism were not central to these philosophers, please read the Bernasconi article linked to above and see if you still agree. Very few articles have changed the way I think as much as Bernasconi’s has.)

Here are the thinkers I covered:

  1. Kant.
  2. Locke, Hume, Jefferson.
  3. Frederick Douglass.
  4. John Rawls, Charles Mills, Tommie Shelby.
  5. Mirander Fricker, Charles Mills, Linda MartĂ­n Alcoff, Katrin Flikschuh.

I’ll change several things next year. In particular, the Jefferson seminar will probably be replaced with something on different types of racism.

The picture for this blogpost marks the theme of my half of the module – the racism underlying much Western political theory. It’s a fantastic painting by Titus Kaphar, called Behind the Myth of Benevolence. As regards my teaching on this course, the painting represents Behind the Rhetoric of Liberty and Equality For All.