Making Blackness, Making Policy

Making Blackness, Making Policy

Harvard University
178 pages

Peter Geller

Doctoral Dissertation

Too often the acknowledgment that race is a social construction ignores exactly how this construction occurs. By illuminating the way in which the category of blackness and black individuals are made, we can better see how race matters in America. Antidiscrimination policy, social science research, and the state’s support of its citizens can all be improved by an accurate and concrete definition of blackness.

Making Blackness, Making Policy argues that blackness and black people are literally made rather than discovered. The social construction of blackness involves the naming of individuals as black, and the subsequent interaction between this naming and racial projects. The process of naming involves an intersubjective dialogue in which racial self-identification and ascription by others lead to a consensus on an individual’s race. These third parties include an individual’s community, the media, and, crucially, the state. Following Ian Hacking, this process is most properly termed the dynamic nominalism of blackness.

My dissertation uses analytic philosophy, qualitative and quantitative research, and historical analysis to defend this conception. The dynamic nominalist process is illustrated through the media’s contribution to the making of Barack Obama’s blackness, and the state’s creation and maintenance of racial categories through law, policy, and enumeration.

I then argue that the state’s dominant role in creating blackness, and the vital role that a black identity plays in millions’ sense of self, requires the United States Government to support a politics of recognition. The state’s antidiscrimination efforts would also improve through the adoption of a dynamic nominalism of blackness. Replacing the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission’s inconsistent and contradictory definitions of race with the dynamic nominalism of blackness would clarify when and how racial discrimination occurs.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Making Blackness Across Disciplines
  • Chapter One: The Dynamic Nominalism of Blackness
  • Chapter Two: Barack Obama and the Making of Black People
  • Chapter Three: The State and the Centrality of Black Identity
  • Chapter Four: Definitions of Race and Antidiscrimination Policy
  • Conclusion: Making Use of Making Blackness
  • Bibliography

Read the entire dissertation here.

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