Can I Call My Nonbiological Twins Black Because My Husband Is?

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, Social Science, United States on 2016-01-27 22:02Z by Steven

Can I Call My Nonbiological Twins Black Because My Husband Is?

The Ethicist
The New York Times Magazine

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy, Law
New York University

Illustration by Tomi Um

I’m a Caucasian woman married to an African-American man. Shortly after we married, I discovered that I couldn’t conceive my own biological children. We opted to ‘‘adopt’’ two embryos. (Couples who have successfully undergone in-vitro fertilization and don’t wish to have more children can donate remaining embryos to other couples.) I was soon pregnant and gave birth to twins. Based on the records of the fertility clinic, we know that our children are genetically mixed Hispanic and Caucasian. I am not comfortable being open about the origin of my children, except with family and close friends, until they are old enough for me to explain it to them. However, several times in the last three years, I’ve been asked about their race, most recently on a pre-K school application form. On this form, there is no option of ‘‘mixed race’’ or ‘‘other.’’ Therefore, I identified my children as black. Was this the right choice? Name Withheld, Chicago

Ethics generally commends telling the truth. But in a situation in which our ordinary ways of thinking are at odds with reality, there can be no easy truth to be had. When it comes to race, confusion is the most intellectually defensible position. Let’s try to sow some. If your children were your biological children, many people in our society would say that they were African-American, because we have a tradition, going back before emancipation, of treating people with one black parent as black . . . or Negro or colored or whatever the favored term was at various times in American history. That’s the ‘‘one-drop rule,’’ so called because consistent application of it would mean that anyone with any African ancestry at all was black. (Of course, unbeknown to those who started this system, we all have African ancestry in the long run, which shows how much our thinking is shaped by our lack of knowledge.)…

As it happens, millions of Americans are black according to the one-drop rule but don’t have any of the features that people associate with African ancestry. Lots of them ‘‘pass’’ for white. Many don’t, though. Walter White, the early-20th-century leader of the N.A.A.C.P., was able to travel the South investigating lynchings because, although his parents were ex-slaves, he ‘‘looked white.’’ His autobiography begins: ‘‘I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me.’’ (In a bio­pic, he could have been played by, oh, Bryan Cranston.) ‘‘ ’Cause it’s swell to have a leader/That can pass for white,’’ wrote Langston Hughes, who with his ‘‘copper-brown skin and straight black hair’’ — his description — was himself taken for white during a trip to Africa and could have passed for Indian if he troubled himself to do so…

Read the entire article here.

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Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity

Posted in Biography, Books, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy on 2015-04-16 19:29Z by Steven

Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity

Harvard University Press
February 2014
240 pages
4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674724914

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Law and Philosophy
New York University

W. E. B. Du Bois never felt so at home as when he was a student at the University of Berlin. But Du Bois was also American to his core, scarred but not crippled by the racial humiliations of his homeland. In Lines of Descent, Kwame Anthony Appiah traces the twin lineages of Du Bois’ American experience and German apprenticeship, showing how they shaped the great African-American scholar’s ideas of race and social identity.

At Harvard, Du Bois studied with such luminaries as William James and George Santayana, scholars whose contributions were largely intellectual. But arriving in Berlin in 1892, Du Bois came under the tutelage of academics who were also public men. The economist Adolf Wagner had been an advisor to Otto von Bismarck. Heinrich von Treitschke, the historian, served in the Reichstag, and the economist Gustav von Schmoller was a member of the Prussian state council. These scholars united the rigorous study of history with political activism and represented a model of real-world engagement that would strongly influence Du Bois in the years to come.

With its romantic notions of human brotherhood and self-realization, German culture held a potent allure for Du Bois. Germany, he said, was the first place white people had treated him as an equal. But the prevalence of anti-Semitism allowed Du Bois no illusions that the Kaiserreich was free of racism. His challenge, says Appiah, was to take the best of German intellectual life without its parochialism—to steal the fire without getting burned.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. The Awakening
  • 2. Culture and Cosmopolitanism
  • 3. The Concept of the Negro
  • 4. The Mystic Spell
  • 5. The One and the Many
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2012-02-08 04:30Z by Steven

Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

The Philosophical Forum
Volume 43, Issue 1 (Spring 2012)
pages 27–49
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2011.00409.x

Andrew J. Pierce
Loyola University, Chicago

The claim that race is “socially constructed” has become something of a platitude in social science and philosophy. At a minimum, such a claim means to reject the notion that conceptions of race have some biological or “scientific” foundation and suggests instead that the notion of race is a purely human invention—a conventional way of ordering societies rather than a natural fact about the world. But the political and normative implications of this basic agreement are far from clear. Some have taken it to mean that we ought to stop talking about “races” as though they were real and work to develop other kinds of identifications to replace so-called “racial” identities. Others have suggested that though race may not be ontologically real, political structures that take races as basic make race an unavoidable social reality, such that as a matter of political practice, it is unwise to eliminate talk of race. And others still have argued that racial identity can be reinterpreted in such a way as to shed its deterministic connotations, but retain important features that have come to flourish under the oppressive force of, say, black identity. In short, the fact that race is “socially constructed,” important an insight as it is, tells us relatively little about what role, if any, race ought to play in a more just social order and in the construction of healthy collective identities. This paper aims to get clear on the normative implications of the “social construction” thesis, not just for political practice in nonideal societies where racial oppression remains, but in “ideal” (presumably nonracist) societies as well. That is, I am interested in the question of whether race and/or racial identity would have any legitimate place in an ideally just society, or to state it another way, whether the concept of race can be extricated from the history of racial oppression from which it arose. The position I defend is a version of what has come to be called a “conservationist” view. I argue that racial identities could be normatively justified based upon modified principles of discourse (which, I argue, are appropriately applied to contexts of collective identity formation), though I do not endorse the stronger claim that racial identities are an inevitable feature of any form of social organization that societies now structured by race could aspire to, as some other conservationists claim. Moreover, I do not take conservationism to imply that future racial groups would be the same as current racial groups, a point I illustrate through an analysis of whiteness.


The social construction thesis has led some to argue that since the concept of race has no real referent (and moreover, since “race-thinking” is often morally problematic), it should be discarded altogether. Kwame Anthony Appiah, one of the most fervent proponents of this kind of eliminativism, argues succinctly that “there are no races. There is nothing in the world we can ask race to do for us,” in short, that race “refers to nothing in the world at all.” Given, in other words, that modern science has failed to identify any discrete entities called “races,” use of the term lacks a referent and so is, strictly speaking, meaningless. Continued employment of the term rests on a conceptual mistake, one that is frequently morally pernicious besides.

But one may wonder, does the lack of a scientific foundation for race really mean that our everyday race terms lack reference? After all, do we not know who we mean when we talk about blacks, whites, Latinos, etc.? Perhaps not. Naomi Zack shares Appiah’s skepticism about the existence of races, and in Race and Mixed Race, she provides similar arguments to show that race has no scientific foundation and further, that folk criteria of race, which attribute racial membership based primarily upon heredity, fail to achieve their purported goal of completeness (such that all persons would have a designated racial membership) since mixed-race persons do not fit within their classificatory scope, and further, since there is no defensible way to distinguish mixed race persons from “pure” race persons. For example, there is no logical reason why a person with three white grandparents and one black one should be considered black, while a person with three black grandparents and one white one should not be considered white. And insofar as most if not all persons in racialized societies like the U.S. (not to mention Latin American nations) are “mixed” to some degree, then folk criteria of racial membership are fatally flawed as well.

But there are good reasons for hesitating to make the leap from this ontological claim (that races do not exist) to the normative claim that we should retire racial categories from our vocabulary, and so, presumably, from our laws and policies as well. This hesitance is based on the recognition that racial categories are useful for picking out, for example, “persons whose ancestors were victims of American chattel slavery,” and who might have legitimate moral claims based on that ancestry. That is, one intuitively plausible answer to the question, “why continue to talk about ‘races’ if there are no such thing?” is that, though race is not “real” in any ultimate metaphysical sense, it is still an important concept for understanding contemporary social reality, given that racial categories still structure the experiences of individuals and the functioning of institutions in “racialized” societies. One need not believe in God to understand the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition (or to use Appiah’s example, one need not believe in witches to understand the functioning of the concept of witchcraft in early colonial New England). One can continue to hold that such concepts have a social reality, even if one denies that they are real in the deeper senses above. In relation to race, such a position has come to be called constructivism. Racial constructivists accept that race has no biological foundation, yet they argue that as a result of human action and the widespread, consequential successes of pseudoscientific and folk theories of race, race has come to be inscribed in the institutions and practices of contemporary societies in ways that cannot be illuminated without recourse to some conception of race. Accordingly, they hold that race does have a sociohistorical reality, even if it cannot be linked to biologically significant “racial” differences…


Is it the case, one might wonder, that whites, when confronted with a confusing array of diverse racial identities, might simply “shrug and call themselves white?” That is, could whiteness continue to exist as an option for racial identification under nonracist conditions, and if not, what options does this leave for persons traditionally considered white? The question is an especially pressing one if collective identity is of the kind of constitutive importance that many have argued it is, and since one might think that the lack of a positive reconstruction of white racial identity leaves a void that is too often filled by traditionally racist, white supremacist conceptions of whiteness. The answer, I believe, is that white identity is not discursively justifiable, mainly because it is inherently coercive and exclusionary, failing, at least, the first and fourth conditions of discourse. Yet, I will argue this lack of justification need not cause too much worry since white identity lacks the intersubjective resources and benefits of other kinds of collective identity, such that, in the absence of other, illegitimate kinds of benefits (i.e., all of the economic, political, psychological, and social benefits associated with being in a position of relative dominance) one would not expect it to remain of much value to those it purported to describe anyway. That is, in precise opposition to the standard view that sees whiteness as the norm and nonwhiteness as the deviation or exception, I will argue that white identity is actually the anomalous identity, one that, when uncoupled from the system of racial oppression in which it formed, fails to provide the benefits typical of collective identity. If this is true, then one should expect that white identity would eventually be replaced by more useful and democratic forms of collective identification. The outlines of such alternatives are already visible even in our own society and demonstrate that the illegitimacy of white racial identity does not leave white people “marooned” without any resources for collective identification.

In order to begin to understand why white racial identity is illegitimate, one must understand its history, and the conditions under which it formed. Presumably, white racial identity stands in some relation to European heritage, though one should be cautious about equating the two. Previous to the eighteenth century, the idea of race as denoting specific lines of descent still marked a division between the “noble races” of European stock and their ignoble, though nonetheless similarly pigmented, countrymen. At its most general, this idea of race allowed for a commonality among nations or peoples, circumscribing the membership of the French, German, or English “races.” It was only in the New World, where English and other Europeans were confronted with the reality of slavery, that whiteness came to denote a commonality among Europeans of different types. Putatively setting aside old and deeply ingrained internal inequalities, the express purpose of such an identity was to distinguish the free European from the enslaved African, based upon the latter’s supposedly inherent dependency. In this way, slavery could be reconciled with the nascent values of liberalism. This opposition of slave and freeman is at the root of the U.S.’s binary racial system, a system into which successive waves of immigrants would be forced to assimilate…

Read the entire article here.

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Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-02-06 05:26Z by Steven

Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Cengage Learning
464 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0534573932  ISBN-13: 9780534573935

Edited by:

James Montmarquet, Professor of Philosophy
Tennessee State University

William Hardy, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Tennessee State University

This anthology provides the instructor with a sufficient quantity, breadth, and diversity of materials to be the sole text for a course on African-American philosophy. It includes both classic and more contemporary readings by both professional philosophers and other people with philosophically intriguing viewpoints. The material provided is diverse, yet also contains certain themes which instructors can effectively employ to achieve the element of unity. One such theme, the debate of the “nationalist” focus on blackness vs. the many critics of this focus, runs through a great number of issues and readings.

Table of Contents

  • Preface.
  • Introduction.
    • 1. W.E.B. DuBois: From The Souls of Black Folk.
    • 2. Molefi K. Asante: Racism, Consciousness, and Afrocentricity.
    • 3. Kwame Anthony Appiah: Racisms.
    • 4. J. L. A. Garcia: The Heart of Racisms. Contemporary Issue: Views on “Mixed Race”.
    • 5. Naomi Zack: Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy.
    • 6. Lewis R. Gordon: Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race-In Theory.
    • 7. Martin R. Delaney: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored Peoples of the United States.
    • 8. Frederick Douglass: The Future of the Negro, The Future of the Colored Race, The Nation’s Problem, and On Colonization.
    • 9. Marcus Garvey: From Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.
    • 10. Maulana Karenga: The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles): Their Meaning and Message.
    • 11. Molefi K. Asante: The Afrocentric Idea in Education.
    • 12. Cornel West: The Four Traditions of Response. Contemporary Issue: “Ebonics”.
    • 13. Geneva Smitherman: Black English/Ebonics: What it Be Like?
    • 14. Milton Baxter: Educating Teachers about Educating the Oppressed. Feminism, Womanism, and Gender Relations.
    • 15. Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?
    • 16. Patricia Hill Collins: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.
    • 17. bell hooks: Reflections on Race and Sex.
    • 18. Angela P. Harris: Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory.
    • 19. Charles W. Mills: Do Black Men Have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women? Contemporary Issue: Women’s Rights and Black Nationalism.
    • 20. E. Francis White: Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African American Nationalism.
    • 21. Amiri Baraka: Black Woman. Violence, Liberation, and Social Justice.
    • 22. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
    • 23. Malcolm X: Message to the Grass Roots.
    • 24. Howard McGary: Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression.
    • 25. Laurence M. Thomas: Group Autonomy and Narrative Identity. Contemporary Issue: Affirmative Action.
    • 26. Bernard Boxill: Affirmative Action.
    • 27. Shelby Steele: Affirmative Action. Ethics and Value Theory.
    • 28. Alain Locke: Values and Imperatives.
    • 29. Michele M. Moody-Adams: Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-Respect.
    • 30. Laurence M. Thomas: Friendship.
    • 31. Cornel West: Nihilism in Black America.
    • 32. Katie G. Cannon: Unctuousness as a Virtue: According to the Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Contemporary Issue: A Classic Question of Values, Rights, and Education.
    • 33. Booker T. Washington: Atlanta Exposition Address.
    • 34. W.E.B. DuBois: The Talented Tenth.
    • 35. Patricia J. Williams: Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from Deconstructed Rights.
    • 36. Regina Austin: Sapphire Bound!
    • 37. Derrick Bell: Racial Realism-After We’re Gone: Prudent Speculations on America in a Post-Racial Epoch.
    • 38. John Arthur: Critical Race Theory: A Critique. Contemporary Issue: Racist Hate Speech.
    • 39. Charles Lawrence and Gerald Gunther: Prohibiting Racist Speech: A Debate. Aesthetics.
    • 40. James Baldwin: Everybody’s Protest Novel.
    • 41. Larry Neal: The Black Arts Movement.
    • 42. Angela Y. Davis: Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: Music and Social Consciousness.
    • 43. Ralph Ellison: Blues People. Contemporary Issue: Rap Music.
    • 44. Crispin Sartwell: Rap Music and the Uses of Stereotype.
    • 45. Kimberle Crenshaw: Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew. Philosophy and Theology.
    • 46. David Walker: David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United stated.
    • 47. James H. Cone: God and Black Theology.
    • 48. Victor Anderso: Ontological Blackness in Theology.
    • 49. Anthony Pinn: Alternative Perspectives and Critiques. Contemporary Issue: Womanist Theology and the Traditionalist Black Church.
    • 50. Cheryl J. Sanders: Christian Ethics and Theology in a Womanist Perspective.
    • 51. Delores Williams: Womanist Reflections on “the Black Church,” the African-American Denominational Churches and the Universal Hagar’s Spiritual Church.
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Mixed Race Britain – How The World Got Mixed Up

Posted in Africa, Articles, History, Social Science, United Kingdom, United States, Videos on 2011-09-06 02:35Z by Steven

Mixed Race Britain – How The World Got Mixed Up

BBC Press Office: Press Packs

Ruth Williams, Seretse Khama and family

This one-off documentary explores the historical and contemporary social, sexual and political attitudes to race mixing.

Throughout modern history, interracial sex has been one of society’s great taboos, and across many parts of the world, mixed race relationships have been subjected to a range of deterrents. Mixed couples have endured shame, stigma and persecution and many have risked the threat of ostracism from their friends and families.

In several parts of the world, including South Africa during the apartheid era, governments introduced legislation to prohibit race mixing. Laws against race mixing were still in force in 16 American states until they were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court’s verdict in the Loving v Virginia case of 1967.

Yet despite the social and legal constraints–and the even more violent extra-judicial attempts to discourage race mixing organised by extreme nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan–interracial relationships have been an ever-present feature of societies throughout modern times.

Through the stories of interracial relationships which created scandals in their own time–including the liaisons between the East India Company’s James Achilles Kirkpatrick and the Muslim princess Khair un-Nissa at the beginning of the 19th Century, and the romance of the Botswanan royal Seretse Khama and the middle-class British girl Ruth Williams in the years after the Second World War–the film examines the complex history of interracial relationships and chronicles the shifts in attitudes that for centuries have created controversy and anxiety all around the world.

Contributors to this film include the former Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn; who founded the Seretse Khama Defence Council; and the esteemed moral philosopher Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, whose mother Peggy Cripps–the daughter of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps married his father, the Ghanaian political activist Joe Appiah in 1953.

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The Limits of the Choice of Identity

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2011-04-09 01:43Z by Steven

“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine, or a cow,” explains Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Ethics Of Identity. “The reasonable middle view is that constructing an identity is a good thing (if self-authorship is a good thing) but that the identity must make some kind of sense. And for it to make sense, it must be an identity constructed in response to facts outside oneself, things that are beyond one’s own choices.”

A society in which “Cablinasian” makes sense has yet to be created. Like a Rwanda full of Hutsis [Hutu/Tutsi], it exists only in the imagination. That does not necessarily mean that such a society could not or should not emerge. But “the facts beyond one’s own choice” do not yet allow it. Identities may be constructed and can be built differently. But we can only work with the materials available.

Gary Younge, “Tiger Woods: Black, white, other,” The Guardian. May 29, 2010.

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Tiger Woods: Black, white, other

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-20 04:45Z by Steven

Tiger Woods: Black, white, other

The Guardian

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

Before he was engulfed in a sex scandal Tiger Woods was a poster boy for a multiracial America. Gary Younge on the real legacy of golf’s fallen hero

On 13 April 1997 Tiger Woods putted his way to golfing history in Augusta, Georgia. The fact that he was the first black winner of the US Masters was not even half of it. At 21, he was the youngest; with a 12-stroke lead, he was the most emphatic; and finishing 18 under par, he was, quite simply, the best the world had ever seen.

…But within a fortnight of black America gaining a new sporting hero, it seemed as though they had lost him again. From the revered perch of Oprah Winfrey’s couch, Woods was asked whether it bothered him being termed “African-American”. “It does,” he said. “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a ‘Cablinasian’.”

Woods is indeed a rich mix of racial and ethnic heritage. His father, Earl, was of African-American, Chinese and Native American descent. His mother, Kutilda, is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent. “Cablinasian” was a composite of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. When he was asked to fill out forms in school, he would tick African-American and Asian. “Those are the two I was raised under and the only two I know,” he told Oprah. “I’m just who I am … whoever you see in front of you.”…

…In 1998, the American Anthropological Association declared, “Evidence from the analysis of genetics (eg DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic ‘racial’ groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means there is greater genetic variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.” In short, we really are more alike than we are unalike. If race is an arbitrary fiction, then “race-mixing” is a conceptual absurdity. To the extent to which “mixed race” makes any sense at all, we are all mixed race…

…Economically and politically, all of this made perfect sense. Intellectually, it was and remains a nonsense. As Barbara J. Fields pointed out in her landmark essay Ideology And Race In American History, it meant that “a black woman cannot give birth to a white child” while “a white woman [is] capable of giving birth to a black child”…

…Similarly, those who insist that, because Barack Obama has a white mother and grandmother who raised him, he could just as easily be described as another white president as the first black president are in a losing battle with credibility. “Obama’s chosen to identify as an African-American male,” explains Jennifer Nobles, the campaigner for multiracialism. “It’s the same thing with Halle Berry. That’s their choice and it makes sense. But he could identify as white. The trouble is no one would receive it that way.”…

Read the entire article here.

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