Deconstructing the Truism of Race as a Social Construct

Posted in Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Videos on 2018-11-12 22:22Z by Steven

Deconstructing the Truism of Race as a Social Construct

Hammer Museum
University of California, Los Angeles
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90024

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

Rebecca Tuvel, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee

Diarmuid Costello, Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Warwick

Philosophers Naomi Zack of the University of Oregon, Rebecca Tuvel of Rhodes College, and Diarmuid Costello of the University of Warwick discuss the ways in which Adrian Piper’s art interrogates racial identity, focusing on specific works as well as Piper’s own writings about race, “Passing for White, Passing for Black” and Escape to Berlin: A Travel Memoir.

Adrian Piper, Self-Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features, 1981
Pencil on paper. 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). The Eileen Harris Norton Collection © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin.

View the discussion (03:04:11) here.

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All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Census/Demographics, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2016-09-01 01:38Z by Steven

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Code Switch: Race And Identity, Remixed
National Public Radio

Leah Donnella

In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it’s a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
Jeannie Phan for NPR

It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I’m 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”

Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation…

‘Multiracial’ or ‘mixed’?

In light of Hall’s paper, “multiracial” was adopted by several advocacy groups springing up around the country, some of which felt the term neutralized the uncomfortable connotations of a competing term in use at that point: “mixed.”

In English, people have been using the word “mixed” to describe racial identity for at least 200 years, like this 1864 British study claiming that “no mixed races can subsist in humanity,” or this 1812 “Monthly Retrospect of Politics” that tallies the number of slaves — “either Africans or of a mixed race” — in a particular neighborhood.

Steven Riley, the curator of a multiracial research website, cites the year 1661 as the first “mixed-race milestone” in North America, when the Maryland colony forbade “racial admixture” between English women and Negro slaves.

But while “mixed” had an established pedigree by the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncontroversial. To many, “mixed” invited associations like “mixed up,” “mixed company” and “mixed signals,” all of which reinforced existing stereotypes of “mixed” people as confused, untrustworthy or defective. It also had ties to animal breeding — “mixed” dogs and horses were the foil to pure-breeds and thoroughbreds.

Mixed “evokes identity crisis” to some, says Teresa Willams-León, author of The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans and a professor of Asian American Studies at California State University. “It becomes the antithesis to pure.”…

Read the entire article here.

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“Given this situation, I am neither thrilled nor honored to receive an award in the name of Martin Luther King at this time, here at the University of Oregon. I am embarrassed.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-01-21 21:32Z by Steven

“I know that those who receive this award say they are honored and thrilled. My situation at the University of Oregon complicates my reaction. I was hired as a full professor with tenure in 2001. While I have African ancestry, I identify as multi-racial. At present, there are no full professors who identify as African American or Black in the entire University of Oregon College of Arts and Sciences. But I am a woman of color. At present there are only two full professors who are women of color throughout the entire University of Oregon. I am one of them. Given this situation, I am neither thrilled nor honored to receive an award in the name of Martin Luther King at this time, here at the University of Oregon.

I am embarrassed.” —Naomi Zack

Justin Weinberg, “King Award Recipient: “Neither thrilled nor honored”,” Daily Nous: News for and About the Philosophy Profession, January 20, 2016.

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Dearth of Faculty Diversity Leaves King Award Recipient ‘Neither Thrilled Nor Honored’

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Media Archive, United States on 2016-01-21 16:17Z by Steven

Dearth of Faculty Diversity Leaves King Award Recipient ‘Neither Thrilled Nor Honored’

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Eric Kelderman

Naomi Zack is one of just six people scheduled to receive a University of Oregon award on Wednesday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But the philosophy professor expressed mixed feelings about what the award means at a university where so few of her colleagues are minorities.

Ms. Zack, who describes herself as multiracial, said there are no women who identify as black in the College of Arts and Sciences and only two women of color, including herself, who qualify as full professors in the entire university. The other woman, she said, is the university’s vice president for equity and inclusion, Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh.

“I am neither thrilled nor honored to receive” the award, Ms. Zack plans to say, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. “I am embarrassed.”

“The absence of African-American senior faculty in what presents itself as a world-class research institution is an embarrassment for all members of our community,” the text reads…

Read the entire article here.

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Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2016-01-16 15:44Z by Steven

Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience

Rowman & Littlefield
January 2016
350 pages
Size: 6 x 9
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4985-0942-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4985-0943-5
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4985-0944-2

Edited by:

Tina Fernandes Botts, Visiting Professor of Philosophy
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience is a collection of essays by mixed race philosophers about the mixed race experience. Each essay is meant to represent one of three possible things: (1) what the philosopher sees as the philosopher’s best work, (2) evidence of the possible impact of the philosopher’s mixed race experience on the philosopher’s work, or (3) the philosopher’s philosophical take on the mixed race experience. The book has two goals: (1) to collect together for the first time the work of professional, academic philosophers who have had the mixed race experience, and (2) to bring these essays together for the purpose of adding to the conversation on the question of the degree to which factical identity (that is, situated, phenomenological experience) and philosophical work may be related (i.e., in terms of theme, method, assumptions, traditions, etc.).

Table of Contents

  • Foreword, by Linda Martín Alcoff
  • Editor’s Introduction: Toward a Mixed Race Theory, by Tina Fernandes Botts
  • Part 1: Mixed Race Political Theory
    • Chapter 1: Responsible Multiracial Politics, with a new postscript, by Ronald Robles Sundstrom
    • Chapter 2: Mixed Race Identity in Britain: Finding Our Roots in the Post Racial Era, by Gabriella Beckles-Raymond
  • Part 2: Mixed Race Metaphilosophy
    • Chapter 3: Through the Looking Glass: What Philosophy Looks Like from the Inside When You’re Not Quite There, by Marina Oshana
    • Chapter 4: Being and Not Being, Knowing and Not Knowing, by Jennifer Lisa Vest
    • Chapter 5: A Mixed Race (Philosophical) Experience, by Tina Fernandes Botts
  • Part 3: Mixed Race Ontology
    • Chapter 6: The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race, by Naomi Zack
    • Chapter 7: On Being Mixed, by Linda Martín Alcoff
    • Chapter 8: Race and Ethnic Identity, by J.L.A. Garcia
  • Part 4: Mixed Race and Major Figures
    • Chapter 9: Through a Glass, Darkly: A Mixed-Race Du Bois, by Celena Simpson
    • Chapter 10: German Chocolate: Why Philosophy is So Personal, by Timothy J. Golden
  • Part 5: Mixed Race Ethics
    • Chapter 11: Who is Afraid of Racial and Ethnic Self-Cleansing? In Defense of the Virtuous Cosmopolitan, by Jason D. Hill
  • Afterword, by Naomi Zack
  • Epilogue, by Tina Fernandes Botts
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What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-11-06 20:58Z by Steven

What ‘White Privilege’ Really Means

The New York Times

George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

This is the first in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Naomi Zack, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon and the author of “The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality After the History of Philosophy.”  The interview was conducted by email and edited. — George Yancy

George Yancy: What motivates you to work as a philosopher in the area of race?

Naomi Zack:  I am mainly motivated by a great need to work and not to be bored, and I have a critical bent. I think there is a lot of work to be done concerning race in the United States, and a lot of ignorance and unfairness that still needs to be uncovered and corrected. I received my doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1970 and then became absent from academia until 1990. When I returned it had become possible to write about real issues and apply analytic skills to social ills and other practical forms of injustice. My first book, “Race and Mixed Race” (1991) was an analysis of the incoherence of U.S. black/white racial categories in their failure to allow for mixed race. In “Philosophy of Science and Race,” I examined the lack of a scientific foundation for biological notions of human races, and in “The Ethics and Mores of Race,” I turned to the absence of ideas of universal human equality in the Western philosophical tradition…

G.Y.: We can safely assume white parents don’t need to have this talk with their children. Do you think white privilege is at work in this context?

N.Z.: The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being white confers privilege but that not being white means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.  But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head…

Read the entire interview here.

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Philosophy of Science and Race

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy on 2014-11-06 18:44Z by Steven

Philosophy of Science and Race

152 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-415-94164-8
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-415-94163-1

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon


  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Reason and Method
  • 1. Philosophical Racial Essentialism: Hume and Kant
  • 2. Geography and Ideas of Race
  • 3. Phenotypes and Ideas of Race
  • 4. Transmisson Genetics and Ideas of Race
  • 5. Genealogy and Ideas of Race
  • 6. Race and Contemporary Anthropology
  • 7. Philishophical and Social Implications
  • Notes
  • Select Bibliography
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The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality after the History of Philosophy

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy, Slavery on 2014-11-06 16:32Z by Steven

The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality after the History of Philosophy

Rowman & Littlefield
July 2011
216 pages
Size: 6 3/4 x 9 1/2
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4422-1125-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4422-1127-8

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

Preeminent philosopher, Naomi Zack, brings us an indispensable work in the ethics of race through an inquiry into the history of moral philosophy. Beginning with Plato and a philosophical tradition that has largely ignored race, The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality After the History of Philosophy enters into a web of ideas, ethics, and morals that untangle our evolving ideas of racial equality straight into the twenty-first century. The dichotomy between ethics and mores has long aided the separation of what is right with ideas of equality. Zack tackles the co-existence of slavery with the classic moral systems and continues to show how our society has evolved and our mores with it. An ethics of race my not exist yet, but this book gives us twelve discerning requirements to establish it.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Ethics, Mores, and Race
  • Chapter 1: Plato and Aristotle’s Invention of Race
  • Chapter 2: Cosmopolitan Contributions to an Ethics of Race
  • Chapter 3: Natural Law and Inequality
  • Chapter 4: Moral Law and Slavery
  • Chapter 5: Christian Metaphysics and Inequality
  • Chapter 6: Social Contract Theory and the Sovereign Nation State
  • Chapter 7: Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Rights
  • Conclusion: Egalitarian Humanism and Requirements for an Ethics of Race
  • Select Bibliography
  • About the Author
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The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2013-11-07 03:06Z by Steven

The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race

Volume 25, Issue 4 (Fall, 2010)
pages 875-890
DOI: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2010.01121.x

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

Philosophers have little to lose in making practical proposals. If the proposals are enacted, the power of ideas to change the world is affirmed. If the proposals are rejected, there is new material for theoretical reflection. During the 1990s, I believed that broad public recognition of mixed race, particularly black and white mixed race, would contribute to an undoing of rigid and racist, socially constructed racial categories. I argued for such recognition in my first book, Race and Mixed Race (Zack 1993), a follow-through anthology, American Mixed Race (Zack 1995), and numerous articles, especially the essay, “Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy,” which appeared first in Hypatia in 1995. I also delivered scores of public and academic lectures and presentations on this subject, all of which expressed the following in varied forms and formats: Race is an idea that lacks the biological foundation it is commonly assumed to have. There is need for broad education about this absence of foundation; mixed-race identities should be recognized, especially black–white identities.

Given some of the discussion of my work on race and mixed race, I should reiterate that my position was neither a denial of the existence of race nor advocacy of the elimination of race as a category. That is, while I believe that the elimination of race as a category would be a good thing in many contexts,  I have never advocated for such elimination as a next step for a society that is as entangled with ideas of race as ours is. And furthermore, I am wary of the delusional aspect of any philosopher believing that she has the authority, much less the power, to wield an idea like a magic wand over the world.  Race exists insofar as people use race to identify themselves and others racially. What does not exist is a biological foundation for human races or human racial divisions. It is an empirical question whether broad public understanding of this lack of foundation, in a society where many think that such a foundation in biological science exists, would result in an “elimination” of race terms and practices.

The recognition of mixed race that I have advocated would proceed from where we are now, in a society where many people continue to think that human racial taxonomy has a biological foundation. Recognition of mixed race would be fair, because if racially “pure” people are entitled to distinct racial identities, then so are racially mixed people.  Also, the false belief in biological races logically entails a belief in mixed biological races. But, of course, in true biological taxonomic terms, if pure races do not exist, then neither do mixed races (Zack 1997, 183-84; Zack 2002, chap. 7).

However, by the time I finished writing Philosophy of Science and Race (Zack 2002), I had come to the conclusion that broad understanding of the absence of a biological foundation for “race,” beginning with philosophers, was more urgent than mixed-race recognition or identity rights. Against that needed shift away from the false racialisms to which many liberatory race theorists still clung, advocacy of mixed-race recognition seemed self-serving, if not petty. And I think that the shift is still a work in progress. But still, the ongoing historical phenomena of mixed race and the distinctive experiences of mixed-race people continue to merit consideration, and I am grateful for this opportunity to revisit my earlier confidence and enthusiasm that mixed-race recognition was on the near horizon, with the full-scale undoing of race soon to dawn.

The twenty-first century has so far supported greater recognition of mixed race, but not as a distinct or stand-alone racial category, which was what I had hoped to see happen.  Biracial black and white Americans continue to voluntarily identify and be identified by others as black. This is surprising because the efforts of several overlapping multiracial “movements” culminated in the  U.S. Census 2000 allowance for more than one box to be checked for race. In response to that opportunity for new self-identification, 6.9 million respondents, or 2.4% of all respondents, designated themselves as members of “two or more races,” while 16 million, or 5.5 percent, indicated that they were “some other race” (Zack 2001). However, these substantial figures are rarely disaggregated as statistics pertaining to specific racial mixtures.  Based on recent political events and a current unscientific sense of contemporary culture, it’s now safe to say that the black–white distinction is as sharp as it ever has been in the United States. And mixed race, despite more robust acknowledgment, seems to have passed from a possibly viable independent identity into a variable or fluid symbol of not only this or that presumptively pure race, but a symbol of race relations as well. I think that if we carefully examine this symbolic condition of mixed race, we might learn or relearn something about the nature of our ongoing social, racial categories. Such an examination of mixed race and race would be a project of what has come to be accepted as critical race theory.  Maybe these terms should be defined before proceeding further…


The term race refers to a system of human typology or a classification scheme in modern Western history that is believed to be based on real and important biological differences among groups. In addition to its presumed, but false, biological foundation, race has a real genealogical foundation that connects the race of an individual with the race of his or her parents and ancestors. However, children have the same race as their parents and ancestors only if those forebears are of the same race. If forebears are of different races, offspring are “mixed.” In the U.S., racial mixture usually results in assignment to the ancestral group of lower “racial” status, a practice known as hypodescent. For example, biracial black and white Americans are classified as black, according to the “one-drop rule” of black racial identity.  This “one drop” has become almost completely metaphorical, since educated people no longer believe, as they did in the nineteenth century, that racial inheritance is a matter of the intergenerational transmission of racial blood types; indeed, it’s unlikely that anyone still knowingly subscribes to pre-Mendelian hereditary theories of this nature. Also, hypodescent is not applied rigorously and literally; for example, few if any believe that one remote black ancestor automatically means that an individual is black. Rather, black racial identity is based largely on how others identify the person, which is in turn based mainly on appearance. Individuals are assumed to be black and likely to identify as black if their appearance conforms to broad expectations of what black people look like. But this rule has never been symmetrical. If a person looks white, but has recent known black ancestry, many may still consider her identification as white to be an instance of “passing,” and passing is generally regarded as a kind of inauthenticity—whatever that may be…

…Overall, the term mixed race refers to a variable characteristic of individuals whose parents or ancestors are of different races. If race lacks a biological foundation as a system of human types, then so does mixed race, which would derive its foundation from that of the races in any given mixture. Culturally, mixed race has been more of a highly variable property of individuals than a stable property of groups, because mixed-race groups do not have the same extended, intra-group shared history as their members’ variable ancestry in presumptively pure racial groups. Self-identified intergenerational, mixed-race groups have nonetheless existed in quasi-isolated communities throughout the U.S., particularly in the mid-Atlantic region. But such groups have remained largely invisible to the broad population, are small in number, and do not have any political clout or distinctive entitlements. These small, intergenerational communities of multiracial Americans are primarily attended to as subjects of specialized study for anthropologists and sociologists (Reginald 2002). By contrast, the multiracial “movements” of the late twentieth century consisted largely of first-generation, mixed-race individuals, who to varying degrees continue to study themselves and their situations, in virtual communities…


…The dangers of insisting on black and white mixed-race political recognition in a system in which blacks are disadvantaged is that a mixed-race group could act as a buffer between blacks and whites and re-inscribe that disadvantage. It is interesting to note that under apartheid in South Africa, there was not only a robust mixed population known as “colored,” but individuals were able to change their race as their life circumstances changed (Goldberg 1995).  From the perspective of mixed-race individuals, this example may seem as though even South Africa was more liberatory on the grounds of race than the one-drop-rule-governed U.S. (This is not to say that South African coloreds had full civil liberties under apartheid, but only that they were better off than many blacks.)  But from a more broad perspective, in terms of white–black relations, recognition of mixed-race identity, while it may advantage mixed-race individuals and add sophistication to a black and white imaginary of race, does little to dislodge white supremacy overall. The public and political recognition of mixed-race identities could be quite dangerous to white–black race relations overall if the position of blacks remained unchanged (Spencer 1999).  But continued obliviousness about mixed-race identities holds the immediate danger of denying the existence of injustice for some presumptively pure blacks who do not have the advantages of white parentage…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Film Review: Multiracial Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-10-02 01:36Z by Steven

Film Review: Multiracial Identity

Teaching Sociology
Volume 41, Number 4 (October 2013)
pages 397-399
DOI: 10.1177/0092055X13496205

Sara McDonough
Department of Sociology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

David L. Brunsma, Professor of Sociology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Multiracial Identity. 77 minutes. 2010. Brian Chinhema , director. Bullfrog Films. PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547. 610.779.8226.

Released in 2011, Multiracial Identity is a timely, well-crafted film written and directed by Brian Chinhema that presents many of the key concepts, debates, and questions surrounding mixed-race identity and multiraciality in American society. Narrated by Dieter Weber, the film integrates both scholarly and nonscholarly voices to present a number of key discussions and tensions about the place and recognition of multiracial people in U.S. society while also providing space for multiracial individuals or the parents of mixed-race children to talk about their experiences and insights on the meanings of multiraciality in the United States. Featuring prominent scholars in the field of multiracial identity, such as Rainier Spencer and Naomi Zack, as well as Aaron Gullickson and Aliya Saperstein, the film provides some basic historical background to contextualize contemporary discussions about multiraciality. While the numbers show an increase of 33 percent in the multiracial population between 2000 and 2010, the existence of multiracial people is not a new phenomenon. The film sets the historical and conceptual stage early, so students might ask, “What has changed in terms of (multi)race and (multi)racial identity in the United States?”

Viewers are provided with an introductory overview of the existence, status, and sociocultural dilemmas that have faced multiracial populations historically. The film does a good job showing the changing meaning of multiraciality across time and space (e.g., regional differences and across racial/ethnic combinations). Though the historically central organizing principle of the black/white binary is discussed, the film raises the question of the utility of this paradigm for understanding multiraciality as it gives attention to the experience of other multiracial individuals (e.g., Hapa-Haoles/Asian-white). Interfacing with the changing demographics associated with the repeal of certain anti-immigration laws in the 1960s, and the increase in Asian and Hispanic/Latino migration in particular, the film more than adequately …

Read or purchase the review here.

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