Black Lives Matter (Part II): Understanding The New Movement For Racial Justice

Black Lives Matter (Part II)

Understanding The New Movement For Racial Justice

By Guillaume A.W. Attia (Editor-in-Chief)

May 01, 2016         Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images.


The relationship between white American state and federal representatives, particularly law enforcement authorities, and the historically oppressed blacks of the United States of America has always been strenuous. Ever since their forced arrival on illegitimately white-owned land, many Africans have—with varying intensity—been suffocatingly regulated in bodily movement and intellectual freedom by the organized power of white supremacy. Many American blacks were routinely abused and terrorized into submission for the strict purpose for which they were originally imported into this newly delineated territory: the invaluable extraction of cheap labor through the depletion of commoditized human life.

This mostly socially accepted and legally enforced brutalization of black people was deemed necessary by some whites to ironically advance the colonial project of creating a more ‘just’ and ‘prosperous’ world for European refugees of state terror. Having ‘cleared’ enough native lands of their aboriginal occupiers, in some extreme cases through genocide and confiscation, the new settlers brought in African slaves, not to partake as co-equals in the birth of a nation, nor to make them guiltless co-inheritors of the riches of a fundamentally immoral project, but to grow and build a nation under the watchful eyes of armed white Americans until either death or amnesty relieved slaves of their ‘duties’. State supervision and terror are thus, in a sense, primordial to the black experience in America.

With the end of the civil war, and the publicly dignifying provisions of the constitution of the United States of America, it became possible for blacks to conceive of themselves as more than just mere objects in the perpetual service of a master class. Perhaps they too, could enjoy freedom from state supervision, and the independence needed to pursue their own interests completely inhibited by unjust social and legal impediments. This dream of full and equal participation in civilian affairs was a radical reconceptualization of the role of blacks in America: from supervised tools of production to free citizens.

Just as it became possible for blacks to dream about their unfettered pursuit of happiness in the new post-civil war America, it also became necessary for the agents of white power in society to remind blacks of their subservient role in culture. The state-tolerated denigration and brutality of the period of reconstruction, the horrific ravages of the Ku Klux Klan, the profound psychological damage of Jim Crow segregation, and the opportunity-negating housing discrimination of the twentieth century, helped keep blacks in place: equal on paper but separate and socially disadvantaged in practice.

As CUNY philosopher, John Pittman, explained in a prior instalment of this series, the result of this oppression has been felt in every imaginable facet of modern life:

“On indices such as life expectancy, educational attainment, household income, home ownership, assets and wealth, unemployment, incidence of poverty, rates of major illnesses, of death in childbirth, of suicide, of incarceration, of being on death row – among other metrics of social wellbeing – there are substantial disparities between scores for whites and those for people of African descent. To this must be added the very visible absence – or at best scarcity – of people of color from the most prestigious careers, institutional leadership positions, elective political office, social circles, associations – that is, from the ‘halls of power’ in general. And further, the cities and towns of the nation are, to this day, scarred by widespread residential segregation bringing in its wake the associated segregation, with rare exceptions, of local schools and educational institutions as well”.

The Atlantic correspondent, Ta-Nehisi Coates, vividly portrays the impact of these cycles of injustice on the social standing of African Americans as an identifiable group of people in America:

“Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes—a medical emergency, divorce, job loss—the fall is precipitous. And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.” The implications are chilling. As a rule, poor black people do not work their way out of the ghetto—and those who do often face the horror of watching their children and grandchildren tumble back”

Despite the immense social progress that has taken place in the United States, especially since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the election of the first black president in 2008 has not been indicative of the definite realization of the old slave dream of full equality and integration into society. A WSJ/NBC poll released in December of 2015 indicated a 20-year low in the public perception of race relations in the United States. A mid-year 2016 survey by The New York Times & CBS reinforced this pessimism by pointing to a belief by 69% of Americans that race relations are generally bad; the lowest point in Obama’s presidency.

In fact, as the political theorist Eddie Glaude points out in his book, Democracy in Black , the social condition of African-Americans under the Obama presidency has deteriorated:

“Beyond the increase in explicit racism—the loud racists have gotten louder since the 2008 election (it almost feels like some white people have lost their minds)—black people have suffered tremendously on Obama’s watch. Black unemployment remains high. Home foreclosures continue. The wealth gap between blacks and white has grown wider. More young black families and children than ever are drowning in poverty. And police have been on what seems like a rampage—killing young black people at alarming rates. In short, black communities have been devastated. And Obama’s most publicized initiative in the face of all this, even as the spate of racial incidents pressured him to be more forthright about this issue, has been My Brother’s Keeper, a public-private partnership to address the crisis of young men and boys of color—a Band-Aid for gunshot wound./ Obama reminds me of Herman Melville’s Confidence Man: he sees exactly what we want and what we fear and adjusts himself accordingly. And what Melville believed people wanted more than anything was hope, a sense of the possibility of things for themselves for the world. I am not sure Melville understood, although he might have, the depth of that claim for black folk. For us, hope has always come with a heavy dose of realism. It couldn’t be otherwise in a world such as ours, where the color of your skin closes off certain possibilities from the moment you draw your first breath. W. E. B. DuBois captured it best as ‘a hope not hopeless but unhopeful’—a blues-soaked sensibility that chastens one’s expectations of the world, because the white people in it can be so hateful and mean. In 2008 and again in 2012, Obama sold black America the snake oil of hope and change…. Maybe black people believed he represented real change. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we needed the illusion of hope. It doesn’t matter. The reality, amid the thick fog of unmet expectations, is that very little has changed in this country. In fact, things have gotten worse”. (pp. 7-8)

As mentioned in passing by Glaude, what partly accounts for this negative public perception of race relations is the continued and well-documented frustration of blacks concerning perceived police abuse of minority communities. The personal experience of some African Americans with police officers since (i) the serious shift to “Law and Order” politics during the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964, (ii) Nixon’s 1971 declaration of a “War on Drugs”, as well as (iii) the implementation of Clinton’s 1994 “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act”, has been a nagging suspicion that law enforcement officers unfairly target and prey on poor black folks.

Over the past decade or so, there have been murmurs in African-American communities about the unnecessary criminalization of non-violent activities such as marijuana consumption, the adoption of “broken-windows” policing strategies such as the demeaning harassment of stop-and-frisk, the police use of excessive force on civilians for mere failure to obey orders, as well as the three-strikes-you’re-out guidelines that keep such non-violent felons in prison for life. All of these factors are said to contribute to what law theorist Michelle Alexander has called “The New Jim Crow”: the return of the illicit state supervision and terrorization of African Americans through the mass incarceration of non-violent felons.

This communally shared inkling about police corruption was certainly not abated by the discovery of racism, racial profiling, and debt peonage by the Ferguson Police Department during a DOJ-led exoneration of white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, for the August 2014 shooting of black teenager, Michael Brown. Even with Wilson’s formal innocence vis-à-vis the criminal justice system, his “kind”, namely white police officers, continue to be viewed by some blacks, and an increasingly broader section of the American public, as too prone to excessive force, especially against people of color.

Because of prior unsavoury experiences with police officers, and the DOJ report on Ferguson somewhat confirming people’s worst prejudices towards white American law enforcement officers, the high-profile police killings of unarmed black men and women since the Eric Garner & Michael Brown episodes (Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, John Crawford III, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, Laquan McDonald, etc…), has reinforced three-fold the bad impression some blacks have already developed towards white police officers. The general sentiment that is shared, especially amongst the most economically disadvantaged blacks in America today, is that both the criminal justice system as an institution, and the individuals paid to uphold its moral ideals, do not place a sufficiently high value on black life; for them “black lives don’t matter”.

Until fairly recently, the official political response to the Black Lives Matter movement has been comparatively partisan. Although both Democratic & Republican political leaders have voiced some reservations about the message, operation, and goals of the movement, Democratic liberals have been more willing to seriously entertain the ideas put forth by activists, and to even incorporate them in their political platform.

Both in print and on live television, liberals have decried white supremacy and institutional racism, and called for a sweeping reform of the criminal justice system to put an end to The New Jim Crow. Conservatives on the other hand, have deplored the unwarranted tarnishing of the police profession by street agitators and the reckless ideologically-biased media, warned against endangering the lives of police officers by divisive rhetoric and a war on cops, called for universal respect for cops serving neighbourhoods decimated by the allegedly far more serious problem of black-on-black violence, and reaffirmed the notion that despite an understandably far-from-perfect state of race relations during the Obama years, all lives matter in the America of today.

But with the viral videotaped killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille a few days before a racially motivated fatal retaliation against police officers in Dallas on July 7 2016, there emerged somewhat of a bipartisan recognition that the sense of injustice felt by some black Americans should be taken seriously, even if it so happens that some segments of the white populace doesn’t understand it.

The former Republican House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, for example raised some eyebrows when he asserted that “If you are a normal white American, the truth is that you don’t understand being black in America (….) instinctively you underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk”. He went on to admit that: “It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years to get a sense of this”.

Defeated Republican hopeful, Senator Marco Rubio, added to these remarkable concessions by pointing out in a public address that:

“Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America (…) But we should all understand why our fellow Americans and the black community are angry at the images of an African-American man with no criminal record [Philando Castille] who was pulled over for a busted tail light, slumped into his car seat and dying, while his 4-year-old daughter watches from the backseat. All of us should be troubled by these images, and all of us need to acknowledge that this is about more than just one or two recent incidents (…) Despite decades of progress on many fronts, millions of our fellow Americans feel like they are treated differently because of the color of their skin. And after seeing videos like the one this week, they are scared that the next time they get pulled over, one wrong move could be the last thing they do”.

South Carolina Senator, Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican representative of the U.S Senate, testified about this sense of personal injustice when he revealed in a public address that he had been pulled over by police seven times (including during his current tenure at senate member), and felt the “anger, the frustration, the sadness and humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than just being yourself”. Accompanying Gingrich and Rubio in their efforts to engage with a seemingly divided nation, he admonished sceptical members of the public to “recognize that just because you do not feel pain, the anguish of another… it does not mean it does not exist”.

Senator Marco Rubio also urged the public to recognize that police officers are human beings prone to the same vulnerabilities as all of us. They are charged with a very difficult job and a burdensome responsibility, having to see and interact on a daily basis with the worse of American society. No doubt, some of the most extreme cases of criminality police officers encounter nationwide are from people of color. But as President George W. Bush wisely remarked at the funeral of the five fallen Dallas police officers, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions”.

All of the above comments by Republican leaders should be applauded by both sides of the political debate for their much-needed expression of good faith and human empathy. They are a step closer towards bipartisan co-operation based on a shared recognition that the pain, suffering, and anxieties of African-American communities are real. That foundational common understanding of the reality of black suffering does not, however, mean that the ideas generating these emotions are entirely valid, or that the black lives matter movement is ultimately a legitimate and viable political project.

The articles collected in this second instalment of the Black Lives Matter series are an attempt to contribute to the online criticism of the black lives matter movement by taking a historically informed look at the merits of the philosophical ideas emerging from the national discussion on race and police ethics. What constitutes police ethics? How do we interpret the data on police killings? Are there reasonable grounds for thinking racism is endemic, not only in police departments but in American culture at large? Does the relative rise in hate crimes such as the murder of the Charleston 9 by Dylan Roof, as well as the trepidation over the removal of the confederate flag in North Carolina, lend some support to the idea of festering racism in the country? Is it an exaggeration to claim that black lives don’t matter in America? Should we be reassured by the insistence that all lives matter, or is this too misguided? Are politicians right in saying that the Black Lives Matter Movement is approaching the problems of the African American community the wrong way? Should the focus of racial activists be more strongly directed at efforts to solve the so-called problem of “black-on-black crime” in Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and elsewhere? How continuous is the movement’s message, practice, and objectives, with the black liberation movement of the past and its intellectual leaders? What is the role of women, Latinos, and members of the LGBTQ community in the movement? If we accept the idea that racism is a serious problem in the U.S, and that many black Americans are suffering as a result, should we seriously entertain Ta-Nehisi Coates’ call for black reparations? If not, what exactly should be done to redress America’s enduring legacy of racial strife? These are all legitimate questions philosophers are apt to answer.


Article #1: “To Protect & Serve: What Is Wrong With The Policing Of Minorities In The U.S?” by John Kleinig (City University of New York & Charles Sturt University)

The #BlackLivesMatter movement, triggered and intensified by the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of police, has, as might be expected in a racially fraught country, attracted a mixed response. This paper explores some of the cases that triggered the movement, the historical, social, legal, and ideological background to the events that triggered those responses, the responses themselves, and argues that there is a strong moral case for revisioning both policing and the social world that supports it. It concludes with some practical suggestions for moving forward from where we currently find ourselves.

John Kleinig is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in the PhD Program in Philosophy, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York. He is also an Adjunct Research Professor at Charles Sturt University and Professorial Fellow in Criminal Justice Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (Canberra, Australia). He is the author/editor of 22 books, including The Ethics of Policing (CUP, 1996), Ethics in Criminal Justice (CUP 2008), Professional Police Practice (OUP, 2013, ed., with PAJ Waddington & Martin Wright), On Loyalty and Loyalties: The Contours of a Problematic Virtue (OUP, 2014), Prisoners’ Rights (Ashgate, 2014, ed), and The Ethics of Patriotism: A Debate (Wiley Blackwell, 2014, with Simon Keller and Igor Primoratz).

Article #2: “Bad Guys & Dirty Hands: Ethical Policing In The Presence Of Racial Injustice” by Vanessa Wills (The George Washington University)

My aim here is to offer reasons for entertaining seriously the following possibility: that in the United States, policing that is “ethical,” according to standards internal to the practice and culture of policing, just is policing that disproportionately targets people of color for violence and domination. In taking contemporary police ethics as my subject matter, I address the relationship among three factors: the specific area of applied ethics research that pertains to policing; the moral psychology of police officers; and the interaction among police ethics, police moral psychology, and white supremacy as a system of social control in the United States. Anti-racism necessitates political agitation and the heightening of what Dr. King called ‘creative tension.’ Because Black liberation cannot come without a massive rearrangement of social, economic, and political power, it comes directly into confrontation with policing’s aim of preserving the present order.

Vanessa Wills is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011, where she wrote her dissertation on the topic, “Marx and Morality.” Her areas of specialization are moral, social, and political philosophy, nineteenth century German philosophy (especially Karl Marx), and the philosophy of race. Her research is importantly informed by her study of Marx’s work, and focuses on the ways in which economic and social arrangements can inhibit or promote the realization of values such as freedom, equality, and human development.

Article #3: “Ferguson’s Political Imaginary & The Political Normativity Of Black Lives Matter” by Frank M. Kirkland (City University of New York)

I have not objectively learned the truth about Ferguson or “Black Lives Matter” (BLM). Thus I can at best only surmise, can only long that they ring true of my sensibilities. The publicly official chatter is about Ferguson as a genuinely peaceful community. Part 1 conveys my account of circumstances leading to the belief that Ferguson as a peaceful community may be only a fabrication. That chatter too is not alone in contributing to the confusion between what Ferguson supposedly is and what Ferguson is fabricated to be, since media outlets bearing various ideological stripes have given this confusion its way and sway. Part 2 conveys my account of (a) BLM’s complex relationship to Frederick Douglass and (b) its importance to the normative expansion of democracy with that relationship in mind.

Frank M. Kirkland is professor of philosophy at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, both of the City University of New York (CUNY). Besides editing two books on phenomenology and Frederick Douglass respectively and writing a small monograph on Du Bois, he has published articles on Kant, Hegel, and Husserl, as well as on Douglass, Crummell, Du Bois, Kant on race, Hegel on race, Hegel and the Haitian Revolution, and the theme of modernity and intellectual life in the African-diaspora. He has been long at work on a book provisionally entitled Hegel’s Idealism and the Black Atlantic Tradition.

Article #4: “Raising a Voice in Protest, Issuing a Call to Action: Anna Julia Cooper’s Intersectional Vision” by Vivian May (Syracuse University)

In contrast to more conventional approaches to philosophical work, legal argument, and social science research, all of which she found too narrow and too amenable to the logics of domination, conquest, and violence, Cooper presented an alternative view of what the “philosophic mind” was capable of and what purpose it could serve. For Cooper, philosophical practice had a clear role to play in addressing a host of pressing sociopolitical issues. She refused exclusionary frameworks, focused on the relevance and meaning of Black women’s lives, and combatted violent logics and supremacist thinking wherever she found them. Cooper’s oeuvre offers an important early model of an intersectional political philosophy, which she developed to more meaningfully engage multiple forms of injustice and inequality without resorting to a hierarchy of oppressions. She also recognized that one of the ways systematic oppression operates is by stifling resistance, obliterating alternative ideas, and burying critical voices. Cooper illustrated how racist and sexist norms are taught, legally enforced, and naturalized to such an extent that we often fail to challenge them or, equally dangerously, how we can incorporate these dominant logics into our liberation politics.

Vivian May Final

Vivian M. May, Director of the Humanities Center and Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Syracuse University, has published widely on Black feminist intellectual histories, intersectionality, and feminist theory and literature. In addition to numerous articles, she has published two books: the first, Anna Julia Cooper, Visionary Black Feminist (Routledge, 2007), shows how Cooper deserves a much wider audience for her innovative and often daring contributions to a Black feminist public sphere. Her most recent book, Pursuing Intersectionality, Unsettling Dominant Imaginaries (Routledge, 2015), demonstrates how often intersectionality is resisted, misunderstood, and misapplied and pushes for more meaningful engagement with intersectionality’s radical ideas, histories, and justice orientations. She is also President of the National Women’s Studies Association (2014-2016).

Article #5: “Alain Locke & Black Lives Matter: The Cosmopolitan Pursuit Of Truth” by Jacoby Adeshei Carter (CUNY)

This article provides an exposition of important aspects of Alain Leroy Locke’s philosophy as they relate to Black Lives Matter. Effort is made to demonstrate the relevance of Locke’s thinking about democracy and cultural pluralism to a consideration of contemporary campaigns for racial and social justice. The article ends with a reflection on the importance of asserting that “black lives matter”, as opposed to, ‘all lives matter.”

Jacoby Adeshei Carter is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at CUNY: John Jay College. Professor Carter’s research interests include Africana philosophy, social and political philosophy, value theory (ethics) philosophy of race and pragmatism, especially, the philosophy of Alain Locke. Prof. Carter is Director of the Alain Leroy Locke Society and co-editor of Philosophic Values and World Citizenship: Locke to Obama and Beyond, and author of the forthcoming book African American Contributions to the Americas’ Cultures: A Critical Edition of Lectures by Alain Locke. Dr. Carter is also the editor of the African American Philosophy and the Diaspora Book Series published by Palgrave/Macmillan.

Article #6: “Why Frantz Fanon Still Matters: Failure & Reciprocity” by Nigel Gibson (Emerson College)

Black lives matter. What does Fanon have to say to our moment fifty five years after his death? Reflecting on notions of reciprocity and failure, this essay highlights some of the remarkable resonances in Fanon’s work and  the timeliness of his critique of liberal humanism. Revolt and reflecton on action is necessary and rational, as he puts it in Black Skin White Masks, “because it has become impossible … to breathe in more than one sense of the world.”

Nigel C Gibson is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Emerson College and Honorary Professor at the Unit for the Humanities at the university currently known as Rhodes University (UHURU), South Africa. He is author of Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination and Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo and the editor and co-editor of a number of books including Rethinking Fanon, Living Fanon, Biko Lives and Adorno: A Critical Reader.

Article #7: “Malcom X, State Oppression & Black Lives Matter: The Perpetual Struggle For Black Personhood” by Saladin Ambar (Lehigh University)

This article argues that forceful resistance to oppression more than ideology connects the Black Lives Matter movement of today to the struggle for black freedom fifty years ago. In the face of recurring state repression in the form of police brutality and a two-tiered criminal justice system, Malcolm X’s legacy takes on new, but no less significant form, in today’s efforts to value the lives of African people – wherever they are around the globe. In placing primacy on the humanity of black people, both Malcolm and Black Lives Matter show the road to the universal through the particular.

Saladin Ambar is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. He is the author of Malcolm X at Oxford Union: Racial Politics in a Global Era (Oxford University Press, 2014) and the forthcoming American Cicero: Mario Cuomo and the Defense of Liberalism in America (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Article #8: “Obama, The Chicago School Of Philosophy & Black Lives Matter: A Note Of Un-Hope” by Bart Schultz (University of Chicago) 

This is a brief essay on how #BlackLivesMatter and other recent social movements can be seen as far in advance of the Obama Administration when it comes to reflecting a radical Deweyan democratic socialist sensibility.
Bart Schultz is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Executive Director of the Civic Knowledge Project at the University of Chicago. He has been teaching in the College at the University of Chicago since 1987, designing a wide range of core courses as well as courses on such topics as John Dewey, Political Philosophy, Happiness, The Chicago School of Philosophy, Philosophies of Environmentalism and Sustainability, and The Philosophy of Poverty. He has published very widely in philosophy, and his books include Essays on Henry Sidgwick (Cambridge, 1992), Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe (Cambridge, 2004, and winner of the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History), and, with Georgios Varouxakis, Utilitarianism and Empire (Lexington, 2005). His book The Happiness Philosophers is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in spring of 2017.  Through the Civic Knowledge Project, he has developed a wide array of public ethics programs affording rich opportunities for building community connections on the South Side of Chicago, including the award-winning Winning Words Precollegiate Philosophy Program–see . He is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO)–see .

Article #9: “Social Ontology & Black Lives Matter: Why It Matters Who Constructs Society” by Randall Harp (University of Vermont)

Race is understood to be a social construct, and yet it is a real element of our lives with real effects.  In this article I argue that it is important when discussing socially constructed concepts to understand who is doing the constructing, and how socially constructed concepts get transmitted and thus have the real effects on our lives that they do. I suggest that thinking about these two things helps us to understand what the Black Lives Matter movement tries to do, as well as what it would mean for the Black Lives Matter movement to be successful.
Randall Harp is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vermont. His research interests include the philosophy of action (in particular collective action), the philosophy of social and behavioral sciences, and metaethics. He has published articles on collective action, on scientific unification in the social sciences, on realism and anti-realism, and on the metaethical theory of Thomas Reid.

Article #10: “What’s Problematic About All Lives Matter? Philosophical Meditations On Black Lives Matter” by Mariam Thalos (University of Utah)

What does “Black lives matter” say that “All lives matter” does not? In particular, why do we appreciate a kind of conflict between them? This essay is about the way that social identities work in human life.  Appreciating the way that identity works will shed light on the way that “All lives matter” undermines the force of “Black lives matter.”
Mariam Thalos is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah. She is the author of two books: Without Hierarchy (Oxford, 2013) and A Social Theory of Freedom (Routledge, 2016). Her current writing is in the area of action and practical reason, especially on topics around decisions involving catastrophic risk. She is also writing a book to be titled “Seven Problems of Philosophy” intended to introduce a lay readership to the inner workings of academic philosophy today.

Article #11: “Is Ben Carson Right About The Black Lives Matter Matter Movement? Thoughts From A Philosopher Of Race” by Quayshawn Spencer (University of Pennsylvania)

After Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally, Ben Carson wrote a scathing critique of the movement in an op-ed for the USA Today. In it, Carson argues that BLM is focused on the wrong targets, such as rogue police officers that take black lives one at a time. Instead, Carson argues that BLM should be focused on institutions that destroy black lives by the generation. Here, I show that BLM and Carson are not in disagreement, but rather, Carson has misunderstood BLM’s mission, and probably because of the media’s distortion of the scope of BLM’s events.
Quayshawn Spencer, PhD is an Assistant Professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in the philosophy of race (esp. the nature and reality of race). He has a PhD in philosophy from Stanford University and a BA with honors in philosophy from Cornell University. In addition to Penn, he’s taught at MIT and the University of San Francisco. He has five original research articles on a philosophy of race topic. He has won six grants and four fellowships to conduct philosophy of race research. He has given 39 invited lectures on a philosophy of race topic, six of which were keynote lectures. Currently, Spencer has two books under contract with Oxford University Press: The Race Debates (an edited volume about race and medicine) and Four Views on Race (a co-authored monograph about the nature and reality of race). In addition, Spencer is writing a single-authored monograph on the nature and reality of race in the current United States, tentatively titled, The Case for Racial Pluralism.

Article #12: “Keeping The Doors Open: Hospitality, Hostility & History In Charleston” by Robert Bernasconi (Pennsylvania State University) & William Paris (Pennsylvania State University)

Starting from an account of the assassination of Reverend Pinckney and eight other Church members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, we reflect on the risks and demands of hospitality within the context of the racialized history of the United States.
New Bernasconi
Robert Bernasconi is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Penn State University. He is the editor of the journal Critical Philosophy of Race and the author of two books on Heidegger and one on Sartre as well as numerous essays on various aspects of critical philosophy of race and continental philosophy.
William Paris is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University with a focus on 20th Century Continental Philosophy, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Feminist Philosophy. His dissertation will focus on developing an ontology of Blackness through the work of Continental Philosophy and Black Feminist thinkers. He is attempting to construct an account of race and gender that is not bound to the theological and political heritage of the concept of sovereignty and thus will allow for a different understanding of the state and its relationship to systemic racism and sexism.

Article #13: “Should The Confederate Flag Be Removed? History, Race & Offensiveness” by J. Angelo Corlett (San Diego State University)

Should the confederate battle flag be removed from display in or at government buildings throughout the United States of America? Most who oppose such a display of said flag argue that it should be removed from such venues because it is offensive to several blacks and non-blacks in the U.S. But given the right to freedom of expression in the U.S., that the flag is offensive is not a sufficiently good reason to prohibit its display in or at governmental locations. I provide a better reason why it should be prohibited from display in governmental locations, one that is supported by both U.S. law and good ethics.
J. Angelo Corlett, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at San Diego State University where he teaches courses and seminars on ethics, philosophy of law, racism and social justice. He is the author of more than 100 books and articles on such topics, including his books: Heirs of Oppression (2010); Race, Rights, and Justice (2009) and Race, Racism, and Reparations (2003). He also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Ethics: An International Philosophical Review (Springer).

Article #14: “Reparations, Apologies, And Shattering The Founding Myths Of The United States: Challenges To Discussions Of Our Enduring Racist Legacy” by Professor Nick Smith (University of New Hampshire)

This article considers Ta-Nehisi Coates’ support for Congressman John Conyers’ HR 40, titled the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” I first consider why politicians in the United States resist even discussing the possibility of reparations for the enslavement of black people, and I then outline several issues where my work on collective apologies might provide guidance—and warnings—about how to navigate complex and contentious issues regarding redressing harms from the past that continue to cause injuries in the present.

Nick Smith (Profile)

Nick Smith is a professor and chairperson of the University of New Hampshire Department of Philosophy. A graduate of Vassar College, he earned a law degree from SUNY at Buffalo and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University. Before coming to UNH, Smith worked as a litigator for LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene, and MacRae and as a judicial clerk for the Honorable R.L. Nygaard of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He specializes in the philosophy of law, politics, and society and he also writes on and teaches aesthetics. Smith published I Was Wrong: On The Meanings of Apologies with Cambridge University Press in 2008 and Justice through Apologies: Remorse, Reform and Punishment in 2014 (also with Cambridge University Press). Smith regularly appears in the media, including interviews with Diane Rehm, TheWall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian UK,NPR, BBC, CBC, CNN, Fortune, Philosophy Talk, and others.

Article #15: “Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Case For Reparations & Spiritual Awakening: The Failure Of The Liberal Imagination” by Stephen Kershnar (Fredonia University)

In “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates sets out a powerful argument for reparations to American blacks for such horrific injustices as slavery, Jim Crow, Northern violence, racist housing policies, and so on. He argues that paying such a moral debt is a matter of justice. In addition, he argues, it is necessary if the U.S. is going to stop living a lie about the fundamental role white supremacy played in American life. He further claims that it will lead the American people to go through spiritual renewal. The federal government should not pay current black Americans reparations. First, distant historical injustices (slavery and Jim Crow laws) did not harm current blacks. The argument for reparations rests on an inheritance-based claim. The problem with this argument is that in some cases the relevant gift or bequest was not made, although it is unclear how often this did not occur. Another problem is that the claim to inheritance has been diluted because of increased population size after repeated generations. A third problem is that the amount of inheritance is not known with enough specificity to warrant compensatory justice. A fourth problem is that any inheritance-based claim is subject to mitigation-and-offset factors.

Stephen Kershnar is a distinguished teaching professor in the philosophy department at the State University of New York at Fredonia and an attorney. He focuses on applied ethics and political philosophy. Kershnar has written over eighty articles and book chapters on such diverse topics as torture, affirmative action, reparations for slavery, pornography, hell, adult-child sex, discrimination, the most valuable player, capitalism, equal opportunity, slavery, sexual fantasies, and the nature of pleasure. He is the author of seven books, including Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Defense (2015), Gratitude toward Veterans: A Philosophical Explanation of Why Americans Should Not Be Very Grateful to Veterans (2014), For Torture: A Right-Based Defense (2012), and Desert and Virtue: A Theory of Intrinsic Value (2010).

Article #16: “Ta-Nehisi Coates & Social Progress: Blackness & The Majesty Of Moral Self-Worth” by Laurence Thomas (Syracuse University)

There is no denying the wrongs of the past. However, there is nothing whatsoever that can take the place of a genuine change of heart and a commitment to the mutual flourishing of all. Such a genuine moral commitment is a moral and social gift that no amount of money can buy.
Laurence Thomas is Professor Philosophy and Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University and Affiliate Professor at Haifa University (in Israel). He is the author of more than 100 articles and the books (1) Living Morally; (2) Vessels of Evil: American Slavery and the Holocaust; and (3) The Family and the Political Self.


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