Philosophy of the Arts

hum 291

What is Racism?

1. What is Racism?
2. How do we establish whether something (or someone) is being racist?
3. Doesn’t “is racist” imply a distinction between kinds of people?
Imagine you are in the supermarket at the cash register when you see a white man yell at a cashier, a black woman.
The man is a racist, you think. Well, that mere thought, without any further contextual specifics, is racist in itself. Because, what you are asking yourself is whether the man, who is clearly and typically a white man, is treating this woman, who is clearly and typically, a black woman, as … as typically black.

But, of course, it might very well be possibly that the woman at the register made some stupid mistakes, and the man is in a hurry, etc. The legitimate, and politically correct kinds of considerations that might make one person mad at another.
Racism is treating the other not as an individual but as an token of a kind, where the kind is a race.
Secondly, what is at stake is, also, the assumption that the agent choose to be racist. If everybody thinks thus and so a specific individual may not be culpable of holding on to these considerations: in that case, the system, not the individual, is racist.
Who knows, what future generations will get to think about how we treat certain people, such as our children, parents, or pet animals, or the trees or the molecules of the air. We may not be racists, but perhaps we are guilty of ecologism.

With such questions in your mind, ask yourself in what sense Conrad in Heart of Darkness can be held to have been racist.
Things may not be as clear-cut as postcolonial literary theory has it.

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