Friday, September 25, 2020

Racism and power structures

Many, but not all, theorists think that racially based discrimination only counts as racism, and its perpetrators as racists, when the discrimination aligns with the power structures in society.

This has the following odd consequence: Simply by defeating Nazis militarily, without in any way changing their hearts or minds, you can turn them into non-racists.

Or imagine a protracted racially-based genocidal civil war between the Xs and the Ys, with the tide of war going back and forth. Sometimes, the Xs are ahead, but then the Ys pull ahead, and then later the Xs regain the lead. On the view in question, whenever the Xs are ahead, their acts of genocide constitute racism, but when they fall behind, it is the Ys that are the racists. (This is like an absurd opposite of the view that history is written by the victors.)

(One might object that genocide doesn’t count as discrimination. But it clearly does.)

(The above argument is only a vivid way of putting a well-known objection, that the alignment view of racism makes for too much dependence of the fact of racism on changing social conditions.)

One can escape from the above arguments by weakening the alignment principle to say:

  • x’s racially based discrimination only counts as racism when the discrimination aligns with the power structures that actually obtain or that x desires.

There will probably still be other counterexample.

As usual, my disclaimer: this is very far from my main areas of philosophy.

1 comment:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here is a potential counterexample to the modified principle. The genocidal racist's preferred social structure is not one where the the target group is subordinate: it is a social structure where the target group is nonexistent. (But could one argue that nonexistence is a form of subordination? That seems a bit of a stretch.)