Friday, November 25, 2011

What if Africa Conquered Europe?: Charles Mills Explains How Race is a Social Construct



As I did with Joel Olson, here is another thinker whose work I often discuss.

In my recent posts on Daily Kos (especially), and here on WARN (to a far lesser degree), some readers do not seem to get how race is a fiction, a true lie, a social construct, yet one that is nonetheless real. There is much emotion here--when we call out whiteness and the relationship between race and power, many people believe themselves to be experts because they "possess" a racial identity; this is far afield from having done the hard work and research necessary in order to develop expertise on such topics.

Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated by how so many in the general public are unable (or unwilling) to grasp these basic priors. We have to do so much work to explain the very idea that power is real; then we have to explain how individuals are invested in social institutions and systems (such as race, gender, class, and sexuality); and finally, now exhausted, the work still has to be done to soothe hurt feelings and clarify how none of this is "personal."

In less than academic-speak I could care less about how people, White folks especially, feel about these basic matters. But inevitably, much energy is spent allowing for personal anecdotes, qualifiers, exclusions, and the "but not me" card, while still trying to explain how macro-level forces, more often than not, operate independent of individual and personal intent.

Ultimately, to correct that gap in understanding (an imperative often colored by a desire to reject the messenger in order to save one's pride, as well as a yearning to live in a cocoon of safe and warm denial), it is both useful and helpful to go to the original citation so to speak, those scholars who we make reference to, and channel, in making claims about race and politics. Expertise should not be based on magic tricks or subterfuge; our Lengua Franca ought to be made naked.

In all, Charles Mills is cool folks for a variety of reasons. First, he is one of the few black philosophers in the game, and he smartly locates race as central to political theory, as opposed to secondary to it. From the great book The Racial Contract, to The Contract and Domination, he is fearless. Plus, Mills has a British-Afro Caribbean accent. In my neck of the woods, he also gets extra points on the authority scale for such a persuasive and cool affect.

True, I am a ghetto nerd academic fanboy of Charles Mills. He is very nice and patient in person. I also find his dry humor, and sharp wit, disarming. Nevertheless, Mills has so much to offer on these matters.

There are a series of lectures with Dr. Mills now on Youtube. For anyone at all interested in a serious study of the relationship(s) between race, politics, and philosophy, these lectures are all worth watching.

26 comments:

fred c said...

"Those who study these questions for a living . . ." Ah, therein lies a tale. You could have said, "those of us . . ." But you are a modest man.

Many people these days, including some prominent commentators herein, feel like the Social Sciences have outlived their usefulness. I disagree, these are important areas of inquiry.

"Fiction," "construct," certainly true. Illusion, even. Myself, I wonder if individuality itself isn't an illusion that will fall away someday. But these things are persistent, especially the race part. It's not only the evidence of our eyes, there's language, etc, all of the elements of culture and history, family and racial history.

It is only by the study of such things that we may hope to wake up from these illusions. So yes, your work is valuable, whatever some people say.

CNu said...

Afrodemia hasn't yet won any significant battles with its academic detractors in the classics and the liberal arts, its political detractors outside the academy - and the most dangerous racists now at work - the hardcore technical point sources still literally laboring daily in the vineyards of applied human biodiversity.

The afrodemic game has had 40 years to prove its mettle and it.has.failed.

Long overdue time to stop the whining; Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated by how so many in the general public are unable (or unwilling) to grasp these basic priors. and get back to the Booker T. basics as these now exist (STEM disciplines) and can be immediately and practically applied to the more pressing issues of food, energy, and personal security.

Black folks struggling with food deserts, epidemic unemployment, and basic safety and security issues while afrodemic "scholars" have failed to effectively articulate ANYTHING usefully and plainly enough for everybody to even understand, still less buy-in to.

This most feeble of the incredibly feeble and unemployable liberal arts "ism" studies - seek centrality as a repository for the social and moral conscience of black life?!?!?!

WTF?!?!?!?!

Nothing.could.be.more.ridiculous..,

Thrasher said...

Ditto Fred your comments were right on!

As usual CNU spits out his daily bitterness regarding anything Black his degree of self hate and low self esteem is as always a hallmark of this demeanor and comments.

CNu's contempt for the scholarship of the study of ism's is nothing new and very tiresome. I bet CNu wears facial cream that lightens his complexion..lol,lol,lol

CD your body of work and scholarship is not only informative, brillant but truly life altering..

Empty forgettable people like CNu exist to remind me of how far we have come and how critical the work of people like CD,Mills, West and others mean to our lives ..

CNu said...

rotflmbao..,

jiggaboo, CNu is school for you!

Thrasher said...

CNu,

Go eat some more turkey it may help your bi-polar condition as well as your self hate for of your dark hue...lol,lol,lol

chaunceydevega said...

@Fred. That is part of the problem. With a sense of threat and that a great economic collapse is underway, there are forces of retrenchment at work who want to limit what we study, how it is done, and to what end. This is really a symptom of a bigger problem. These are perilous times as one of the few places, very few, where the right, neo-liberalism, and austerity is being questioned is by some (notice the emphasis) who work in the academy. adjunctize them, get rid of tenure, and then academic freedom...that is the plan, then check and mate.

@Cnu. I love the Cnu vs. Thrasher fights, sort of like Rocky 2. But I am curious, what is driving the backlash against blacks in the academy? Is it your calculus for end of days survival and all we need are STEM fields, trade schools, and those who can live off of the land? No high minded philosophers need apply? Something else going on? Enamored with OWS? Do share.

@Thrasher. You two need to get in the ring. Tell me more about your adventures in DC. What is going on?

CNu said...

what is driving the backlash against blacks in the academy?

lol,

what is driving the backlash against negroes in the conservatives?

when the least capable, least qualified, least worthy of emulation - are somehow miraculously brought to the forefront of popular attention - then you just KNOW that something is rotten in Denmark.

many people believe themselves to be experts because they "possess" a racial identity; this is far afield from having done the hard work and research necessary in order to develop expertise on such topics.

Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated by how so many in the general public are unable (or unwilling) to grasp these basic priors.


How can the self-taught Hon.Bro.Minister - by himself 50 years ago - have kept it so straight up, simple, and plain, but three generations of house negroes in the academy require "hard work and research necessary in order to develop expertise" and "grasp of basic priors" in order to be understood?

respectable.negroe.puh-leeze...,

nomad said...

"Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated "

You get frustrated because you have conveniently overlooked a few things. And those of us who think for themselves are going to point them out.

chaunceydevega said...

@cnu. What is that old expression, folks who don't have to work as hard at something tend to forget how to appreciate it? I do think you are onto something about how intellectual work by people of color was at one time inherently political--given we were thought of by white supremacists as subhuman and any act of black intelligence was radical to them--now, the inheritors don't know what to fight for. relevance perhaps?

@Nomad. For example? Do share. I get frustrated by willfully stupid people who want to assert expertise where they have none--thus the example of my contempt for the "I feel xyz" crowd and "therefore it must be true" game that many play on these issues.

CNu said...

I do think you are onto something

Very white of you, thanks...,

intellectual work by people of color was at one time inherently political

and now, poodle-assed house negroe-ology is so obscurantic and ineffable that it's dayyum near as safe as cultic fringe lunacy from Farrakhan.

now, the inheritors don't know what to fight for. relevance perhaps?

you shall know them by their works..., the inheritors are untalented, incompetent, self-dealing mediocrities known back in the day derisively as "responsible kneegrows".

priority numero uno for the 21stg century new media house kneegrow is getting paid. because of that fact, massa rest very easy knowing that his associate and assistant professor jiggaboos skurred to say anything too straight up, simple, direct or plain..., hail, a true house kneegrow more inclined to go-in on the Occupy movement than to say anything directly, publicly, or popularly incendiary.

chaunceydevega said...

Cnu.

This could be a speech for the sequel to the remake of Planet of the Apes. Caesar the talking chimp could stand atop the ruins of a burnt out city and deliver this tour d'force:

"priority numero uno for the 21stg century new media house kneegrow is getting paid. because of that fact, massa rest very easy knowing that his associate and assistant professor jiggaboos skurred to say anything too straight up, simple, direct or plain..., hail, a true house kneegrow more inclined to go-in on the Occupy movement than to say anything directly, publicly, or popularly incendiary.

CNu said...

By Charles Mill's standards, Ward Churchill the blackest professor in ethnic studies in America, and the neutered house-kneegrow collective has all seen and processed what real balls will get you up in the Big House...,

Thrasher said...

CD,

I have encountered heard CNu types all of my life as a Black person in America nothing new just tired of the same beats..

BTW I am still in a learning curve with DC it is an odd place where so much is in play from the usual know it all white liberals to privledged white southern conservatives, Black apologists with credentials, lots of academic types, lots of immigrants especially Black ones who in the racial pecking order have contempt for home grown DC negroes and coloreds...lol,lol

Of course once I figure out the code I will navigate and dominate as a FREE BLACK MAN...lol,lol,lol

Thrasher said...

CD,

I have encountered heard CNu types all of my life as a Black person in America nothing new just tired of the same beats..

BTW I am still in a learning curve with DC it is an odd place where so much is in play from the usual know it all white liberals to privledged white southern conservatives, Black apologists with credentials, lots of academic types, lots of immigrants especially Black ones who in the racial pecking order have contempt for home grown DC negroes and coloreds...lol,lol

Of course once I figure out the code I will navigate and dominate as a FREE BLACK MAN...lol,lol,lol

sabrinabee said...

Thank you, CDV. Definitely food for thought.

geerussell said...

First off, this was my first exposure to Dr. Mills. Thanks for that.

Listening to his lecture I couldn't help but slip into comparing his view of race to another artificial construct, that being money.

Money is purely a human construct with no analog in the natural world or biology. We build great systems, institutions, nations and arrangements around it.

State money is an expression of power, controlled by a monopolist and ultimately backed by violent coercion.

There's great disagreement on what money is, where it comes from and how it works.

...and so on and so forth.

So yeah, I had a very easy time accepting the idea that race can be a social construct and at the same time very real and important.

nomad said...

@CD
Of course you're right. On second reading I did jump to an unwarranted conclusion. Sorry, man. Yeah. I can see where that might actually be frustrating.

I was thinking you were dismissing unorthodox approaches to the subject

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. Thinking outside of the box is the thing. No dismissal here.

nomad said...

Ah, yes. Systems of racial classification. That is the thing. It's not really biological, except to Americans, who came up with this ridiculous one drop rule, which we all diligently obey. A brave new system created by the new Aryans in their new country. There's only black and white. There is no in between. Funny though, with this radical new official one drop system, they were never quite able to eradicate the preexisting racial classification system; the 2 tier system. It lives on informally. In this system mulattoes play a crucial roll. Legally, one drop might define a person as black; but socially there is something else going on, in this not so colorblind society. There is racial intermediacy. And it is an important socio-cultural determinant. Do you really think a black man with no familial connection to the white world could become President? They would never pass the paperbag test. The white half of Obama's heritage has nothing to do with his skin color. The white half is in that family indoctrinated white mind of his. Obama is the white power structure's greatest and most devastating creation.

One drop. The only mistake J. Edgar Hoover made -applying the official draconian one drop rule- was being born black. Well, not the only one...but the first, anyway.

nomad said...

Correction:
"they were never quite able to eradicate the preexisting racial classification system; the 3 tier system."

3 tier system. That's what I meant to say.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad blacks like you publish your hatred and intracism now mixed race blacks can finally see your negro trashed stank selves for who you are and demand a new category. Mixed race folks need to leave the black race to fend for themselves. Ginger white is what she is mixed. Black is a category created by slave owners to increase their population. People are allowed to be mixed . The real liars are folks like Julia Roberts angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp who really pass for white. Not poor down and out women of color who openly date jet black niggers like hermann cain. The mixed race woman vote supported obama before especially those in the south but now their is new talk. All this put down of lightskinned women by niggers like you is causing a stir in elite circles like the links inc. aka. delta and other elite groups. The women are turning on obama they see through this latest trick to try to clean up Michelle obamas image just becaue she got booed at a nascar event. Google it. Women like Valerie Jarret (google her) have done nothing but work hard for obamas stank ass and she looks whiter than Ginger white. Mixed race women will be on a campaign to pull out from obama and from all you niggas.

Removing myself from you said...

I agree. I belong to one of the "elite" organizations that the above writer named. At our meeting just this saturday there was "talk" of how bad Ginger white was made to look. It was a slam against light skinned women many of whom supported obama. The reality is that most light skinned mixed race women in the south are wealthy , own homes and are only sleeping with their husbands. I am going to send a mass email after I finish this post to many of those in my several organizations to read all these hateful websites to see what regular black folks really think of mixed race, light skinned and middle class blacks. We do need to pull out of being supportive. No more support for obama or for any blacks such as those on this website. We need to form a new racial category as well. Lets see how full blacks fend for themselves in this culture. I will not rest until I reach as many as possible and shaare with them the hatred and evil on this website. Most middle class light skinned women are too respectable to read the trash on here but not anymore. Its time for the group of blacks you are always trashing to become aware of you and pull support on money funding and everything else that is liberal and left wing.

creole gem said...

Its time mixed race women leave the black race entirely. Its time we stop supporting the Dems altogether. Its finally time to stop taking the abuse, violence,backlash, and ugliness that the black race dishes out. Blacks hate us. Leaving the black race will be the best thing that ever happened. Mixed race women must learn to exclusively date and marry white men and never again know of anything nigger.

chaunceydevega said...

What fun. So you wrote 3 posts? First as anon, then as taking Removing, then as Creole. You schizophrenic or is this a failed effort at generating some type of echo chamber of one?

Entertaining though.

herman cain said...

The reason people are confused is because there are a bunch of people with a lot of black dna living as white folk in the state of north carolina. Now these are not light skinned blacks living black lives going to black churches marrying other blacks its not those folk. These are people you pass by everday and don't realize that according to the one drop rule they are black. They know they have a black ancestor back there from slavery but they go for white. They go to white churches and live white. Think about it if Ginger White is black then why is Marie Osmond White they look just alike. Why was natalie wood considered white they look just alike. Why is Justin Bieber white they look alike. Why is Johhny Depp considred white they look just alike. Why are the Kardasians considred white Ginger is whiter than them. The list goes on and on. So many folks are passing around the world. When you see whites obsessed with the black race and black issues like the ones on this website they are ususally whites with black dna. Real whites dont worry about blacks this much.

CNu said...

Did you pull an IP address for this indignant octoroon infestation? Not only did you get high-yalla fever, but you also got high-yalla loving "italians" too on this other thread!

Priceless.comedy.gold...,