Philosophy of Race, PHI 411



Philosophy 411 Philosophies of Race Course Syllabus

Linda Martín-Alcoff

Department of Philosophy

523 Hall of Languages

Course Description:

What is "race"? Is it a valid biological category? Is it a valid census category? What is the relationship between the continued use of racial categories and the persistence of racism? Is race central to one's subjectivity, or sense of self? What race is a mixed race person? How should questions of racial identity be decided, and by whom?

This course will explore the philosophical assumptions behind concepts of race, and the political effects of racial identities. However, this will not mainly be a course on the ethics of race, but on the metaphysical legitimacy and social reality of racial designations, and their political effects.

Because of the variability of these issues across different cultures, we will mainly draw from readings about the United States focusing on white, African-American, Latina/o, American Indian and Asian American racial categories.

Course Procedure:

Classes will combine lectures and discussion. I will make initial introductory comments on the readings, and then we will have discussion. Therefore, students must come to each class and be prepared to discuss the readings.


1. Anthony Appiah

In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture

2. Charles Mills,

The Racial Contract

3. bell hooks

Killing Rage

4. David Theo Goldberg, ed.,

Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader

5. Maria Root, ed.,

The Multiracial Experience

There will also be required reading in a course reader, available by Saturday Jan. 17 at Campus Copy Center in Marshall Square Mall. These readings are identified below as (CR).

Course Requirements:

(1) Attendance and an informed participation in the class discussion is required. (15%)

(2) two in-class exams: one on February 12 and one on March 26. These will be based on the reading assignments. (50%)

(3) Teaching Collectives: each collective will select, research, organize, and present a class lecture/discussion on topics that have not been addressed by the course. The collective will be responsible for teaching the class for the assigned day in an organized, thoughtful, and imaginative way. Graded collectively. (10%)

(4) Final paper: based on a topic relating to the course materials and your own particular interests and concerns. All topics need to be cleared with me no later than April 9. These papers must be 8-10 pages typed double-spaced. (25%)

Students who miss no more than 3 classes for whatever reason during the semester will gain 1/3 letter grade at the end, for example, moving from a B- to a B or from a B+ to an A-.

There will also be two film nights; attendance is required, and if students write an analysis of the film shown they will get extra credit.

Course Outline

N.B. Changes to the following may be made where necessary and will be announced in class.

CR = Course Reader

LR = Library Reserve

January 13: Introduction to the course

Attend the “All of us are related; each of us is unique” art opening at Schine Student Center, 7 p.m. Thursday January 15. Be prepared to discuss the exhibit and your response to it in class on Tuesday January 20.

Section I: Race as a Scientific Category

January 15:

1. Gould, “American Polygeny and Craniometry” (Handout)

2. Marshall “Racial Classifications” (Handout)

3. Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin, “IQ: The Rank Ordering of the World” (Handout)

Section II: Race and the Self

January 20, 22:

1. Hegel: “Lordship and Bondage” (CR)

2. Fanon: chapter from

Black Skin/White Masks


3. DuBois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (CR)

4. Charles Taylor “The Politics of Recognition” in Goldberg

Section III: Race as a Social Category:

January 27, 29:

1. Omi and Winant, “Racial Formations” (CR)

2. Okihiro “Is Yellow White or Black?” (CR)

3. David Abalos “The Search for Latino Identity” (CR)

4. Howard Winant “Behind Blue Eyes: Whiteness and Contemporary U.S. Politics” (CR)

5. George Martinez “Mexican-Americans and Whiteness” (CR)

6. hooks, pp. 240-250

7. Bernita C. Berry “I Just See People” (CR)

8. Charles Gallagher “White Reconstruction in the University” (CR)

optional: David Roediger "Whiteness and Ethnicity" in

Toward the Abolition of Whitness


Ilan Stavans

The Hispanic Condition


February 3, 5, 10:

1. DuBois “The Conservation of Races” (CR)

2. Appiah Chapters 1 and 2

3. Michael Eric Dyson “Essentialism and the Complexities of Racial Identity” in Goldberg

4. Juan Flores and George Yudice “Living Borders/Buscando AmŽrica: Languages of Latino Self-Formation” (CR)


Section IV: Racisms

February 17, 19:

1. David Goldberg “Hate or Power?” (CR)

2. Charles Mills,

The Racial Contract

pp. 1-109

3. Okihiro, “Perils of Body and Mind” (CR)

4. Leslie Marmon Silko “Fences Against Freedom” (Handout)

February 24, 26:

bell hooks,

Killing Rage

pp.1-108, 119-133, 146-183, 251-273

Section V: Race as a Political Identity

March 3, 4:

1. Appiah, chapter 9

2. West, “The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning” (CR)

3. hooks, pp. 196-204


Section VI: Mixed Race Identities

March 17, 19, 24:

1. Langston Hughes “Passing” (CR)

2. Adrian Piper, “Passing for White, Passing for Black” (CR)

3. Root,

The Multi-Racial Experience

pages tba


Section VII: Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism

March 31, April 2:

1. Derrick Bell “Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy” (CR)

2. Goldberg, pp. 1-44

3. hooks pp. 184-195

4. Guillermo Gomez-Pena “Documented/Undocumented” (CR)

5. Ishmael Reed “America: The Multinational Society” (CR)

April 7, 9:

1. Goldberg, pp. 45-74, 107-139, 157-167, 203-217, 296-343

2. Noel Ignatiev “Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity” (CR)

Section VIII: Teaching Collectives

April 14, 16, 21, 23:

April 28: Conclusion

Lugones “Playfulness, World Traveling” (CR)