Whiteness as Wise Provincialism: Royce and the Rehabilitation of a Racial Category

Against the backdrop of eliminitivist versus critical conservationist approaches to the racial category of whiteness, this article asks whether a rehabilitated version of whiteness can be worked out concretely. What might a non-oppressive, anti-racist whiteness look like? Turning to Josiah Royce’s “Provincialism” for help answering this question, I show that even though the essay never explicitly discusses race, it can help explain the ongoing need for the category of whiteness and implicitly offers a wealth of useful suggestions for how to transform it. “Provincialism” is an exercise in critical conservation of the concept of provincialism, and while not identical, provincialism and whiteness share enough in common that “wise” provincialism can serve as a model for “wise” whiteness. Royce’s concept of provincialism thus can be a great help to critical philosophers of race wrestling with questions of whether and how to transformatively conserve whiteness. Exploring similarities and differences between wise provincialism and wise whiteness, I use Royce’s analyses of provincialism to shed light on why whiteness should be rehabilitated rather than discarded and how white people today might begin living whiteness as an anti-racist category.