Habits of Whiteness
A Pragmatist Reconstruction
Publication Year: 2009
Habits of Whiteness offers a new way to talk about race and racism by focusing on racial habits and how to change them. According to Terrance MacMullan, the concept of racial whiteness has undermined attempts to create a truly democratic society in the United States. By getting to the core of the racism that lives on in unrecognized habits, MacMullan argues clearly and charitably for white folk to recognize the distance between their color-blind ideals and their actual behavior. Revitalizing the work of W. E. B. Du Bois and John Dewey, MacMullan shows how it is possible to reconstruct racial habits and close the gap between people. This forthright and persuasive analysis of the impulses of whiteness ultimately reorganizes them into something more compatible with our country's increasingly multicultural heritage.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: American Philosophy
While the shortcomings in this work are mine, whatever insights it might hold grow from conversations I’ve held with people far wiser than myself. I would like to offer them my thanks. The people at the University of Oregon deserve my deep appreciation for letting me be part of such a genuine scholarly community. I thank my fellow Oregon grads, especially Alex Stotts, Kim Garchar, John Shuford,...
Introduction: “¡¿Que Haces Gringuito?!”
Race remains a divisive issue in the United States, and racism still festers as a poorly understood problem. However, an array of signs indicates that we live in a moment of special opportunity during which we might yet grow true communities and heal the wounds of racism. The maturation of a generation of thinkers born after the civil rights movement, the success of dynamic...
Part 1. History
1 Bacon’s Rebellion and the Advent of Whiteness
While the many interlocutors engaged in the discussions of whiteness disagree on various points, one thing is clear from all perspectives: the category of whiteness, along with the conceptual and embodied habits it engendered, has dramatically influenced the lives of people living in this part of the world for the last three hundred years.1 The history of whiteness has been...
2 The Draft Riots of 1863 and the Defense of White Privilege
People in America did not accept whiteness as a natural category right away, and people used the category in fairly disparate ways for a long time. It took a while for people to become habituated to the ideas of race and whiteness to the point that they took them as natural features of human biology. While whiteness was a legal designation that required concerted acts of...
Part 2. Pragmatist Tools
3 John Dewey and Inquiry
This chapter presents conceptual tools necessary for conducting a pragmatist reconstruction of whiteness directed toward facilitating the resolution of the problem of whiteness in the United States. This analysis will describe race both as a concept and as a set of habits, and therefore proposes a resolution to the current problem through a reconstruction of the concepts and habits of...
4 Race as Deweyan Habit
This chapter focuses on a work from the middle of Dewey’s oeuvre, Human Nature and Conduct (1922), to explicate a pragmatist understanding of human nature, instinct, and habit formation. The analysis moves from a discussion of a general pragmatist theory of categorization in the context of inquiry toward a concrete discussion of groups and races. In particular it examines the relationship between key concepts, namely race and whiteness, in the formation of...
5 Du Bois and the Gift of Race
This chapter explores the conservationist approach to race that Du Bois developed over the seventy-odd years of his scholarly career. It shows how Du Bois offers his readers a pragmatic view of race that is both constructive (that is, Du Bois recognizes that race came into being over time and is not an absolute or antecedent category system) and interactive (in that it exists at the confluence...
6 Du Bois’s Critique of Whiteness
We can now begin to combine Du Bois’s view of race with Dewey’s notions of concept and habit in order to develop a pragmatic critique of the problem of whiteness. Du Bois’s view denied race a simple, biological foundation while granting its very real effect on our collective lived experience and cultural gifts. To use Dewey’s language, Du Bois treats race as a...
Part 3. Contemporary Problems and Debates
7 Whiteness in Post–Civil Rights America
This passage is drawn from Anthony Cook’s The Least of These: Race, Law, and Religion in American Culture.1 It strings together the different gems of the civil rights movement like a necklace, starting with Brown v. Board of Education and ending with the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Cook, able to look back on a justice movement that reached its apogee after Du Bois’s death, shares...
8 Contemporary Debates on Whiteness
Now we can locate the pragmatist response developed heretofore within the literature on whiteness. With the exception of reactionary theorists, a pragmatist approach borrows from these approaches in terms of how to understand the problem of whiteness and how to respond to it. At the same time, when seen through a pragmatist lens, these approaches have certain shortcomings;...
Part 4. Reconstructing Whiteness
9 Habits of Whiteness
Many of our current problems surrounding issues of race and whiteness can be better understood and solved by applying the Deweyan model of race. To briefly recap: habits within a Deweyan framework are organic functions of an organism that facilitate its survival and growth within an environment. A habit is “an acquired predisposition to ways or modes of response.”1 They are the...
10 Whiteness Reconstructed
We gain a more functional understanding of our problems with racism once we examine their connection to habits of whiteness. These habits remain problematic because of both their negative effects and their transparency or invisibility to white folk. A pragmatist critique of whiteness seeks a middle ground between eliminativism and essentialism; it would follow thinkers such as...
Conclusion: Gifts beyond the Pale
I have been working on this scholarly project, on and off, for the last ten years, and I have been thinking about race and whiteness ever since my return to the States at age fourteen made being white seem awfully weird to me. Nonetheless, I am still trying to figure out how to bring these pieces together—the history, the gift, the need to balance pride and shame—in order to reconstruct the habits of whiteness that I live through. Luckily, I entered philosophy late enough...