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  • Royce, Racism, and the Colonial IdealWhite Supremacy and the Illusion of Civilization in Josiah Royce's Account of the White Man's Burden1
  • Tommy J. Curry

No colony can be made by a theory of Imperialism, it can only be made by people who want to colonize and are capable of maintaining themselves as colonists.

—Sir Sydney Olivier


As with most historic white figures in philosophy, their repopularization and reintroduction into contemporary circles commits their work, regardless of its initial silence, to speak to the problem of anti-Black racism in America. Josiah Royce is no different in this regard. In recent years, white scholars like Jacquelyn Kegley and Shannon Sullivan have introduced revisions to Royce's thought that make it appear multicultural and antiracist, despite the anachronism of such a contention. According to Kegley, "Royce believes, as others in the contemporary scene, that 'race' as a concept cannot be eliminated, [because] it plays too crucial a role, both positive and negative, in self- and social identification" (216). While Kegley is correct that contemporary scholars like Lucius Outlaw and Cornel West have adamantly defended the importance of race as a social and cultural entity, her claim is in stark contradiction to the racial eliminativism of other scholars like Anthony Appiah and Alain Locke, whom she also contends that Royce agrees with simultaneously.2 While it makes perfect sense for Kegley to try to put Royce in conversation with contemporary Black thinkers in race theory, her work is indicative of a trend aiming to gain currency for historic white thinkers in current race debates at the expense of historical accuracy. Black scholars who studied under Royce and applied his theories to the race problem from the mid-1900s onward, like William H. Ferris3 and William T. Fontaine,4 are ignored by white scholars because the first application of Roycean philosophy supported assimilationism. It is only today with the political and ideological [End Page 10] ethicizations of racial diversity and multiculturalism that Royce's work is interpreted as critically conserving race.5

In contrast to contemporary works on Royce and race, this article seeks to evaluate the current claims for the relevance of Royce's views in contemporary debates on race. I maintain that only by taking Royce out of his historical context (late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century thought) do his ideas on race acquire a level of importance that cannot be supported by the actual evidence he himself advances. Conversely, by actually placing Royce in his historical context, this article will demonstrate that Royce's 1905 article entitled "Race Questions" (later published as "Race Questions and Prejudices" in 1906) is an unapologetic extension of his 1900 article entitled "Characteristic Tendencies of American Civilization," where Royce adamantly champions British colonialism and assimilation as the remedy to the burgeoning race problem both at home and abroad. I begin with a critical analysis that places Josiah Royce's attitudes firmly within the boundaries of his times. In what follows, I will attempt to contextualize Royce's seemingly progressive stance on Japan as part of a more general reaction whites had during the early 1900s to Russia's defeat by the Japanese. Instead of reading Royce's stance on Japan as a moment of exceptionalism, I contend that Royce's attitude was in fact a popular disposition that signaled the inevitable shift of race science away from biological determinism toward more environmentalist explanations. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I will show that Royce's disposition toward Blacks was firmly rooted in a colonial and assimilationist logic that ultimately sought the cultural destruction of African-descended people. A closer look at Royce's prefatory remarks on British colonialism from 1900 and his valorization of English colonial administration in Jamaica actually reveals an insidious racial dynamic in Royce's thought that is anything but antiracist. Finally, having established Royce's philosophical stake in American assimilation and Western domination, I argue that the "provincial revision" currently in vogue amongst American philosophers working with Royce is simply not enough to overturn Royce's clearly racist investments in dealing with the race question.

If I Can Think It . . . Then I Can Do It—Reading Royce...


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pp. 10-38
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