In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Racing and E-racing Pragmatism
  • William David Hart (bio)

A problem represents the partial transformation by inquiry of a problematic situation into a determinate situation. It is a familiar and significant saying that a problem well put is half-solved.

John Dewey (LW 12:112)1

I. Introduction

Historians refer to the period from 1890 to 1940 as the “nadir.”2 This low point in American race relations was a period of unparalleled racial terror against emancipated Blackamericans. Lynching reached a high tide as did other forms of mass antiblack violence such as racial cleansing, in which every black resident in some counties and towns was driven out and dispossessed. The racial cleansing in Forsyth County Georgia in 1912 is an exemplary case. The fact that the county is still almost lily-white one hundred years later, testifies to the lingering trauma of the event. We were reminded of that trauma in 1987 when an angry mob of Ku Klux Klaners and other assorted racists prevented an interracial group of marchers, led by civil rights veteran Hosea Williams, from entering Forsyth County. This county is a leading example of what analysts call a “sundown” county. Such counties and towns were places where black people were warned, sometimes explicitly with signage, “Nigger don’t let the sun go down on you in this town.”3 The memory of what had happened in these places terrified black people who avoided them. Four generations later, twenty years after the zenith of the “modern” civil rights movement, nineteen years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Williams-led march revealed just how intense the pathological, transgenerational, antiblack animosity was. The creation of sundown counties and towns—for which terror-inducing lynchings, some with the ritualistic qualities of human sacrifice,4 were often the catalytic [End Page 97] event—was ubiquitous from 1890 to 1940. It is ironic that this period would also be among the most creative in the history of American philosophical pragmatism.

Genocidal dispossession of the Indian and enslavement of Africans are the founding traumas of American history and identity. Cornel West has long argued that these traumas barely register in the writings of the leading pragmatists. United and divided by various narratives of pragmatism—indeed, widely regarded as founding fathers—Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey do not grapple in any obvious, sustained, or significant way with the realities of racial ideology, the practices of racism, and the structures of white supremacy. Though highly visible, as the spectacular phenomena of sundown cities and counties demonstrate, these realities—the “diabolical three”—are virtually invisible to them. In their work, the face of the black racial other is opaque, if not invisible—she has no “face.” Here I speak of “a certain blindness,” ethical and political, regarding the founding traumas of American history. In this paper, I explore attempts by contemporary pragmatists to “re-race” what the tradition has “e-raced” through inadvertence or a studied inattention. This inquiry is limited to two texts. The first is the edited volume Pragmatism and the Problem of Race (2004), regarding which I further limit my inquiry to “Part One: Pragmatism as a General Approach to the Problem of Race.” The second text, which shares an author with the first, is In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America (2007). The authors of these texts generally share a Deweyan approach to pragmatism. I suppose that this is appropriate because Dewey is distinctive among the founders of pragmatism in calling for a reorientation of philosophical inquiry from the professional problems of philosophers to the practical problems of men, as he put it before the age of gender-inclusive language. Unlike Peirceans and Jameseans, The Deweyan philosopher has a special obligation to address the issue of racism. To put it bluntly, if pragmatism has a race problem, then Deweyans bear a special responsibility to identify, analyze, and offer strategies of amelioration.

II. Pragmatism and the Problem of Race

Gregory Fernando Pappas is the first of six analysts whom I will consider. The title of his essay is “Distance, Abstraction, and the Role of the Philosopher in the Pragmatic Approach to...