Abstract

Hannah Arendt has been criticized for her “blindness” to the sociopolitical significance of race and racism in the West, most notably, in her “Reflections on Little Rock.” I consider three prominent explanations for Arendt’s wrongheaded conclusions in “Reflections.” First, the “category interpretation” presents Arendt’s conclusions as resulting from her rigid application of philosophical categories—the public, the private, and the social—to events in Little Rock. Second, the “racial prejudice interpretation” presents Arendt’s conclusions as resulting from her anti-black racism and her dismissal of the political strivings of African Americans. Third, the “cultural interpretation” presents Arendt’s conclusions as resulting from her misunderstanding of the sociopolitical significance of race and racism in the United States. Each of these interpretations advances our understanding of Arendt’s oversights, but I contend that they do not go far enough. I argue that white ignorance constitutes a fundamental epistemic error in Arendt’s work and, as such, strengthens current explanations of Arendt’s “blindness” to the history and political strivings of African Americans. If accepted, my analysis—following Charles Mills’s work on white ignorance—calls for increased theoretical work on epistemologies of ignorance, their function in Western political philosophy, and the affect of white ignorance on cognizers in American society.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-8692
Print ISSN
2165-8684
Pages
pp. 52-78
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-16
Open Access
No
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