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  • Editor's Note
  • William David Hart (bio)

Four of the articles in this "Special Issue: Race and Antiblackness in American Philosophy and Theology" were first presented as papers at the 2017 annual meeting of the Institute of American Philosophy and Theology (IARPT). The conference theme was "Race, Antiblackness, and Philosophy." As the truism holds, "race" is a construct. But constructs are real—every bit as real as rocks and minds. Constructs, such as race, are the sum of their effects: consequent rather than antecedent realities, historical products of our practices, theories, and judgments. The meaning and salience of race is not uniform but signifies most powerfully around a white/black binary. This binary semiotic orders the meaning of race, the valuation (hierarchical scaling) of racialized bodies and minds, and the differential experiences of raced subjects. Conceptually, everyone is "raced." As a practical matter, peoples' experience of race varies drastically; that is, race marks bodies, shapes minds, and structures lives in very different ways. Blackness is the abject against which other positions within the racial hierarchy are defined. Explicit in the conference theme is the challenge to think of race and antiblackness as correlative; to think of antiblackness as the engine that drives all forms of race-making. The call for papers challenged those submitting proposals to consider the following questions: Do the empiricist, naturalist, and pragmatist traditions that IARPT comprises have the resources to grapple with antiblackness and race? Is the generally liberal orientation of these traditions sufficient to address the radical depths of these issues? What kind of reconstruction of the intellectual traditions of IARPT would be necessary? Is race a "terministic screen" that diverts attention from the real object? Is race a euphemism for white supremacy and antiblackness?

"Constellations: Capitalism, Antiblackness, Afro-Pessimism, and Black Optimism," by William David Hart, provides an overview of the theoretical discourse on antiblackness. Among the questions addressed is, "How do we account for the perdurance of antiblack racism; is antiblackness an artifact of capitalism or a feature of Western metaphysis?"

In "How Racism Should Cause Pragmatism to Change," Robert Cummings Neville describes three thematic transformations that pragmatism needs to undergo. First, Neville argues, drawing on Peirce's cosmological category of "secondness" will enable pragmatists to better understand the nature of antiblackness. Second, the pragmatist theory of habits can be a powerful tool for analyzing racism, especial when we understand antiblackness as a ritualized performance. Third, pragmatists need to mitigate standard notions of a unified community that make it difficult to recognize and deal justly with difference. [End Page 3]

Daniel J. Ott's "Nonviolence and the Nightmare: King and Black Self-Defense" addresses the morality of violent self-defense in the face of antiblack violence. He draws heavily on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the insights of James Cone. Without denying the complexity of the issue or arguing that black people have a higher duty than others to refrain from violent self-defense, Ott argues for a higher, nonviolent ethic rooted in the life and philosophy of King. Ott attempts to argue for this position without endorsing the notion that the use of violence in self-defense should be a privilege of white people.

In "Rituals of White Privilege: Keith Lamont Scott and the Erasure of Black Suffering," Julia Robinson Moore and Shannon Sullivan use the tradition of ritual theory associated with Catherine Bell to explore forms of antiblackness that performatively render black suffering illegible. They address this dynamic in several ways but paradigmatically in terms of antiblack police violence and the case of Keith Lamont Scott, who was fatally shot by Charlotte police officers in 2016.

Howard Thurman was an American original. In "True Religion, Mystical Unity, and the Disinherited: Howard Thurman and the Black Social Gospel," Gary Dorrien provides a spiritual anatomy of this important figure who deeply influenced King and the tradition of nonviolent spirituality and resistance to antiblackness. On this point, Dorrien's account dovetails with Daniel Ott's contribution to this special issue.

In sum, these articles challenge American philosophers of religion to take up the urgent work of demystifying the complex effects in American life of racism, race, and antiblackness. [End Page 4...


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