- Penning Dissent:The Methodological and Historiographic Motivations behind the Writing of Another white Man’s Burden
Over the last decade, my interest in Josiah Royce has been motivated by a question: What is the relationship between historical and verifiable facts and philosophical interpretation or theory? This question is of tremendous consequence in philosophy since the discipline requires no empirical or archival evidence to substantiate the arguments that are made for or against a “specific philosopher” or thinker beyond the impression the philosopher and other philosophers have made about the “specific philosopher under scrutiny.” When it comes to the study of Black historical figures and the study of American racism, this question that motivated my interest in Josiah Royce and American Philosophy more generally became a methodological concern. I observed that among American philosophers there was no real need to understand the historical or scientific practices of nineteenth-century America. There remains a very real resistance to such periodization. What I observed was how Black thinkers (both past and present) were excoriated for theories of racism and arguments concerning the construction of the American empire that ran counter to the liberal ideology of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that held that American racism is no longer at the core of America itself.
Since 2005, my argument that Josiah Royce was a xenophobe and an insidious anti-Black racist was denied by many American philosophers who believed that white figures offered resources that overlap with the intellectual projects of Black scholars in the 1800s. Despite this claim, there has been little evidence presented as the result of any rigorous and thorough investigation of nineteenth-century Black texts to ever establish that Royce did agree with Black scholars during his time or that his social program of assimilation [End Page 10] would be compatible with the visions of liberation and freedom that Black figures held within his lifetime. The assertion that Black Americans would be sympathetic and supportive of any white political program that was not enslavement or Jim Crow segregation needs to be seriously reconsidered. Such an assumption sets the most meager criteria by which to evaluate the historical and ongoing debates concerning Black oppression in the United States and abroad. Perhaps this methodological assertion is not obvious to many philosophers, but it nonetheless provides evidence for why philosophy is thought to be an extension of colonial logic. American Philosophy functions as a colonialist apparatus through which white philosophers, acting as the benevolent civilized cultures, give Black philosophers, those exceptional people who are still members of primitive groups, the values and methods to better understand and clarify their historical existence. Because Black historical figures are thought to have no sociality, no worldview or value—no positive philosophical program—and are merely waging polemics in a negative philosophical program, any white philosophical program that is more inclusive than American slavery and segregation is deemed acceptable and better for Black people than the status quo.
As noted in Another white Man’s Burden, Black philosophers have long contested how America normalized the inferiority, enslavement, and extermination of peoples throughout the darker world. Their insights have fueled centuries of protest, revolution, and radical thinking across the world. Despite these facts, decades of decolonial analysis, post-colonial critique, and anti-colonial struggles have not seriously affected the inclinations or disciplinary disposition of many, if not most, of the philosophers who claim to be fundamentally concerned with the issues of race, racism, or sexual violence within American Philosophy. Often in sharp contradiction to the discoveries found in history, economics, sociology, and more evidence-based fields, philosophy persists in its assertions that merely having an intuitive revelation from reading the text substantiates facts about the life, motivations, and thinking of the philosopher(s) under investigation. American Philosophy remains unchanged by the work of non-white scholars because the racism of white figures like John Dewey, Josiah Royce, Jane Addams, and others remain relegated to the periphery of how young scholars are taught to theorize about racism and racial difference within the confines of the American philosophical endeavor.1 After a decade of exposing Josiah Royce’s racism in my initial...