What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question

What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question

What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question

What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question

Synopsis

George Yancy brings together a group of thinkers who address the problematic issue of whiteness as a category requiring serious analysis. The text bringsa critique and philosophically sophisticated perspective to a central issue of contemporary society.

Excerpt

George Yancy

I see these souls [the souls of white folk] undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know. This knowledge makes them now embarrassed, now furious! They deny my right to live and be and call me misbirth! My word is to them mere bitterness and my soul, pessimism. And yet as they preach and strut and shout and threaten, crouching as they clutch at rags of facts and fancies to hide their nakedness, they go twisting, flying by my tired eyes and I see them ever stripped-ugly, human.

-W.E.B. Du Bois

WHITES HAVE A WAY OF speaking from a center that they often appear to forget forms the white ideological fulcrum upon which what they say (do not say) or see (do not see) hinges. In short, whites frequently lie to themselves. For example, a respected white philosopher-mentor of mine, upon finding out that I was passionate about pursuing issues in African-American philosophy, advised: "Make sure that you don't get pegged." I quietly thought to myself: "Pegged? I'm doing philosophy!" It immediately occurred to me that the introductory course in philosophy that I had taken with him some years back did not include a single person of color. Yet, he did not see his own philosophical performances-engagements with European and Anglo-American philosophy-as "pegged"; he simply taught philosophy qua philosophy. Such a philosophy only masquerades as universal. Philosophy is always already performed by bodies that are sexed, gendered, and culturally coded in some fashion, and is always already shaped by prior assumptions, interests, concerns, and goals that are historically bounded and pragmatically contextual. His advice carried the normative implication that focusing on African-American philosophy came with a penalty: "If you want to be considered a 'real philosopher,' don't focus on something as marginal as so-called African-American philosophy. . . ."

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