Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race

By K. Anthony Appiah; Amy Gutmann | Go to book overview

PART 5.
WHAT'S MORALLY RELEVANT ABOUT
RACIAL IDENTITY?

I have saved for last the deepest challenge to color conscious policies. It is the worry that they perpetuate a troubling kind of consciousness, race or color consciousness, which it should be their purpose to destroy. Even if this worry does not lead us to endorse a color blind perspective, it does introduce a sobering note into any call for color conscious policies. “The harm of perpetuating race consciousness,” as David Wilkins puts it, “must be balanced against the harm of ignoring reality.”69

Before we begin the balancing, however, we need to be clear about the harm of perpetuating color consciousness. Not all kinds of color consciousness are equally troubling. A common kind— which I shall call race consciousness to distinguish it from a more contingent kind of color consciousness—is troubling, exceedingly so. Race consciousness is the kind of consciousness that presumes the existence of separate human races and identifies race with essential natural differences between human beings that are morally relevant. Either phenotypical differences such as facial features and skin color are accorded moral significance in themselves or, more often, they are considered indicative of some deeper, morally significant differences between blacks and whites.

Contingent color consciousness, or what we can simply call color consciousness for short, rejects race as an essential, natural division among human beings and also rejects the idea that there are morally relevant differences that correspond to racial divisions among human beings. Color consciousness entails an awareness of the way in which individuals have historically come to be identified by superficial phenotypical differences—such as skin color

____________________
69
David B. Wilkins, “Two Paths to the Mountaintop? The Role of Legal Education in Shaping the Values of Black Corporate Lawyers,” Stanford Law Review 45 (July 1993): 2004.

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