Northwestern Events Calendar


Global Theory Workshop Presents Abraham Singer

When: Monday, May 13, 2019
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Scott Hall, 212, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: John Mocek   (847) 491-5364

Group: Department of Political Science

Category: Academic


Racial Justice without Character: Structures, Agents, and the Extended Mind

A common trope in discussing the persistence of racial supremacy and subordination is to make reference to ingrained habits of those in racialized societies or, more poetically, the characters of those in such societies. I refer to such approaches to racial injustice and white supremacy as “characterological” arguments. Such arguments, in tandem with structural accounts of racism, claim that the problem isn’t that some individuals are bigots; the problem is that racist systems can exist even without bigots, and that the system also manages to affect our deeper, subconscious beliefs and feelings such that we enact racism while consciously disavowing it. In this paper I offer a friendly, though no less assertive, criticism of this characterological argument, based on studies in cognitive science and social psychology that give us reason to doubt that we have such fixed internalized structures determining our actions. As an alternative, I sketch a different way of understanding the persistence of racial injustice. Instead of seeing racism as being carried forth by deeply engrained internal characters, which are affected from without, we ought to see it as something carried on by a cognitive process that is inherently external and tied to our environments. Drawing on theories of the “extended mind” and distributed cognition, we can give an account of racial domination’s persistence and individual racist actions and behaviors, which is still primarily anchored in the environmental (and not egoistic) manifestations of structural racism. We are thus able to get an account of both macro-level social processes and micro-level individual action, without this controversial theory of character. This reformulation has normative consequences. Primarily it points toward a de-emphasis upon, if not the full-scale rejection of, contemporary therapeutic politics. If you want to change people’s minds –even their most hidden internalized minds– we ought to focus less on training and introspection, and more on changing people’s material and social environments.

Abraham Singer

Asst. Professor, Quinlan School of Business

Loyola University Chicago

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