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PHIL 380 (Topics): Philosophy of Race

PHIL 380: Philosophy of Race                                                                                                                          

Course Description:

In this course we will explore a number of important philosophical issues having to do with race and the role it plays in society.  Specifically, we will seek to understand and explore answers to three main questions:  1. What is race?  2. What is racism?  3. How should we respond to both?  These are difficult and complex questions that have no easy answers.  Therefore, whatever answers we do arrive at will be open to revision as we proceed throughout the semester, as we encounter additional, relevant issues.  Roughly, then, the course will be divided into three sections, the first of which takes on the difficult task of exploring what race is, and whether “race talk” is justified or useful. Next, we will analyze racism, parsing out the different levels on which racism operates, and how it does so.  Finally, we will apply our conclusions from the first two sections to various issues that one frequently encounters in the contemporary United States, including affirmative action, racial integration, and reparation for historical and contemporary wrongs.  We are also likely engage racist humor and cultural appropriation throughout the semester, but may do so explicitly in our final five weeks.

None of our work this semester will be a merely academic exercise where we will only study what others have thought.  Instead, in this course you will be joining an active and ongoing effort to better understand the world and how we should live in it.  Along the way we will come to better understand what philosophers of race do, how they do it, and why.  That will entail using and refining your ability to effectively think, listen, argue, read, and write.  Philosophical answers are not merely opinion, and are not easily found.  This will be a demanding class and I’m expecting a lot from you.

Required Course Materials:

There are two assigned books for this course:

                  “Race: A Philosophical Introduction” – Paul Taylor

                  “The Imperative of Integration” – Elizabeth Anderson 

Additionally, many assigned readings as well as the syllabus will be available on the class Blackboard page, which you can access by going to blackboard.smcm.edu.  All of the additional readings will be in .pdf format.

Course Requirements:

Your grade will consist of a collection of points you can earn over the course of the semester.  Although your grade is out of 100 points, there are 105 possible points you can earn (although it is extremely unlikely that anyone will earn anything close to that many).

Here is the breakdown of the assignments:

First paper                                                                     25 points

Second paper                                                               25 points

Short papers                                                                 50 points (5 points each x 10 = 50 points)

Class Participation                                                       5 points


                                                                        105 Total Possible Points                       


You must write and turn in two long papers in order to pass the class. They should be 10-12 pages in length. In writing the long papers your job will be to explain and critically engage a particular philosophical position.  Your papers must be informed by both our class discussion and relevant assigned texts.  That means, for instance, that if you raise an objection that we defeat in class or that an author considers (but that you ignore) you will not be given credit for that objection.  Your long papers should be submitted by email.

The 10 short papers should be two to three pages in length.  Your job in each will be to critically and philosophically engage the week’s readings.  There are 15 weeks in the semester, so you should pick and choose which five papers or weeks you want to take off.  You may write more than 10 short papers and I will count the 10 best grades towards your final grade.


You are not required to talk in class, but students who are active participants will receive up to 5 extra points towards their final grade. 

  • That does not mean that if you talk a lot you will receive any participation points.  Instead, your job is to productively contribute to the class discussion, which will sometimes mean asking good questions, and other times will mean providing answers to my questions or your colleagues’ questions. 
  • All students should be respectful of each other, of the authors, and of me at all times.  Failure to do so will negatively affect your final grade.
  • If you choose to sleep, text, play on your laptop, or otherwise fail to engage with the class discussion, you should not expect to receive any participation points. 


You are not required to come to class; I do not take attendance.  However, doing so will most likely dramatically improve your chances of doing well on your papers.  Since I do not take attendance you need not tell me why you have missed or will miss class (although you certainly may if you wish). 

Office Hours

I strongly encourage you to come and meet with me during my office hours or by appointment if you are having trouble with the class.  I also just simply like talking about philosophy and getting to know students, so I would be glad to have you stop by even if you feel comfortable with how you are performing in the class.  My office hours are Wednesdays from 1-4 and by appointment.  My office is Margaret Brent 204.

Students with Disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability and anticipate needing to make use of them, please contact me early in the semester so that we can work together to help you succeed in the course.  Additionally, my office is on the second floor.  If you are unable or prefer not to climb stairs, please let me know and we will arrange to meet elsewhere.

The Writing Center

"The Writing Center, located in the Library Annex, offers free consultations for student writers at all levels and in all disciplines. No matter what you're writing and no matter where you are in the writing process (generating ideas, drafting, revising or proofreading), the peer tutors in the Writing Center can assist you.  These tutors are friendly students and also excellent writers with special training as writing consultants. They would not grade or correct your papers; instead, they'd coach you and help you become a better writer.  I encourage you to use the Writing Center as much as possible. You can make a one-time or weekly appointment with the Center by visiting their website, www.smcm.edu/writingcenter and clicking 'Schedule an Appointment.' At the same website, you can find helpful resources on many writing-related topics.”

Reading and Discussion Schedule 

Week 1 – Introduction to Philosophy and Race

The Imperative of Integration – Chapters 1 and 2 - Anderson

Race – p. 1-26 - Taylor

Week 2 – Introduction to Race-Thinking

The Imperative of Integration – Chapters 3 and 4 – Anderson

Race – p. 27-69 – Taylor

Week 3 – What is Race?

Race – p. 70-118 – Taylor

A Social Constructionist Analysis of Race – Haslanger [e]

Week 4 – What is Race?

Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Black-White Binary – Alcoff [e]

You Mixed? – Haslanger [e]

Week 5 – What is Racism? - Individual

The Heart of Racism - Garcia [e]

Racism: Its Core Meaning – Blum [e] 

Week 6 – What is Racism? -  Institutional

Five Faces of Oppression – Young [e]

Heart Attack – Mills [e]

Week 7 – What is Racism?  - Ideological

Ideology, Racism, and Critical Social Theory – Shelby [e]

Oppression: Racial and Other – Haslanger [e]

Week 8 – What is Racism? – Continued

No New Readings

First Long Paper Due 

Week 9 – Spring Break

No Class – Spring Break!

Week 10 – White Privilege

White Ignorance - Mills [e]

What Should White People Do? - Alcoff [e]

Behind Blue Eyes – Winant [e]

Week 11 – Integration and Affirmative Action

The Imperative of Integration - Chapters 6 and 7 – Anderson 

Week 12 – Color Blindness

The Imperative of Integration - Chapter 8 – Anderson

Race – p. 156-181 - Taylor

Week 13 – Prisons

The New Jim Crow – Chapter 5 – Alexander [e]

Are Prisons Obsolete? – Chapters 1, 2, and 5 - Davis [e]

Week 14 – Beauty and Sexuality

Prisons for our Bodies, Get Your Freak On, and Booty Call – Collins [e]

Week 15 – Resistance

The Responsibility of the Oppressed to Resist Their Own Oppression – Boxill [e]

Victims, Resistance, and Civilized Oppression – Harvey [e]

Moral Responsibilities of Bystanders – Hill [e]

Letter from a Birmingham Jail – King [e]

Final Paper Due