Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Towards a Philosophy beyond Racism - Series Conclusion

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by Andrew Tebbutt and Héctor Acero Ferrer, Series Editors

This post is part of the series Uprooting Racism.

Over the past 18 months, we at ICS have been reflecting on the reality of systemic oppression and its impact on our institution and community. To bring focus to these reflections, we chose to begin our work with an exploration of the ways in which systemic oppression is weaved into our religious and scholarly tradition, attempting to identify how such tradition can speak to today’s world anew. One of the venues in which this conversation has taken place is Ground Motive, through this “Uprooting Racism” series. We invited members of our community to document their own reflections and conversations, certain that our internal discussions would be enriched through a broader, society-wide dialogue. We are grateful to the individuals who contributed to this series, as they provided a number of insights and responses that continue to nourish our community in its journey forward. In bringing this series to a close, we would like to highlight some key learnings from these contributions, so that they might continue to speak to us in our ongoing efforts to uproot systemic oppression in our context.

In her contribution to this series, Junior Member Abbi Hofstede describes systemic racism as one of the “pervasive weeds” that infects the soil on which ICS has founded itself. One of the striking aspects of this metaphor is the way it conveys the hidden and deeply-entrenched nature of systemic racism, which operates, as Abbi notes, less at the level of overt opinions and attitudes and more at the level of institutional habits and social structures—in “the roots,” so to speak, of the worlds in which we live and move. Together, the posts that make up our series “Uprooting Racism” reflect on this deeply rooted nature of racism, each grappling from a distinct vantage point with the past and present of ICS as an institution committed to the realization of divine justice in the world, while not immune to complicity with systemic injustice. In his contribution, ICS alumnus Dean Dettloff draws our attention to the willful blindness to racial injustice cultivated by—even progressive, justice-oriented—forms of Christianity, and we have been challenged to reflect soberly on how our Christian worlds often perpetuate oppressive and colonialist orders. Abbi points to the difficulty of recognizing the manifestations of racism and white supremacy, which all too often operate through socially accepted codes of conduct, and whose “uprooting” falls specifically to the responsibility of white people. In his post, CPRSE Research Associate Andrew Tebbutt attempts to navigate some of the subtle pitfalls whereby efforts in antiracism end up re-centralizing whiteness, and ICS founding Senior Member Henk Hart (whose insights we have been blessed to publish in this series as well as in the series “From Henk's Archives,” prior to his passing in March 2021) encouraged us hold our focus on the full breadth of discrimination, and to attend to the intersection of anti-black racism with discrimination toward other peoples of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

We originally envisioned including more than four contributions to this series. That we are “ending” the series here, however, is by no means a result of the conversation about institutional racism and ICS fizzling out. On the contrary, as a community we have seen this conversation evolve, spilling beyond the context of Ground Motive to a number of exciting and encouraging venues. For example, the conversations represented by “Uprooting Racism” also led to renewed efforts to incorporate topics related to race and racism in the ICS curriculum, as reflected in courses such as “Pragmatism, Race, and Religion,” “Colonization, Racial Identity, and What it Means to be Human,” and “Cultivating Learning Communities of Grace.” Additionally, in the fall of 2021, members of the ICS community participated in a colloquium series entitled “Philosophy Otherwise: Relearning the Philosophical Craft,” which invited guest scholars from around the globe to dialogue with us not only about institutional racism but also about the demands facing philosophy (and theology) in light of struggles for gender equality, justice for Indigenous communities, and the colonialist undertones of Western thought.

In wrapping up “Uprooting Racism,” then, we intend to signal this broadened scope of our reflections on our institutional practice, and to focus more directly on their implications for philosophy. As many of the contexts listed above have urged, the institutional roots of racial injustice are intertwined with—if not identical to—certain conceptual roots, placing a special burden on institutions of higher learning such as ICS centred on engagement with ideas. Briefly put, thinking philosophically about systemic injustice, oppression, and marginalization may not reach the full depth of these issues, to the extent that part of the problem is philosophy itself. Consider the following statements from philosopher Linda Martín Alcoff:

If we say that race is not an ontological category, and that it is a mere artificial overlay on top of more basic and more real categories, we risk losing sight of how significant the effects of racial identities have been, and how those effects have permeated every philosophical idea. Ontology itself might then be able to avoid a needed self-critique. Metaphysics and epistemology could proceed with their habitual disregard for issues of race, and political philosophy could continue to introduce racial topics only in the stages of applied theory. *

These remarks appear in the overall context of Alcoff’s challenge to the view that the “socially constructed, historically evolving and culturally variegated” nature of racial categories entails that “race” is ultimately not real. Denying race the status of an “ontological category,” she argues, “exacerbates racism” by “conceal[ing] the myriad effects that racializing practices have had and continue to have on social life, including philosophy.” Reasoning along with Alcoff here, our goal in moving beyond this series is to deepen and raise the stakes of our “self-critique,” exploring the relationship not only of our institutional life but of our very philosophical practice to the struggle to dismantle racism. 

In launching our next Ground Motive series, “Philosophy Otherwise: Knowledge Reconsidered, Learning Reimagined,” we look forward to continuing the efforts initiated here to lament our complicity in structural injustice, to listen to silenced and marginalized voices, and to imagine new futures for Christian thought and education beyond racism.

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* See Alcoff, Linda Martín, “Philosophy and Racial Identity,” in Ethnic and Racial Studies Today, 32–33, 2013.