Elevators, social spaces and racism: A philosophical analysis

Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (8):843-876 (2008)
Abstract
There has been a great deal of philosophical analysis supporting the position that race is semantically empty, ontologically bankrupt and scientifically meaningless. The conclusion often reached is that race is a social construction. While this position is certainly accepted by the majority of philosophers working within the area of critical race theory, the existentially lived and socially embodied impact of `race' is often left either unexplored or under-theorized. In this article, I provide a philosophical analysis of how `race' operates at the level of the embodied within the context of the quotidian, and how the recognition of instances of racism is grounded within an epistemological community. I demonstrate that race as lived is a powerful experience that emerges within an interstitial space of enduring myths and habituated bodily postures. My elevator example demonstrates that, as a lived reality, race is insidious and negatively impacts the integrity of, in this example, the black body and the white body. The black body is shown to undergo a process of `confiscation' through the phenomenon of the white gaze, which is a form of learned embodied seeing, while the white body elides any responsibility for holding the black body captive. The white gaze is theorized as a cultural achievement, which is productive of a form of ignorance. Instances of anti-racism, then, are not restricted to mere cognitive shifts in one's perspective, but must involve performing the body's racialized interactions with the world differently
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