Beyond the pale: A pragmatist approach to whiteness studies

Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (3):267-292 (2005)
The recent growth of whiteness studies has brought whiteness under increasing scrutiny as a racial category that is both constructed and morally problematic. Two approaches dominate this relatively new discourse on the proper approach to whiteness. The first approach is eliminativism , which starts from the insight that the discursive categories of race, including whiteness, lack the biological ground that Enlightenment era theorists thought they had, and therefore calls for the elimination of the idea of race. The other, more heterogeneous, approach is that of the critical conservationists who agree with the general spirit of the eliminativists (namely that the idea of whiteness lacks a biological referent) but for various reasons do not think that racial categories should be eliminated. This article suggests an alternative to these two models of whiteness studies. The alternative is grounded in the pragmatism of W. E. B. Du Bois and John Dewey. It reconciles the two dominant approaches by showing how white folk can develop a determinate, historical critique of whiteness. The pragmatist method advocated here fragments whiteness into more authentic and liberatory cultural categories that recognize the unwarranted privileges associated with whiteness and takes action to relinquish them. Key Words: critical conservationism • John Dewey • W. E. B. Du Bois • eliminativism • Terrance MacMullan • pragmatism • race • whiteness • Naomi Zack.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453705051706
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