Does Race Best Explain Racial Discrimination?

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Abstract

Our concern in this paper lies with a common argument from racial discrimination to realism about races: some people are discriminated against for being members of a particular race (i.e., racial discrimination exists), so some people must be members of that race (i.e., races exist). Error theorists have long responded that we can explain racial discrimination in terms of racial attitudes alone, so we need not explain it in terms of race itself. But to date there has been little detailed discussion of whether it is better to explain racial discrimination in terms of race or in terms of racial attitudes alone. Our goal is to offer a novel and detailed argument in defense of explaining racial discrimination in terms of racial attitudes alone, by attending to the neglected phenomenon of misperception discrimination, which involves differential treatment due to misperceived race. We argue that the discriminatory action in misperception cases must be explained in the same way as cases where (according to the realist) the victim’s race is accurately perceived. Thus, the victim’s actual race cannot provide the best explanation. The main upshot of our argument is that explanatory arguments from racial discrimination to realism about race fail.

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Author Profiles

Daniel Wodak
University of Pennsylvania
Keshav Singh
University of Alabama, Birmingham

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