Common Hour speaker Sally Haslanger discusses modern racism, how to end it

By Sarah Frazer || Contributing Writer

In this week’s Common Hour, entitled “Racial Ideology and Racist Practices: Moving Beyond Critique?,” Sally Haslanger presented to the F&M community the different ways people have studied racism before and offered her take on the reason for the continued prevalence of racial inequality and discrimination. Based on her analysis, she then suggested ways to combat and eradicate racism in our society.

Haslanger began her talk by affirming that racism and discrimination still exist in our society, and that despite the significant gains in the 1960s, people of color still suffer from inequality and bigotry. According to Haslanger, scholars have attributed the persistence of racial prejudices to implicit bias, meaning that people are racist subconsciously and unintentionally. Scholars argue that this prejudice is ingrained in people from the time they begin being socialized into society. Thus, people act quickly based on unfounded stereotypes. These biases, scholars suggest, are responsible for racism today, as most forms of bigotry are more subtle now than they were in the past. Haslanger does not agree with these scholars. She posits that implicit bias cannot be the sole factor contributing to racism, as systemic racism exists as well. Furthermore, it is no accident that many people hold similar prejudices and stereotypes.

Accordingly, Haslanger said, most social scientists, up to this point, have studied racism as an ideology. This racist ideology, they say, “misrepresents some people, perpetuates injustice, and conceals the fact that unfair social arrangements are unjust.” Racism is grounded in the belief that people are biologically of different races, a concept which is disproved by actual science. The theory goes that, if there are no scientifically different races, logically, racism should go away.

The problem is that it has not. Social scientists attempt to explain this perpetuation of racism with epistemic criticism. They argue that one cannot simply point to facts to disprove racial prejudices because ideology is lived in the world. For instance, women are overly represented as care givers, which leads many to believe that women are naturally better at that job, when really their overrepresentation in that field is a product of ideology. These scientists argue, as Haslinger said, “ideology makes the world in its own image.” The ideological critique has the further challenge of being utilized when debating with others, who have different moral and political beliefs. In this case, Haslanger demonstrates, one has two, equally inadequate options. The first is that one describes one’s own beliefs; this strategy is ineffective because the opposing party does not, of course, buy into those beliefs. The second strategy is that one can simply advocate for the reforms one wants. This, according to Haslanger, does not work either because the other side still does not think the changes are necessary.

To fill in the holes in past critiques of racism theory, Haslanger suggested people consider not merely racist ideology, but also how it impacts our society today. Effects include social practices that frame our experiences and what we view as possibilities for action. These practices and norms render our actions meaningful. Haslanger contended that how people are socialized heavily influences their outlook on society, meaning that if we are to end racism, we must change the process of socialization. This method can include something as simple as going to a person of color’s house.

Haslanger also emphasized the importance of social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement. She says these movements, if effective, force everyday concepts to break down, as the movement proves that these forces contribute to racism or sexism. Moreover, social movements destabilize social coordination by having marches, for example. Another tactic Haslanger proposed is appropriating certain terms, such as queer or slut. In both of these cases, the LGBTQ community and feminists have taken these derogatory words and claimed them as empowering for their respective movements. In general, Haslanger advocated for pushing people to think about their social interactions, for, if people can’t do so as individuals, they cannot collectively. Moving forward, once inclusionary practices become normalized, racism and other prejudices can be combatted.

Haslanger concludes by saying that ending racism requires that we all step outside our comfort zones and get to know and understand people of other races. Only then, can the critical distance between people of other races be reduced. Haslanger called everyone to action, saying, “Let us together shape new practices that embody social justice.”

Sophomore Sarah Frazer is a contributing writer. Her email is sfrazer@fandm.edu.

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