“Hey, that was kind of racist.”
“I'm not a racist! I have Black friends.”
This exchange highlights a problem with how people in the United States tend to talk about racially tricky situations. As Racist, Not Racist, Antiracist: Language and the Dynamic Disaster of American Racism explores, such situations are ordinarily categorized as either racist or not racist (or, in other cases, as antiracist). The problem is, there are often situations that are racially not good, but that we do not want to categorize as racist, either. However, since we don’t have the language to describe this in-between, we are forced to fall back on the racist/not racist/antiracist trinary, which tends to shut down productive discussion. This is especially true for white people, who tend to take claims of racism—be they interpersonal or institutional—as a personal attack. This is problematic, not only because it means that white people never learn about their own racially troubling behaviors, but also because such fragility keeps them from being able to engage in productive discussions about systemic racial oppression. Leland Harper and Jennifer Kling demonstrate how expanding our racial vocabulary is crucial for the attainment of justice equally enjoyed by all.
Leland Harper is assistant professor of philosophy at Siena Heights University.
Jennifer Kling is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
Chapter 1: The Dynamic Disaster of Racism
Chapter 2: The Semantic Foundations of White Fragility and the Consequences for Justice
Chapter 3: COVID-19 in Black America
Chapter 4: Shifting Toward Democracy and Justice
Chapter 5: Furthering the Claim
Chapter 6: Conversations
Chapter 7: The Expansion
Leland Harper and Jennifer Kling provide a semantic solution to the discursive impasse in thinking and talking about racism, by introducing race sensitivity. This move to expand “racist, not racist, and anti-racist” is an important contribution to cognitive approaches to “white fragility.”
Using the trope of dynamic disaster to characterize American racism and proposing a semantic response that does not put white people alleged to be racist on the defensive, Harper and Kling argue that linguistic enlightenment is vital for disrupting the racial status quo and securing racial progress. Defenders of racial justice, and students of the philosophy of race, will find much of value in this book.