Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Racial Contract and Our Country's First Black President

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Professor Charles Mills of Northwestern speak on his book "The Racial Contract". He started off speaking about how philosophy is the only area of study that doesn't require research; how university presidents love mathematicians and philosophers because mathematicians require only a pencil, a pad of paper, and a wastepaper basket while philosophers don't even need the wastepaper basket. He then spoke of the dearth of folks of color in philosophy; that if there were a convention of Black philosophers, they'd have to travel in separate planes because if one plane went down, and there were several Black philosophers on it, there would be a significant percentage lost. OK, yes, I was expecting a somewhat dry speech on the racial contract, and was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like that.

So, what is the racial contract, you ask? In all honesty, I'm still wrapping my head around it, but it goes something like this: The racial contract is an unspoken agreement amongst all in society that keeps white folk on top and the rest below. Folks of color are considered "subpersons". All white folk are beneficiaries of this contract, although not all are signatories. Depending on where you stand on this deep, philosophical stuff, this racial contract (along with the sexual contract) takes the place of Rousseau's social contract. 

This morning I read Willie Brown's column ("Willie's World") in the Chron where he espoused on the thrilling of minority workers by the election of Obama. Toward the end, he wrote:
All I can say is, we started out with the promise of 40 acres and a mule. What did we end up with?
A White House.
Well put, but according to Professor Mills, we must stop looking at it that way. To paraphrase, we must stop looking at it like "look how far we've come since Jim Crow". So true. Let's set our sights higher. Let's TRULY KNOW AND BELIEVE that all children, no matter their color, can achieve...

So, how do things change now that our president-elect is a Person of Color? Well, I didn't mention that Zeus Leonardo was there too and I feel that he said it best when he said that now the racial contract has not been voided, but must now be revised. I also agree with the head of my program who said, "It's not the revolution, but it is revolutionary." Amen. 

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