Friday, March 25, 2011

Mills' Notion of Race and Racial Education

I’m not really sure who’s supposed to be blogging this week, so I thought I’d just go ahead and write one. Hopefully Rhodes wireless will work long enough for me to post this…

I’d like to focus on Mill’s assertion that what America, and indeed the rest of the world, really needs is a conception of race as “both real and unreal”(xiv). Considered in the midst of the conservationist/eliminativist debate, Mills call for a compromise of sorts is certainly a breath of fresh air. I myself have been vacillating between the two camps regularly over the past month or so, and I like to think that this isn’t because I’m indecisive or impressionable (probably true anyway), but rather because both sides have legitimately good points. There is no need to enumerate them – this is essentially what we’ve been doing since we read Du Bois – but suffice it to say that Mills’ compromise seems to me to encapsulate the best of both sides. It provides us with a conceptual vehicle through which we can frame the extensive social, political, and economic problems that still exist around race in America. If we are going to fully address problems such as the increased high school drop-out rate of minority children while still working to eliminate the basis for racism in our society we must be able to treat race in the dualistic way that Mills suggests.

On a related note, as important as it is for philosophers of race, anthropologists, sociologists, etc. to adopt this dualistic conception, it is even more vital that the average American see race in this way too. Thus, it seems absolutely necessary for us to begin honest and serious education on the subject of race in our schools. We need to present this conception of race to our children as early as possible, and hopefully before other social forces can give them a skewed notion of race. As a social construction, race is what society defines it to be. If we can form a critical mass of Americans who approach race squarely as Mills does, it seems unlikely that we will not be able to effect serious positive change.

What do you guys think about this? I’m especially interested to learn what you think about incorporating race into American public education. For instance, it seems to me that we should incorporate race into education as early as kindergarten, but I could see how one might argue that this is too early.


  1. It would be trickier to incorpaorate race into schools as early as kindergarden because it would be difficult for students so young to understand the concept of race in both it's real and unreal qualities. However, it is not at all a bad idea for race to be taught in this manner in middle school or high school in order to educate people at an early age on the various ways to perceive race and how to avoid the negative connotations and emotions that concepts related to race tend to induce.

  2. How would incorporating race into American public education help? I think it would only continue what is already taught at home and if kids who are in kindergarten are learning about race will this just lead to separation among them. I think race is a lesson that is learned through experience and if those experiences are positive, then why incorporate the idea so early on?

  3. I think that incorporating race into American public education has both pros and cons. To teach that fact that race is a made up idea, may be a good thing, especially to counteract the possible negative things being said at home. Yet, at the same time is there a way to ensure that there would be a consistent and sure way of teaching about race without the incorporation of personal ideas about race. Therefore I would say possibly a trial run would be the only way to gauge this incorporation, maybe in high schools first?

  4. The problem with incorporating a dualistic notion of race into the curriculum at school if found in a few areas. This is not to say that education our children on this is a bad thing, just that there are problematic aspects to it that we must recognize as road blocks. As NeNe asserts, race is a learned experience.

    I kicked around my conception of how a child should be raised as I wrote this. I could not put my finger on one specific way. Raising a child "color-blind" seems romantic and "nice" however, the structural forces of society will always have some impact on the child. What I concluded after writing out a romanticized view of raising a child color free is that no matter what we do, at some point in a child's life they will experience something racist, or be influenced to be unconsciously racist, but that we can strive to provide a child with an experience where they are comfortable being around children of other colors. One problem I see is that children still live fairly segregated so by the time they encounter someone from another race, their conceptions have already been molded by second-hand societal impressions and a system of segregation. Where I am trying to go with this is in the direction of racial comfortability meaning that if children are raised in a mixed race environment they may be more likely to not see color as the primary indicator for a person, and instead just another aspect of an individual. What I am striving for is high hopes that a child can learn that children of a different race are the same on an essential level: that in the sandbox or on the playground, race does not matter. But just wait. A critique comes back in at this point. Society. At what point does the pressure of society over shadow this seemingly nieve sandbox utopia?

  5. Thanks for the comments guys. I would like to respond to you all, and especially to NeNe, by clarifying what I meant by incorporating race into education. As I see it, race is an issue that we generally avoid as much as possible in American public education. It is an issue which has enormous effects on our education system (and the entirety of our society), but we seem to be afraid of talking about it in the classroom.

    Essentially, what I am saying is that it is absurd that I was never taught the dualistic nature of race (i.e. as biologically unreal but socially real) until my junior year in college. Of course, I picked up vague notions here and there during my education that the full concept of race isn't located in a person's skin color or hair texture and that racism has a large effect on the socioeconomic experience of millions of Americans, but I was never sat down and taught this.

    Yes, it will be difficult to finally incorporate an honest treatment of race into our education and we may fail many times before we get it right, but this is no reason not to do it. Frankly, it's tragic that we claim to educate our children when we don't equip them with the proper tools to correctly understand and deal with race in our society.


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