Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Visiting Prof. Robert Gooding-Williams gives lecture at Amherst College, speaks on ideology and race

The lecture is part three in a multi-part ‘Racial Justice and Injustice’ series at Amherst College

Caroline OConnor

Caroline OConnor

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

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Columbia University professor of philosophy Robert Gooding-Williams gave a lecture on ideologies, social practices and anti-black concepts at Amherst College on April 12. The lecture was part three in the 2017-18 Forry and Micken Lecture Series on “Racial Justice and Injustice.”

Gooding-Williams is the author of several book including “In the Shadow of DuBois,” “Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising” and “Look, a Negro!” Additionally, Gooding-Williams is the founding director of Columbia’s Center for Race, Philosophy and Social Justice.

Gooding-Williams began the lecture by describing an essay written by Sally Haslanger, a philosopher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “Racism, Ideology and Social Movements.”

“Sally Haslanger suggests that part of a theory of ideology is to establish a framework for identifying modes of understanding that function to prop up and sustain unjust social relations,” he said.

According to Gooding-Williams, Haslanger believes that ideologies are meant to create “new experiences that highlight aspects of reality that have previous concepts masked or obscured.”

Gooding-Williams then offered the example of “SlutWalks,” a popular 21st century movement of protest aimed at ending rape culture and sexual violence, as an ideology that is meant to recontextualize conceptions of women’s sexual freedom into a more liberating and empowering perspective.

He then extended the concept to the realm of civil rights by addressing the term “uppity negro,” an 1800s-racial trope used to describe an African American who may not know “their place.” To Gooding-Williams this term was addressed during the civil rights era by African Americans to reverse the idea that fighting for their own humanity was asking too much.

Moving forward, Gooding-Williams began discussing what social practices are, quoting philosopher Michael Thompson, Gooding-Williams believes that social practices are general and actual. A “social practice must be something that will characteristically be exhibited in indefinitely many acts of indefinitely many agents.”

He relates the definition of social practice by Thompson to the practice of American slavery and how it was justified among the minds of many slave owners.

Gooding-Williams spoke on the United States Justice Department’s handling of the Ferguson Police Department.

He cited facts from the department’s findings of the police department stating their racial biases toward African Americans regarding their behavior leading up to the police department’s unjust treatment.

“The DOJ investigation of them uncovered direct evidence, or racial bias of communications and influential decision making,” he said.

He then addressed the anti-Black concept of racial profiling, stating individuals who are Black and whose behaviors are outside of mainstream media’s portrayals are still subjected to unjust treatment.

Toward the end of the lecture members of the audience were allowed to ask questions.

Owen Freeman-Daniels, an alum of Amherst College, asked, “Do you believe that Haslanger and the conceptual scheme of ideology is superior in analyzing the Ferguson reports?”

Gooding-Williams responded saying that police officers may not believe that all African Americans are criminals, but practices and history of enforcing social behaviors may say otherwise.

He further clarified that answer by giving an example that if one were to ask them if ‘all Blacks are criminals?’ they would most likely say no. Henceforth the ideology that Haslanger proposes would be most likely superior.

The next question asked by Rafeeq Hasan, Amherst philosophy professor, posed a question regarding whether ideology diffuses responsibility within a person who justifies social practice.

“Ideology is just false belief, they are entrenched in people with power, you know who the target is, but if you go more in a practice-based route it all seems more diffuse.”

In response to this, Gooding-Williams could see Hasan’s point but disagreed with him that ideologies do not hold people accountable.

“I can see why it might be a problem to focus on social practices rather than individual intention, but I do not believe it entails that we cannot hold people accountable for their actions.”

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.

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