Racism, Equality, & Discrimination
The subjects of this module are topics related to justice and racial inequality, including:
- philosophical and ethical issues related to race and racism,
- key vocabulary in discussions about race and racism, and,
- issues related to racial discrimination such as redlining and racial profiling.
Like all the ethical issues we address in this course, we only have time to skim the surface of the important issues and debates about justice and racial inequality. One important question in the history of philosophy has been, “What is justice?” All of us know what we are referring to when we talk about things like “justice” and “injustice,” but what is the true nature of these things?
Beliefs about political justice have changed through the course of western history. In the ancient period and into the medieval period, we see from philosophical writings that it was widely believed things like inequality, slavery, and other forms of subjugation were natural conditions. For instance, Plato thought justice was akin to a sort of “social harmony,” where all occupied their “proper” places and did not meddle in the affairs of classes that were not their own. You can read more about that here:
After the significant transformations we see in the western world during the enlightenment period, democratic societies and the assumption of basic human equality start to take shape. Along with this, “justice as fairness” becomes the western ideal.
In module 4, you read about the Harvard scholar, John Rawls (1921-2002) who has probably best explained this concept of justice in his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice. I looked into it and found that you have access to the full PDF for this book via your MDC library account. He also wrote a short essay about justice as fairness that you can read here:
While equality, and so fairness, is an idea that seems to be revered by all in the US, questions arise concerning whether equality is a reality in America. There are at least two ways to think about equality: equality in the lived experience of Americans and equality under the law. The second is the type that is meant to be guaranteed and enforced as a feature of our governance. Our courts are tasked with ensuring this, culminating with our Supreme Court. You can read the Supreme Court statement about equal justice under the law here:
You will have three assignments in this module, chapter review questions, and two short essays: one about “redlining” and one about “racial profiling.” These are both subjects that have been addressed by the Supreme Court. As such, you will find each is a rich opportunity for your own further research.
The required textbook reading for this module is Chapter 14, pp. 470-486. PowerPoints for this chapter are posted below. Further materials are in the provided links for the assignments.