K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, COLOR CONSCIOUS: THE POLITICAL MORALITY OF RACE, Princeton University Press, 1996
Subject: Color Conscious: Political Morality (Ashworth)
Subject: Color Conscious by Appaih and Gutman (Cota)
Subject: Color Conscious (Kershaw)
Subject: Re: Color Conscious (Kershaw)
Subject: Color Conscious: Political Morality (Ashworth)
K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, (COLOR CONSCIOUS: THE POLITICAL MORALITY
OF RACE), Princeton University Press, 1996
Review by Pam Ashworth
Racial identity or cultural identity. Color blind or color conscious.
Racial justice or fairness. Race consciousness or color consciousness. It
would appear that these ideas are essentially connected. This is not the
case, however, for K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann. The authors seek to
explain the consequences of each view and the appropriate course for
American society. In urging all Americans to move beyond the notion of
race, conventional identities must first be addressed. Only then may this
country become the color blind democracy to which it aspires.
Appiah's central thesis is that the concept of race is a mistaken
American idea, and instead, the only race that exists is that of the human
race. As the current usage of the term is based on previous
misunderstandings of the word, the author explores the historical use of
race. For example, Thomas Jefferson relied on perceived physical and
psychological differences between blacks and whites to use race as an
explanation for "cultural and social phenomena"(p. 49). This biological
approach not only viewed blacks as inferior physically, but intellectually,
as well. Blacks were viewed as unimaginative, unintelligent, shallow, and
crude yet more brave and adventuresome than whites. Just as Jefferson's
observations were incorporated by most Americans, so too were those of
Charles Darwin's natural selection theory more than fifty years later.
Darwin's work on evolution and species classification gave supposedly
scientific evidence to the belief that blacks and whites are biologically
distinct. Despite the recognition these great thinkers and their works
received, race, as a category for blacks and whites, can not possibly exist,
for "classification will contain as much human genetic variation as there is
in the whole species"(p. 69).
As the concept of race is not appropriate as a classificatory scheme for
blacks and whites, Appiah argues that it ought to be replaced by "the notion
of a racial identity"(p. 32). Importantly, this is distinguished from the
use of cultural identity. Racial identification, according to the author,
is socially significant as it shapes behavior, actions, and life plans.
However, one has the ability to decide how salient that identity is.
Although an improvement over racial classification, racial identity has its
drawbacks, as well. One is that racial identity is continually ascribed to
people by others. Thus, "racial identification is hard to resist"(p. 82).
Similarly, this racial ascription allows racism to persist by creating
benefits for whites and liabilities for blacks- all on the basis of skin color.
Cultural identity, on the other hand, is not the desired direction for
Americans if our nation's goal is to move beyond racism, for this country
has never had a common culture. For example, the United States, even before
its founding, has held many different religious traditions. Whereas the
colonial period was witness to Puritans, Quakers, Catholics, Protestants,
and Native American religions, present times must also include Hindus,
Buddhists, Muslims, and a host of others. Likewise, the United States has
always been multilingual. Regional differences have also resulted in
distinct cultural customs. More importantly, African Americans are unlikely
to share a single culture in the sense of having common language, practices,
and values. Thus, cultural identity takes an "unsatisfactory...account of
the significance of race"(p. 92).
Finally, despite the difficulties associated with racial identity, Appiah
argues that it does have a place in our racist society, yet there is a need
to move beyond these current identities if society is to end racial
discrimination. Essentially, Americans should build "collective identities"
that "recognize both the centrality of difference within human identity and
the fundamental moral unity of humanity"(p. 105). This approach will allow
for collective responsibility to correct current and past wrongs against
those of minority groups. For instance, Appiah states that resources could
be dedicated to educating members of disadvantaged groups in order to ensure
than no individual member is well below average is needed skills. Moreover,
extra efforts may be made to find "talented members of minority groups who
would not be found when employers are guided purely by profit"(p. 102). The
effect of these strategies would be an end to ethnoracial identities as the
obsessive focus of those who identify with them.
Despite a dreary and often complex historical analysis, it is difficult to
dispute Appiah's argument that the concept of two distinct races for black
and white Americans is outdated in light of little or no scientific evidence
to support the classification of the two groups. However, the author does
not seem to fully appreciate how deeply ingrained the notion of race is in
the minds of American citizens. Many institutions in society, particularly
the media, but also the educational system and government itself, only
exacerbate perceived racial divergence by focusing on black and white
differences. Moreover, Appiah's collective identity strategy that calls for
research on "differences that are hereditary...to remedy the initial
distribution by the genetic lottery" is perhaps even contradictory to the
one human race thesis he espouses(p. 102). It is more likely that
environmental factors, such as housing, education, parenting, and family
income, are at work here- not the "genetic lottery." Indeed, these
external detriments are neglected by Appiah throughout his essay.
It is interesting to note that Appiah never mentions the words Affirmative
Action. The collective identity strategies- finding the most talented
minorities and resource disbursement for training of disadvantaged groups-
appear to indicate that the author is in favor of Affirmative Action
policies. However, Appiah raises several questions in this regard yet
leaves them unanswered. Is the current approach to Affirmative Action
satisfactory, or should it be remedied? For instance, Appiah clearly
stresses that class is the "most neglected of American identities"(p. 80).
Thus, is class-based Affirmative Action- often cited today as a promising
new approach- part of Appiah's plan? As class is not further mentioned,
there is no answer.
Perhaps Appiah's inconclusiveness is a means to introduce his co-author,
Amy Gutmann, and her call for both class conscious and "color conscious"
policies in employment, political representation, and education. These
color conscious approaches reject racial identity- in the same way that
Appiah calls for collective identities- and recognize that physical
features, especially skin color, often unfairly affect life's opportunities.
The foundation of Gutmann's argument for color conscious strategies in
correcting racial discrimination is that color blindness is a mistaken
principle. The application of color blind policies is only practical is an
ideal society- one that is free of racial injustice. Obviously, the United
States does not fit this definition. Furthermore, color blindness is not
indicative of racial justice, but the concept of fairness is. Fairness
depends on color conscious strategies and "calls first and foremost for
economic and educational policies that provide every individual, regardless
of skin color, with a full set of basic liberties and basic
opportunities"(p. 110). Lastly, public policy guided by the concept of
color blindness does not allow the continuing problem of racial
discrimination to be addressed. By assuming that racial injustice no longer
exists, color blindness rejects the fact that people's life chances still
often vary due to skin color.
An important distinction is made between color consciousness and race
consciousness and is similar in its analysis to that of Appiah's. Race
consciousness presumes that American blacks and whites can be separated into
two human races. Racial classification, in turn, allows the mistaken notion
that their exists natural and "morally significant differences between
blacks and whites" to continue(p. 163). Color consciousness, on the other
hand, rejects race as an accurate division for human beings. Instead, color
consciousness admits that individuals have historically been identified by
physical features, particularly skin color, and such identifications have
been used to support discrimination.
Gutmann acknowledges that color conscious and class conscious policies
alone are seldom sufficient as responses to inequality. An important case
in point is the university admissions decision. SAT scores, for example,
exhibit significant gaps between rich and poor students as well as between
blacks and whites. However, if colleges and universities were to "reject
color in order to adopt class as a consideration in admitting disadvantaged
students their student bodies would become almost entirely nonblack"(p.
141). Institutions of higher learning, moreover, do not adequately provide
fair educational opportunity when adopting a "class, not race" approach, for
poverty and color are both hindrances to educational achievement. Finally,
refusing to take into account both race and class carries a high price in
forsaking cultural and regional diversity in addition to discounting the
"potential for intellectual accomplishment and social leadership of
individuals who have faced far greater than average obstacles"(p. 144).
While universities clearly share a unique social responsibility for
education Americans and preparing them for future leadership roles,
Gutmann's related argument of "social purposes" in the workforce is less
convincing. The author states that "qualifications for a job are relative
to the social purpose of many positions"(p. 120). For example, a doctor
need not only have a medical degree but the skills required to educate the
public and to console the grief-stricken to thrive in that profession. As a
result of employment's "social purposes," consideration must be given to
gender, class, and color when hiring, for "preferential hiring," as
described by Gutmann, serves important social goals and ends racial
stereotyping in high status occupations. This would certainly be true for
the most prestigious careers and in public employment, including teaching
and law enforcement, for instance. However, successful "preferential
hiring" is less likely in the private sector. Meritocracy is hard to
overcome when profit is perceived to be at stake. Similarly, the private
sector is particularly subject to personal connections as a key factor in
Gutmann eloquently defends recent redistricting plans based on color
consciousness. Instead of merely improving "race proportionality in
representation by black legislators," a more valuable goal of redistricting
is to defeat racial injustice by increasing the chances of black electoral
success and by the building of cross-color voting coalitions. However,
Gutmann does not acknowledge that any approach to black political success
should also include strategies to increase black voter turnout. Turnout
remains lower among blacks than whites and is particularly low among young
blacks- those most affected by the lack of equal opportunity in education
and employment. Indeed, increased feelings of political efficacy among
African Americans would be a welcome addition to Gutmann's redistricting.
Appiah and Gutmann argue convincingly and accurately for one human race.
By casting light on black and white similarities, the authors call for
Americans to move beyond race and to work for racial justice. Resentment,
defensiveness, and suspicion could indeed be overcome if individuals would
accept this idea. Unfortunately, the concept of distinct races has become
so deeply entrenched in American life that abandoning it is not likely to
come soon. In the meantime, Americans can strive for collective identities
and color consciousness- the recognition that skin color still affects
life's chances for success.
Illinois State University
Subject: Color Conscious by Appaih and Gutman (Cota)
Color Conscious by Appaih and Gutman
Reviewed by James Cota (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In today's society the term "race" is used to discribe many things.
>From discussing "race" relations to scientific ways of defining a certian
species. We see it when we fill out forms for school, like " please check
your race: White, Black...", to description of the Road Runner and Willie E.
Coyote at the beginning of their cartoon. This term race has many different
meanings and uses to describe people and things. In the book Color Conscious,
the term "race" is expanded on throughly by K. Anthony Appaih, as to whether
or not it is correct to use "race" to describe different groups of people.
Also Amy Guttman in decribing how to develop policy dealing with these
groups, and the correct way in developing policy in a way that doesn't use
the term "race".
The first essay in Color Conscious, is by K. Anthony Appaih. He
exams how the term "race" may not be the proper term in describing different
groups of people. He uses examples both scientific and historical to show how
"race" came about as a term to describe groups. Appiah's main idea is that
the term "race" does not effectively explain the diversity of America's
multi-cultural population, and the term "race" is not the proper way to
describe this massive diversity of individuals. He argues that since many of
the groups do not share the same beliefs, ideas, but many members of these
groups know what they are suppose to believe based on the way they have been
viewed through out history. This means that many of these groups do not share
a "common culture" , in the way of shared beliefs, the term "race" does not
work as a descriptive term.
Appaih goes through many examples on how "race" has been used as a
term through historical documents, and it's use in the scientific world.
Since the founding of our country, our founding fathers have used the term
"race" to describe the different groups in this country, such as Blacks and
Native Americans. Since the use of "race" has long been used as a way of
decribing diiferent groups, it has developed into a different term then what
it is suppose to be used as in the scientific world. the use of the term
"race" in science is used to descibe a different type of species, such as a
dog or monkey, and because there is scientific differences between diffrent
species they fall into a different "race" catagory. Appaih explains that
there is very liitle scientific difference in genetic appearence between
blacks, whites, and other groups the term "race" does not fit this scientific
catagorization aspect. Because "race" does not fit this scientific aspect,
the term "race" in turn can be demeaning to all these groups in saying that
one group is genetically different from another, when the genetic make-up
between these groups is non-exisitent. The last time I was in a science
course all humans fit under the homo-sapien group, and I doubt that has
changed in that time.
The one problem that I see with Appaih's essay is that what does it
do to effect the problems with group relations that exist in this country. I
find it doubtful that when people fill out a form and the question comes up
as to what "race" a person is people find it offensive. Since the term "race"
has come to mean color of skin in our society I doubt changing it would
improve the relations between groups within this country. Word changing or
using a diiferent term to descibe someone or somebody isn't going to change
anything. However in Gutman's article she shows more importantly that by
dividing policy from all policy being labeled "racial policy", and defining
it by color or class policy it may improve the specifics as to how and to
whom the policy is directed at.
Gutman examines how "fairness" not "color blindness" is essential in
lawmaking and policy development. For example she sights how the courts found
that redistricting voting districts, so that more blacks are in one district
in order to get more black legislators to proptionate the black population is
unconstitutional. Gutman states that this idea of redistricting to fit the
black population is fundemental in helping the development of policy to help
overcome racial injustice is top priority to many black politicians, it can
be helpful if enough black legislators are elected in development of policy
to solve racial injustice. If enough black legislators are elected, and there
ideas on how to solve racial injustices in todays society becomes more
apperent, the country as a whole will have to face the importance of policy
to solve racial injustice, instead of looking the other way like we have done
in the past.
Gutman also explains how current policy is not effective. She states
that policy should be more specific as to who it should be concerned with
helping the injustices many groups face. She says that policy should be
"color" based to help the color injustices in todays society, and should be
"class" base to help members of different economic classes overcome their
injustices. This idea of dividing policy base is important since the current
policy we have is unclear as to who should benefit and how it should work.
She uses the example of a school in Piscataway that do to cut backs had to
get rid of a teacher in the business department. This school fired a white
teacher and kept a black teacher, for what appeared to be racial reasons, so
that it didn't look like they fired the other teacher for being black. In
this case black teacher was kept, so that they wouldn't fall into trouble
with Affirmative Action laws.
In my opinion Afirmitive Action laws are to general, and do not focus
on helping one group, but many, and in turn is taking on more groups then it
can handle. Affirmitive Action laws are unclear as to who benefits, but if
policy is divided as Gutman suggests, then making policy focus on helping
blacks or different groups specifically makes the policy stronger. Therfore,
people are clear as to whom the policy is intended to help overcome many of
the injustices faced in today's society. Gutman's idea's I found to be more
beneficial in overcoming racial injustice in today's unjust society, in that
in focuses on helping groups develop policy that is more specialized to meet
there needs. The idea's that Gutman develops is more helpful in changing
racial problems that our society faces, then Appiah's idea of changing the
way we use a term that has already been ingrained to have multiple meanings
in today's society. Many people say things about being "politically correct"
in terms of how we define different groups. However, changing the way we use
terms to describe people is not going to help racial injustice as well as
changing the way we specialize the scope of policy making ,to help overcome
racial injustice. The ideas in this book are both important in discussing how
to solve racial injustice, and if we manage to move away from a "color blind"
idea, that is almost impossible to grasp, to a more "color conscious" way of
solving the problems in this racially unjust society, then and only then can
the problem be solved.
Subject: Color Conscious (Kershaw)
K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, COLOR CONSCIOUS: THE POLITICAL MORALITY
OF RACE, Princeton University Press, 1996
Review by: David Kershaw
The concepts of race, race relations, and racism flow like cheap wine in
American dialog. It is a dialog of accusations, over-generalizations, and
misunderstandings. At its worst, the dialog is "dishonest" and at its best,
it is "confused, ill-informed, and unhelpful (p. 182)." Appiah & Gutmann's
COLOR CONSCIOUS probes the meanings and impacts of race and racial identities
and analyzes the reasons (descriptive and normative) for programs such as
affirmative action. COLOR CONSCIOUS attempts to reframe the race dialog,
attack misperceptions, and call for truly open and tolerant discussions about
race relations and the future of race policy.
K. Anthony Appiah & Amy Gutmann each contributed an essay for the book.
Appiah's sometimes winding and ponderous analyses focus on primarily race and
racial identities. Gutmann's essay mainly outlines the reasons for a policy
response to past discrimination and specifically argues for the need of color
conscious policies as opposed to color blind or class based public policies.
However, overlap exists in the respective discussions.
Appiah began the reevaluation of the race dialog and its presumptions with a
flat out attack on the term race. To define race, Appiah choose to sift
through the historical uses of the term, because he noted that our
contemporary usage of the term cannot be completely divorced from its past.
He focused on several major thinkers of 18th and 19th century western
thought. He justifies the use of intellectuals as the embodiment of a whole
culture, stating that average citizens draw their language and beliefs from
>From Jefferson's contemplations about slaves' inherent qualities of limited
cognitive and oratory capacities, to Arnold's belief that we can divide
humans into small umber of groups called races in a way that those in these
groups shared certain fundamental, heritable, physical, moral, intellectual,
and cultural characteristics, and to Darwin and rise of race science, Appiah
discovers that one cannot divest from the term race the idea that a person's
biology is a predictor of the person's inherent abilities. Because races
cannot be proven, he argues, this term should not be used due to the even
subconscious assumptions it brings.
These claims inherent in the term race, Appiah decries, have no legitimate
scientific basis. There are no races. No set of characteristics are unique to
any one of our conceived races. Furthermore, biological variability in these
groups are as great as variations within the species as a whole. Gutmann adds
the fact that average genetic difference between two randomly chosen
individuals is only .2 percent. Similar skin color and other discernible
physical feature do not a race, or subspecies make (p. 113). Gutmann rejects
the term race conscious in favor of color conscious for these exact reasons.
What exist instead are social constructed group identities based on perceived
culture. These racial identities are both personally created and ascribed by
those who believed in race as a reality. The ascription of negative
characteristics to one's skin color created a demand for recognition and the
want to distance oneself from white racism and culture. Positive scripts
about racial identity combated negative stereotypes and helped unite people
in a common cause. Additionally, people still insist that we belong to
certain "races" or cultures (associated with skin color) that have certain
characteristics. As a result of these repeated expectations we internalize
these supposed characteristics or behavior patterns into our identities.
Although Appiah acknowledges some of the benefits of recognizing one's
culture, he says it can hide some dangers as well. He argues that America's
intermingling and diversity of cultural norms are not done justice by the
classifications of racial identities or cultural labels to which we adhere.
He noted how the label "oriental" came to signify certain characteristics and
applied to all people from Asia. However, this application is faulty in that
it applies to people and cultures as different as day and night. For
instance, those of Japanese and Chinese descent would argue vehemently about
the similarity of their cultures. There is no racially based common culture
(nearly everyone knows values and values are widely adhered to) in America,
culture is not genetic.
By making insistences on racial identities, Appiah further argues, we
undermine a persons right to fully develop his individual identity. He
worries that an individual cannot, under current system attain both
individual freedom and equality. Adhering to racial identities involves
accepting the scripts for the proper way of being. By making a person focus
her notion of self around one's racial identity, whose definition has been
too "tightly scripted," that person has been made to miss the opportunities
available in other identities from which she could choose. The result, though
useful to some degree can result in the tyranny of racial expectations.
Furthermore, he states, to ascribe virtue to a racial identity simply in and
of it self, minorities buy into the same false ideas about racial essences
help create oppression in first place.
Appiah adheres to the liberal tradition of morality engaging us to use and
enhance our individuality. It matters to a person to identify himself in a
way that person chooses. It is made up of the collective and individual
selves, one should not make too many demands on the other. However, racial
identities will continue to be a part of American race dialog because of the
continued insistence of them by others and the need to create positive
self-images and combat the continued impressions about race.
The arguments made by Appiah should be applied in current debate surrounding
race issues. For instance, what place do others have in forcing individuals
to choose a race such as on the census (and the lack of a mutlirace
category)? Keeping the category and pursuing the one drop or one sixteenth
rules, some argue, will keep the numbers of minorities high and this will
impact government spending and program levels favorable to those minorities.
However, the impact on individuals is not allowing them to recognize their
complete selves. This is important because these labels do have psychological
consequences. Which is the most important? Also, what about black or white
separatism? These forms of separatism argues for identities and existences
that are based on false notions of either biological or natural cultural
essences. They ignore the reality that these identities were shaped and
defined by American institutions and society, that they are learned in family
and community life. Just because a condition exists does not mean that it
Also, what are the implications of accepting these assertions for affirmative
action? Appiah would say we must accept these truths but not to change our
policy focus yet. Simply, there will still be those who will act as if the
presumptions about race were true and there is still the matter of the
lingering impact of past discrimination. He notes, however, that to move
beyond racism we need to eventually move beyond racial identities, not
enforce them as essence.
Admittedly, Appiah fails to delve into many of the implications of his
analyses. He does not suggest how we should balance our individual and
collective identities. He does not elaborate on the consequences of those who
might respond too much to the individual self by devaluing the collective
identity, on those who would seriously adhere to a collective identities.
Moreover, how might those who hold racist agendas use his arguments to
further their goals? These are questions for another day, apparently.
Finally, some might ask what is the point to wasting time haggling over
terminology when we should be dealing with ideas surrounding our race
dilemma. True, words must not inherently be offensive, nor must any
particular idea or connotation must be attached to particular word. Most
words in the English language should not be excessively poured over. However,
the term race carries with it a history of attachment to oppression, many
wrong assumptions, and the ability to emotionally charge an discussion
simply by its utterance. Therefore, we need to take some extra time and
caution in using the word race. To make progress in race relations we need to
clarify and reexamine definitions (so we are all talking about the same
things) and underlying assumptions. The benefit of the debate over the
terminology is not finding a word we can use that is most appropriate, but
rather it is to keep people focused on the underlying assumptions or ideas
attached to a word and have them rethink their own ideas in relationship to
the word. Taking the stance that maybe we should discard a word altogether is
really a point being made that the underlying assumptions attached to that
word are utterly defective and totally unacceptable. Through this debate
maybe some of those assumptions attached to "race" will socially be seen as
the defective (which they always have been). Perhaps we may get bogged down
seeking for an alternative, but can we honestly say that without the debate
we would give the ideas behind the word the detailed attention they deserve?
The second part of the book begins with Gutmann agreeing with Appiah about
races. She declares that we should use the term color conscious instead of
race conscious because of the underlying assumptions associated with "race".
Gutmann morally argues for a response to past and present discrimination and
inequality. She argues that a just society (which we should and do strive
for) must secure for every individual a set of liberties and opportunities;
including education, health care, work , basic income, if work unavailable or
pay too low; and that justice requires (most philosophers and citizens agree,
she argues) that society's benefits and burdens should not be distributed on
the basis of race. Justice essentially is individual fairness. However,
discrimination has undermined our attempts to become a just society. To be
consistent with our beliefs in justice, a response is required not only to
current victims of discrimination, but also past. Race discrimination in
early life in healthcare, housing, educational opportunities, and income,
etc. compound over the years forever disadvantaging these individuals.
Finally, she argues that these moral arguments should not only be made in
defending the existence of the program but also when courts interpret the
Constitution. She states that current interpretation is not consistent with
our moral convictions. Her biggest criticism, in general, is the lack of
moral arguments in our race dialog.
However, once it has been agreed that a response is necessary, what does
justice (fairness) require of the policy response, Gutmann questions. The
realities of America precludes the use of color blind policy, she responds
(Appiah would concur). Justice only requires color blindness in an ideal
society where all people are civic equals. In America discrimination and the
impact of discrimination still exist. She cites as evidence ,the fact that
SAT scores when broken down by race at all income levels still show enormous
gaps between blacks and whites (p. 140). Therefore, in order to treat
individuals fairly it will sometimes be necessary to enact color conscious
policies that recognize the extent to which race continues to influence the
life chances of citizens, she says. Justice therefore in the non-ideal, is to
equalize opportunity of individuals who otherwise would not receive equity.
Without a color conscious response, freedom, and a just society cannot be
reached because the discrimination will perpetuate itself.
Additionally, Gutmann criticizes the suggestion that we should only base a
response to past discrimination in the frame of a class response. The class
response supposes that focusing on class eliminates our continued need for
race in policy and will make up for past discrimination because minorities
are more likely to be underprivileged, and that all of society will benefit
more. However, she notes that even controlling for education and income,
blacks are still disproportionately disadvantaged (see SAT fact above).
Disadvantages of skin color are partly distinct from class. Going back to her
concept of a just society, she argues that a class response is morally
justified and is necessary along side, but not in place of, a color response.
Gutmann also looks at some of arguments surrounding the current
debate over reapportionment and affirmative action, noting the lack of solid
moral arguments. In analyzing affirmative action, she focuses mainly on the
Piscataway court case.
In the case, the school board had to lay off one of two teachers one black,
one white. The two, it appears were nearly identical. The school kept the
black teacher (without which there would not have been any black teachers at
the school). The court held that the school board violated the white teachers
right not to be discriminated against based on race.
Gutmann's quarrel with the decision is the view that race (as its used here)
is not seen as a valid qualification. She argues it is as legitimate an
option as any other qualification because hiring the historically
disadvantaged (especially in schools) can help break down stereotypes
associated with role in jobs, provide cultural and diverse interactions (the
problem with this argument is this is not the goal of affirmative action)
useful for citizens in a diverse society, and promotes tolerance through
changing of moral standing. Moreover, other qualifications (ex: knowing
someone) are much less defensible specifically since this qualification is
seeking to provide a just society. She is most critical of the "Constitution
is color blind" argument inherent in the decision as it undermines justice.
She also criticized the Supreme Court decisions, in the reapportionment cases
(Shaw v. Reno and Miller v. Johnson), that redistricting was unconstitutional
because the race based approach assumed all blacks shared the same political
interests and will prefer the same candidates. She said an alternative reason
for redistricting would be to increase the number of black representatives to
be able to exert more influence over substance of legislative agenda, and
would be more willing than whites to overcome racial injustice. Here, she
drew in her defense of using morality as a judicial tool, reasoning that
elimination of racism will result in a moral good for all of society. She
states color blind reasoning is inconsistent with the goals of citizens to
reach a just society and, therefore, they should change their interpretations
to be consistent with the concepts of justice.
Finally, she says that we should not simply abandon affirmative action simply
because it is not the best policy because not being the best does not make it
illegitimate. If we remove the policy, we will make no progress toward a just
society and discrepancies will not go away. Although, she suggests we should
focus on a policy that promotes disadvantaged over advantage (which I would
argue needs a bit of defining to be effective), rather than disadvantaged
over disadvantaged, mixed with a healthy dose of class policy for the
furthest movements toward justice. Moreover, justice requires a collective
response (no minority free-riders, whites must recognize their role and the
benefits they receive from discrimination) to these problems and at the same
time try, in this context, to realize the equal worth of all citizens (the
concern raised by Appiah).
As with any work, one can make criticisms. First, the call for a universal
class policy is unrealistic in our current political climate, and in this
sense her analyses adds little practical advice on approach. However, she
acknowledges this fact but would also argue that it is part of the morally
Second, one can criticize as unrealistic her call to ask all whites to
recognize the benefits they receive from discrimination. This will never find
footing among the poorest of whites. Even the best abstract reasoning would
find itself hard pressed to convince an Appalachian from Mingo county West
Virginia that he has some benefit hidden in his squalor (this of course
assumes this person's awareness to his condition in relationship to the rest
of the US). Although, she notes this, to some degree, in accepting the need
for class policy.
Third, when she defends race as qualification for diversity she seems to make
the argument (if only slightly implicitly) that there is something more
diverse, inherently, about (in this context) an African-American. She assumes
there is something special about that person that they can contribute.
However, Gutmann never considered the background of the white applicant. What
if she were a lesbian, single mother whose parents survived the Holocaust?
The point is, if we are going to base actions on diversity grounds, a
person's ability should not solely be viewed in terms of skin color.
One can also take issue with the universal application of color conscious
policy without regards to exactly who is receiving aid. She does not clarify
whether or not fairness is served by promoting those people already
advantaged (upper and middle class minority groups) or new immigrants (those
not disadvantaged by past racial discrimination in the US). The her need for
diversity would be served, however, would the discrepancies between blacks
and whites be fully addressed? It seems unlikely. Perhaps this is where her
class policy would come in as a remedy. Either way, this remains unclear.
Finally, I would take issue with Gutmann's call for increased judicial
activism and use of moral argumentation in judicial decisions. I think
calling for more use of judicial discretion is the wrong approach. In fact, I
am against judicial review to some degree. What may work in favor of
affirmative action today can easily turned against it tomorrow, all in the
name of morality (rightly or wrongly). Policy should be a function of a
legislature that can be held accountable.
However, these criticisms should not be used to take away from the book. It
is among the most philosophically complete books I have read in regards to
racial issues. Lastly, I would like to respond to one criticism of Gutmann's
view on the Piscataway case. Some have argued that in the context of the
district, there were plenty of minority role models. True perhaps, but what
of the students in the one school, those other teachers could not function as
role models for them.
Date: Mon, 24 Mar 1997 10:24:42 -0600
From: Aricka Latrece Vinson
Subject: Re: Color Conscious (Kershaw)
X-Listprocessor-Version: 6.0c -- ListProcessor by Anastasios Kotsikonas
X-Comment: Political Science 302 Discussion List
After reading your review I am curious as to way Appiah & Gutmann handle, if
at all, the term "white" and "mixed." Is it problematic to describe all
other nationalities that are not African-American, Latin-American, Asian,
etc. white? Just as labeling as Asians "oriental" is a problem, what about
Italians that have to check the "white" box when filling out applications?
I am also very intrigued to discover how interacial children are supposed to
identify themselves. I know that they are asserting color consciousness,
but what "color" are those children? I also have a problem with the whole
idea of "color." The word color attempts to identify everyone under one
distinct term. I am not black, nor brown, I could be characterized as a
nice Pecan color. Actually, maybe I'll call myself SEPIA, which means
pretty or dark reddish brown.
Basically, your review left me wondering if they discuss these topics at all
or do they avoid them. I understand that it's hard to cram pages of text
into three pages, so if you chose to discuss more pressing matters, then
BRAVO! You left me with a very good understanding of their ideas with
respect to race and the problems surrounding identifying one another under
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997 10:31:52 -0600
Subject: Re: Color Conscious (Kershaw)
Sorry for taking so long to respond, I missed this post in my box.
In a message dated 97-03-24 11:13:26 EST, you write:
<< After reading your review I am curious as to way Appiah & Gutmann handle, if at all, the term "white" and "mixed." Is it problematic to describe all other nationalities that are not African-American, Latin-American, Asian, etc. white? Just as labeling as Asians "oriental" is a problem, what about Italians that have to check the "white" box when filling out applications?> >
They really do not address the term white or mixed. One could probably
guess, based on their discussion of race, that the term white would be
problematic if it is used as meaning a genuine race of people (they would say
there is no such thing). Italians, Germans, Russians, English, Irish,
Scottish etc. cultures had and have some different ways of doing things and
different historical experiences. It is problematic to over catagorize these
different groups as it marginalizes their uniqueness. Although, I must say, I
do believe people from all backgrounds and historical perspectives have more
in common than some people would be willing to admit. However, Appiah and
Gutmann would say we need to maintain the official use of "white" as a
catagory because people act as if the catagory is a valid identification of a
race, and we need to make up for past and present discrimination against
groups not identified as "white."
As for the term mixed, they do not make much mention of its use or
implications. They would probably take issue with the term because it implies
there are different races. In fact they recognize there is only one human
race. However, I cannot say just for sure what their response would be in its
use in the census.
<< I am also very intrigued to discover how interacial children are supposed to identify themselves. I know that they are asserting color consciousness, but what "color" are those children? I also have a problem with the whole idea of "color." The word color attempts to identify everyone under one distinct term. I am not black, nor brown, I could be characterized as a nice Pecan color. Actually, maybe I'll call myself SEPIA, which means pretty or dark reddish brown.>>
Good point, the term "color" does not (just like the term race) escape the
assumptions of divisible groups of humans. However, I think they see less
historical ties of the word color to ideas about inherent, genetic
moral-cognative-physical abilities in humans. But is it really? I think the
main point--or what should be taken out of the discussion on any term (color,
race)-- is to undermine the idea that there are true races.