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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: March 2012

16 - Racism is a system: how existentialism became dialectical in Fanon and Sartre

from IV - The Reach of Existential Philosophy


In the United States of America today, as in many other places, there is a tendency to locate racism primarily in the mind: one is racist only if one thinks racist thoughts. This means that because speech is thought to be the only clear proof of what someone is thinking, one can only be called a racist if one says something explicitly racist. The result is that the fight against racism has been largely reduced to the policing of racist language by the media. Meanwhile, less and less attention is given to addressing the question of whether the continuing massive differences in education, health, wealth, as well as educational and other opportunities – not just in the United States, but above all globally – are a perpetuation of past racisms in the present, a perpetuation which would call into question our commitment to the eradication of racism. We hear much less than we once did about institutional, structural, or systemic racism. For example, segregation in the schools, which was once unambiguously racist when sustained by laws, is tolerated when the segregation becomes merely de facto. Because the culture of the United States is dominated by individualism and legalism, the effects of past racisms that survive intact within the system are rendered virtually invisible because nobody is willing to own them or take responsibility for them: the problem is said to be non-imputable. This same culture appears to be spreading, so this is far from being a localized problem.