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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: November 2009

4 - Racism and Democracy


In light of the previous analysis of embodied politics, I would like now to consider the role that the idea of the social construction of race can play in democratic theory as well as take up certain hard questions that bear on the persistence of racism within democratic societies. I begin with the conceptual connection between the requirement of democracy and the critique of racism. I then turn to the issue of whether racial identity can be interpreted in cultural terms, taking up Anthony Appiah's argument on this point. Concerning the norms of democracy, I want to argue for a reinterpretation that draws on a conception of what I have called in Chapter 2 concrete universality. In this connection, while appreciating Charles Mills's trenchant critique of the “racial contract,” I suggest that his appeal to an ideal social contract, with its set of natural and human rights, does not yet provide an adequate normative basis for a fully nonracist democracy. Instead, we need a conception of inclusive, intercultural democratic communities, on a certain interpretation. In terms of this approach to group differences, I then briefly consider the potential impact of economic democracy for reducing racial divisiveness. As background for taking up these difficult questions, however, it is helpful at the outset to briefly review the present situation regarding racism and theories of democracy.

Racism and Existing Democratic Frameworks

Why does racism, as well as the idea of race itself, play almost no role in most democratic theories?

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