Is Racism In The Heart? By Tommie Shelby

1547 words - 6 pages

Racism is not a factor of the heart, according to Tommie Shelby in “Is Racism in the ‘Heart’?” He writes “the ‘heart’ does not have to be involved in order for an action or institution to be racist” (483). Instead, Shelby argues that racism is based on the effect of a person’s actions on deepening racist institutions or promulgating the oppression of a particular group of people based on their race. The individual intention of a person or the “purity” or his or her heart does not take precedence over the effect of his or her actions. Shelby’s argument is constructed as follows: Individual beliefs can be true or false but not inherently immoral. Therefore, it is not appropriate to morally condemn someone for holding a particular belief. However, when the particular belief leads to “race-based hatred...actions...or institutions” that is when it becomes appropriate to hold the individual with the belief morally culpable for racism.
Shelby suggests that Jorge Garcia presents an inadequate conception of racism, hence a new, more nuanced concept of racism is necessitated. Garcia contends that “racism is always wrong” and that it is an “individual moral vice” (479). Garcia’s “infection model” explains that an “act is racist insofar as a racist heart infects the conduct of the racist; and an institution is racist insofar as it is rooted in the racist attitudes and the resulting racist-infected actions of its founds and/or current functions” (479). Shelby’s response to this is that an action can be racist even if it is separate from racist intentions. Shelby perceives that Garcia holds the idea that “racist beliefs are a secondary and an inessential feature of racism” since “race-based non-cognitive attitudes are the key ingredient, and it is the possession of these attitudes that makes an individual a racist, and thus, morally vicious” (479). For Shelby, it seems as though Garcia contends an individual’s “attitudes” not his or her “beliefs” are what make the individual racist (479). Still, Shelby maintains that “beliefs are essential to and even sufficient for racism” (480). Basically, Shelby argues that in order to determine whether a person is racist or not, the reasons for one’s dislike of another must be evaluated. Shelby gives the hypothetical case of Stephen (white) disliking Andre (black) because Andre was having an affair with Stephen’s wife. In this example, Shelby illustrates that Stephen’s derives his dislike of Andre from Andre’s behavior not his race (480). Thus, Shelby raises the question of what racism actually signifies. Rather than disliking someone simply on the basis of skin color, Shelby suggests that is has a “deeper meaning” (480).
Shelby’s strongest counterpoint to Garcia is in his example of the woman who “has no ill will toward blacks but learned as a child to believe that they are ‘naturally’ disposed” to particular antisocial behaviors, and now as “an adult, she uncritically continues to hold on to this belief.” Based on...

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