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E-mail me to request unpublished drafts here.

My main research project draws on resources from philosophy, the black radical tradition, and the social sciences to develop a philosophical reconstruction of the concept of racism as it is advanced by contemporary anti-racist social movements. There are two key features of the social movement conception of racism. First, racism is understood primarily as a social system of race-based oppression. Racially oppressive systems are dynamically stable social systems partially structured by hierarchical racial categories that distribute advantages and disadvantages along racial lines. While “racism” refers primarily to social systems, the term also applies to components of the system. Thus, the systemic conception of racism also recognizes individual, institutional, and ideological forms of racism. The second key feature of the social movement conception of racism is to understand the term primarily as an explanatory concept. Understood as an explanatory concept, the main point of calling something or someone racist is not moral condemnation, but rather to explain the persistence of social problems afflicting non-white communities (e.g. police violence, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in education, employment, health care) by situating them within a larger system of race-based oppression.

Is Conceptual Inflation a Problem for a Theory of Institutional Racism?

Forthcoming in Ethics

I address the objection that the concept of racism has become overly inflated. The charge of conceptual inflation is often leveled against conceptions of racism that go beyond the traditional understanding of racism as race-based ill-will or disregard. Theories of institutional racism are a common target of conceptual inflation critics, especially when they ascribe racism to institutions partly in virtue of their impact. Conceptual inflation critics argue that theories of institutional racism engage in untoward conceptual inflation insofar as they undermine our moral understanding of racial phenomena, hinder our ability to explain the causes of racial inequality, and even undercut struggles for racial justice. I develop an original account of institutional racism that is immune to all three versions of the conceptual inflation challenge.

Is Affirmative Action Racist? Reflections Toward a Theory of Institutional Racism

I defend impact-based accounts of institutional racism against the criticism that they are over-inclusive. If having a negative impact on non-whites suffices to make an institution racist, too many institutions (including institutions whose affirmative action policies inadvertently harm their intended beneficiaries) would count as racist. To address this challenge, I consider a further necessary condition for these institutions to count as racist—they must stand in a particular relation to racist ideology. I argue that, on the impact-based model, institutions are racist if they have a negative racial impact AND this impact is legitimized by racist ideology. Racist ideologies limit social criticism of and collective action against institutions that have a negative racial impact, and in so doing, lend stability to systems of racial domination. 

Racism: A Moral or Explanatory Concept?

Published in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

Pre-print available here.

I argue that racism should not only be conceived as a moral concept whose main aim is to condemn severe wrongs in the domain of race. The paper advances a complementary interpretation of racism as an explanatory concept—one that plays a key role in explaining race-based social problems afflicting members of subordinate racialized groups. As an explanatory concept, the term “racism” is used to diagnose and highlight the causes of race-related social problems. The project of diagnosing race-based social problems contributes to the pragmatic anti-racist end of developing better political and policy strategies for solving these social problems. This social-philosophical project builds on and contributes to social-scientific approaches to the study of racism. It includes clarifying methodological (e.g. the debate between methodological individualism and holism) and ontological issues (e.g. the nature of “race”, “white supremacy”, “implicit bias”, “institutional racism”) that feature in social-scientific explanations of race-related social problems.  

Paper on Mariátegui and Mestizaje

Under review

Mestizaje occupies a privileged position in Latin American and Latinx philosophy. However, mestizaje has also been rightly criticized for its role in perpetuating racial and colonial oppression in Latin America and the Latinx diaspora. I identify three strategies adopted by Latinx philosophers who acknowledge these criticisms as valid. First, disentangling our preferred conception of mestizaje from the ideological conception of mestizaje that has been historically dominant (Gracia, Alcoff, Ortega, Pitts). Second, letting go of mestizaje altogether (Covarrubias-Cabeza). Third, identifying a conception of mestizaje that has not been historically dominant and can open the possibility of a mestizaje otherwise—one whose starting point is the denunciation of racial and colonial oppression (Nuccetelli). In this paper, I focus on the third strategy. After discarding Nuccetelli's proposal of Simon Bolivar's mestizaje model as a good candidate for a mestizaje otherwise, I examine whether José Carlos Mariátegui’s anti-colonial and indigenous-centric mestizaje model is a better alternative. Ultimately, I argue that Mariátegui’s mestizaje model is also unable to offer us a solid foundation to salvage mestizaje.

Structural Explanations in Social Philosophy

Paper in the works

I identify three challenges for accounts of structural explanation in social philosophy. The first challenge posits that social structures can only have explanatory power at the cost of determining human agency in a way that conflicts with human autonomy and rationality. The second challenge is that social structural explanations either refer to obscure metaphysical entities, such as social wholes and structures, or can be reducible to explanations in terms of individuals. The third challenge is that social structural explanations are too broad in a way that abstracts away from important aspects of the individuals whose behavior they aim to explain. I argue that existing accounts of structural explanation are unable to solve all three challenges simultaneously and that this inability has to do with their choice of individual behavior as the explanandum of social structural explanations. Instead, I propose that we conceive of social structural explanations as aiming to explain the persistence of social facts. I show how this shift from explaining individual behavior to explaining the maintenance of social facts allows social structural explanations to solve all three challenges. I also argue that many structural explanations in recent social philosophy work better as explanations of the persistence of social facts. 

Positional Interests and Structural Explanations of Oppression

Paper in the works

I challenge structural explanations of oppression in recent social philosophy. According to the standard story, structural constraints on agency explain why members of oppressed groups tend to contribute to their own oppression, which in turn explains the durability of oppression. I advance a complementary explanation of the durability of oppression that focuses not on the victims of oppression, but on its beneficiaries. My explanation seeks to answer why “well-meaning” members of privileged groups often act (or fail to act) in ways that maintain oppression. While the standard story homes in on the constraining power of social structures on oppressed agents, my account emphasizes the motivating power of social structures on privileged agents. To this end, I introduce the concept of positional interests (viz. interests that attach to individuals in virtue of their position in a social structure) to explain how social structures motivate those who benefit from an oppressive social structure to act (or fail to act) so as to sustain those structures. Positional interests explain the tendency for oppression-maintaining (in)action among privileged agents, and in so doing, explain the durability of oppression. 

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