A critique of racist irrationality

This is not a book, it is a pomegranate. Published in 1997, this explosive intellectual device shatters the bedrock of certainties upon which Western political philosophy and practice is based.

It’s called an extraordinary essay by American philosopher Charles W. Mills (1951-2021), just translated by rapper and Quebec anti-racist activist Ali Ndiaye, aka Webster. Racial contract. The fire, published by the Quebec House Mémoire d’encrier, argues that the social contract of liberal societies is actually based on an implicit racial contract to preserve white supremacy over all other racial groups.

He concludes his opening thesis: “White supremacy is the political system that has made the modern world what it is today without ever being mentioned.”

Webster first read the sentence in preparation for a 2020 debate organized by UNESCO on the plight of racist people in the pandemic. “I was stunned,” he said. Each paragraph of the book allowed me to put words to what I knew. »

In the family, we master the subject concretely and theoretically. He and his Senegalese father, political science professor Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye, participated in the collective work. 11 Short Essays Against Racism (Overall, 2019).

End of reading Racial Contract It coincided with the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Webster found it Racial Contract had not been translated into French, and he decided to undertake the task himself.

In fact, Pomegranate was so ripe that a competing Franco-French publisher tried to acquire them within a week of signing the deal with the American house that owned the rights. The book went on sale this Wednesday the 1st in Quebecer February Black History Month will be available in Europe from March 3.

“I think the long delay in the French translation is also explained by the racial contract,” says Ali Ndiaye, a history graduate of Laval University. White philosophy has long ignored critical theory related to racialized or indigenous peoples. Moreover, it took a person who was not a translator and who was not a philosopher to translate it into French. »

A philosophy

Webster enlisted the help of professionals to fully understand the philosophical concepts. Because this is really a work of philosophy written by a philosopher.

Born in London to Jamaican parents, Charles Mills holds a PhD in the subject from the University of Toronto. His 1985 thesis was on the concept of ideology in Marx, and he remained a Marxist in the sense that his ideas wanted to serve to change the world.

Mills’ philosophy, created in the black radical tradition, was “born out of the struggle of the oppressed.” It seeks to create a global theoretical framework to situate debates on race and white racism, and ultimately to challenge the universalist claims of Euro-American political philosophy, which is still one of the whitest disciplines in academia.

The Shadow of John Rawls and his theory of justice (1971) spins on Racial contract. Rawls thinks of society as a collection of members who must cooperate for mutual benefit. Mills critiques this theory of the social contract by radically and fundamentally conflating the issue of race (at least as a social construct). It shows that racism is not an anomaly of colonial and imperialist societies and that white supremacy is the hidden face of a kind of liberal theory of social justice.

To change it, to solve this problem, we must certainly start by acknowledging its reality. Charles Mills makes a terrible remark about it: “In the 1950s, James Baldwin wrote, “Negroes want to act like men.” A perfectly clear sentence of eight words. There are people who have absorbed Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, Marx, Freud and the Bible and find this idea completely incomprehensible. »

Mills’ exposition is organized around several theses, which he calls the racial contract. First, it claims that this contract is “political, moral and epistemological”. The second is that this system leads to a logic of exploitation that creates “global European economic dominance and white national racial privilege.” Another thesis argues that the world is thus divided between “persons and sub-persons” and that the social contract is constantly being rewritten from this perspective.

Webster’s rap experience served to replicate a certain musicality of Mills’ style flow intellectual, developed in 200 pages. In any case, the language offered in the translation is clear and fluent.

These qualities are confirmed from the epigraph to the first chapter by reference to a famous American aphorism: “When white people say justice, they just mean us.” Thus the striking assonance in English between “Justice” in French and “Just us” is preserved.

“For me, writing is all about subtlety,” says the grenade launcher. Mills’ subtleties were sometimes difficult to translate. I have often relied on the clarity and clarity of the draft. »

Meanwhile in Quebec

Racial contract

Charles W. Mills, translated from English by Aly Ndiaye pen name Webster, Mémoire d’encrier, Québec, 2023, 204 pages

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