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On White Ignorance, White Shame, and Other Pitfalls in Critical Philosophy of Race

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


This article examines Samantha Vice's essay ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’ (2010), which sparked a storm of controversy in South Africa, as a starting point for interrogating understandings of whiteness and racism that are dominant in critical philosophy of race. I argue that a significant body of philosophical scholarship on whiteness in general and by white scholars in particular obfuscates the structural dimension of racism. The moralisation of racism that often permeates philosophical scholarship reproduces colourblind logics, which provide individualistic explanations for structural problems, thereby sustaining white dominance. In the process, I show that notions of white guilt, white habits, white ignorance, white invisibility, white privilege, and white shame as they are theorised in much critical philosophy of race share a crucial limitation: they minimise white people's active interest in reproducing the racist status quo. Studies, such as Vice's, that frame racism as a moral dilemma while silencing its institutionalisation and the central cause for its existence and longevity – that is, white people's investment in maintaining economic, political, and symbolic power – further naturalise white supremacy.