November 30, 2010 / Theology
This essay is neither for nor against Glenn Beck. The philosopher Michel Foucault warns us …
October 6, 2009
With the historic 2008 presidential campaign in the United States, the question of race again came to the fore of the American consciousness.1 In this campaign, we saw a number of racially charged news stories–Bill Clinton likened Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson during the South Carolina primary, Rev. Jeremiah Wright riled the nation up with his controversial words, and many in the Republican Party wondered aloud if Barack Obama might be a Muslim or Arab, to name but a few. And even after Obama’s election, race entered into the national picture with the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, by a white police officer, while trying to enter his own home. With all of these stories, we see that the question of race continues to plague the United States. Despite our attempts to overcome racism through a variety of means (affirmative action being a major bureaucratic example) and despite the passage of more than fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement, racism continues to be part of the American consciousness. These examples point to the fact that racism is not just a personal problem, but something that is engrained into the very fabric of American society.
Some media pundits have said that with the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American (or even non-Caucasian) president, racism is at an end in America.2 However, even the election of President Obama does not mark the end of racism in America—racism is still part of our psyche. We stand at a unique moment in the United States, where, with the election of President Obama, we can begin to question some of the rhetoric and structures that have led the United States to its current place in relation to the problem of race.
In what follows, I offer an analysis and critique of racism in the United States as it currently exists within the framework of societal structures. The problem of race is a structural problem for the United States, and thus we need a structural solution. I, then, articulate the beginning of such a solution. I do not seek to solve the problem as much as to navigate it, offering a way of thinking that leads out of the current racial dilemma. First, I express the problem of race as it is currently conceived of by such thinkers as Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva; second, I pursue a solution to the problem of race through Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of hospitality. I contend that Derrida’s thinking on hospitality opens the way for a structural solution to the problem of race, that what we need in America today is a community of hospitality.
Constructing a Theory of the Structural Problem of Race
I first turn to three minority voices to articulate the structural problem of race. In doing so, I will follow their critique of the liberal theory of race. However, I will first offer an idea of what a liberal approach to race entails. At its most basic level, this approach attempts to fill the gaps that exist between minority races and white people in the United States by looking to government programs and to a discourse of equality.3 Although the thinkers I follow here believe that government and individual responsibility are necessary to overcome the race problem, they also suggest that these methods are inherently inadequate because they are predicated on a discourse and way of thinking that has arisen on the back of an inherited racism.4 This is especially true in the discourse of liberalism, with its focus on creating a society of equality and justice. Thus, we need a more progressive approach to race, an approach that focuses on a new way of mediating the problem.
I will begin my critique of liberal theory by following the genealogy of modern racism as it has been developed by Cornel West. West wants to show that the problem of white supremacy exists in the very discourse that is used by people, black and white. It has become engrained into the very way that people think; thus, to fight racism is to fight the presuppositions and ways of viewing the world that people have embraced uncritically. West argues that the foundation of these ideas is in our Greek heritage; for much of the Renaissance and early modern period of the Western world, the Greeks have been copied and made an idyllic race. For the West, this uptake of Greek metaphors and images produces a “normative gaze” where everything becomes compared to and measured against the Greeks.5 Those things that fail to reach the specifically Greek ideal, fail to be beautiful, good, and truthful, which poses an obvious problem for those who are not white.6
West continues his genealogy by noticing that at the same time as artists and thinkers were rediscovering the Greek ideal, the sciences were also starting to develop—at times, it was these same artists who were involved in the development of these sciences (like Leonardo Da Vinci). West shows that racism becomes part of the Western consciousness with the emergence of sciences that seek to classify and compare. Through an examination of natural history, he shows how the sciences are meant “to observe, compare, measure, and order animals and human bodies [. . .] based on visible, especially physical, characteristics,”7 and so race became a major way of classification. And people with darker skin failed to live up to the Greek ocular ideal of being white. West also points to the significance of phrenology and physiognomy in the development of racism. Phrenology, the study of skulls, was used to classify people’s beauty and intelligence according to the shape of their skull, and as one might expect, the physiognomists found that white people were more beautiful, had better brain activity, and were smarter than non-white people. Physiognomy, the study of faces, uses the Greek ideal to measure the beauty of faces, and the result, again, is that people who do not look like the white Greek fail to meet the aesthetic ideal, making them ugly and less pleasing to the eye.8 Thus, for West, the classificatory sciences represent the biological and ontological underpinnings for our misguided ideas of race. The rise of natural history, phrenology, and physiognomy give a scientific basis to this idea, leading to the development of ideas and a language that is inherently racist, seeing the black person as less than the white and unable to reach the white pinnacle of human existence.
The result, for us, is that the Enlightenment, that beginning of the liberal ideal which would lead to a foundation of democracy and capitalism, was built upon a racist ideology that it does not and cannot escape. Therefore, when West surveys the writings of Kant, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Hume, and Jefferson, he sees evidence of racism everywhere. For West, it is not that the fathers of democracy, equality, tolerance, and peace were uncritically racist, but that their racism derived from the scientific authority. What occurs, then, is that racial differences become grounded in ontology and biology. Racism had become a cultural attitude, predicated upon the sciences that give credence to racist attitudes. The subsequent development in our thinking and view of the world is a destructive discourse that has become a part of the Western world due to the normative gaze of the Greek ideal.9
Michael Eric Dyson points to an example of this normative gaze at work in his critique of Robert Anson’s Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry. In 1985, Edmund Perry, a Harlem youth who attended Phillips Exeter Academy, received a full scholarship to Stanford University but was shot dead while attempting to mug a white off-duty police officer. Anson uses the liberal theory of race to explain why a black youth who had gotten out of the ghetto and made something of himself would still commit criminal activity. But for Dyson, Anson’s approach fails in its attempt to show that the liberal theory of race has overcome the problem of race. This failure is because the liberal theory of race cannot adequately explain the “persistent forms of Afro-American oppression” at work in the lives of black people today.10
More particularly, Dyson suggests that Anson’s account fails to explain Perry’s frustrations while attending Phillips Exeter. Anson’s theory of race does not address systemic problems that have led to the oppression of black people, especially when in white (oftentimes liberal) environments. He cannot adequately deal with the problem of having “made it,” by living the life of an upper middle-class youth at Phillips Exeter, while also being the young black person who grew up and lived in Harlem. Anson does not understand, or even try to understand, what it might mean to juggle one’s life between these two cultures.11 For Dyson, then, Anson’s analysis shows why the very structures put into place to help Perry fail him due to their continued perpetuation of a racist ideology.
Dyson continues his critique by arguing that Anson’s use of the liberal theory focuses on the issue of assimilation rather than the experience of race itself. Dyson shows how Anson tends to collapse the European, immigrant experience in America with that of African slaves brought to America. Anson wants to argue that the Irish or Italian immigrant had a similar plight as the African slave. He sees the two as having the same experience, without articulating that most Europeans came to the United States and were free citizens whereas Africans were torn from their land and brought to the American shores as slaves. This leads Dyson to suggest that the liberal theory, which is used by Anson, is primarily based on the European immigrant experience, an experience that was chiefly ethnic, not racial. However, the problem for blacks is the experience of being black.12 The liberal theory sees race as part of one’s broader ethnic identity and then critiques aspects of black culture according to their failure to assimilate. Dyson argues, in contrast, that racism has been structurally engrained within the American psyche through the creation of racist structures, first entrenched through the history of oppression of minorities within the United States.13 A liberal theory, he says, fails to take into account the structural problems that have kept blacks oppressed, continue to keep them oppressed, or at the very least, make it incredibly difficult to overcome the oppression. This inability to deal with racism stems from the paradoxical fact that the liberal theory continues to perpetuate the same structures and ways of thinking that have oppressed minorities as ways to overcome racism.
The outcome of the failure of the liberal theory is what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “color-blind racism.” Today, most Americans neither see themselves as racists nor have overt prejudices that are similar to the Jim Crow era. However, Bonilla-Silva notes that there still exists racial inequality and a certain underlying prejudice on the part of white people against other races. This subtle racism is manifested most often through the claim by whites that racial problems are perpetuated by minority races and that the only reason there is a race problem in the United States is because minority races keep bringing it up, keep “playing the race card.”14 Bonilla-Silva counters this claim, which originates with the liberal theory of race, by illustrating that the racism perpetuated here seeks to have justice and equality as primary attributes—each individual must be treated equally (an Enlightenment echo)—yet minority races are not treated equally, most often because they do not get a fair start.
Bonilla-Silva looks at race and racism as a structural issue, not an individual problem.15 He argues that color-blind racism does not depend upon the overt racism of Jim Crow, but upon a “subtle, institutional, and apparently nonracial” problematizing or “otherizing” of the other race. As evidence for this claim, he points to several arguments that are frequently used to discount the necessity of overcoming a racial divide. One example is interracial marriage. He says that in color-blind racism, the argument is not that the other minority is evil or less than human, but that interracial marriage will cause more burdens in the marriage, like multi-racial children or the question of where to live. And so, whites enunciate positions that “safeguard their racial interests without sounding ‘racist.’ Shielded by color blindness, whites can express resentment toward minorities; criticize their morality, values, and work ethic and even claim to be victims of ‘reverse racism.’”16
It is apparent, then, that racism is an institutional problem, a structure built into the fabric of being American, a structure which must be fought and overcome. But how is this done? I believe that Dyson points us toward the right path: an accurate theory of race must take the idea of race seriously, in all aspects; it must consider the psychological, social, political, cultural, and historical realities that are part of the identity of a race. Without doing so, we can neither begin to understand the other race nor offer an adequate method of overcoming the racism inherent to our current predicament.17 Without offering a theory of race that reaches Dyson’s lofty expectations, I hope to offer a way forward for the white person.18 I believe that Jacques Derrida’s notion of hospitality offers a way to advance past the racial divide so that we can begin to encounter the other as other.
Derrida and Hospitality
As West, Dyson, and Bonilla-Silva have suggested, racism is built into the very structures that many white liberals have perpetuated to overcome racism. Indeed, American society has continued to perpetuate structural racism in part because it has lacked an alternative structure by which to move forward. I turn, then, to Derrida’s understanding of hospitality because it opens the doors for an alternative structure to the problem of race.19 Although not an explicitly political theory, the Derridean notion of hospitality offers a viable alternative to liberal theories of race; it suggests a way that white people may begin to move forward and that we all may overcome the racial divide. This turn to Derrida is due to the fact that, while not offering a specifically political theory, he offers a solution that is rooted in the reorienting of the structural problem of race. Derrida’s explication of hospitality shows that the structures that exist which perpetuate racism can be resisted and, even, overcome.
However, before beginning, there is required an initial action that can open the possibilities for hospitality. The first (non)step for me, in taking up Derrida’s analysis, is to ask for forgiveness.20 I believe that before theologians approach the issue of race, we must ask for forgiveness. As a white person, I have directly benefited from the oppression of black people in the United States, and that oppression, that personal gain which has resulted from the oppression, is unforgivable. And yet, I must stand here and ask for forgiveness; I must offer myself to the other to be encountered in such a way that I am committed to being open to the coming of the other. This is the beginning of hospitality, as Derrida suggests, because guests cannot enter somewhere they feel unwelcome. And even if the guest comes to avenge me, turning my request for forgiveness on itself, I still must ask and offer myself to the other, hoping to encounter this other and learn about this other as other, hoping that the other will come.
The first moment of hospitality is what Derrida terms “the welcome,” where the move is made to encounter the wholly other as wholly other. This is not to say that there are stages of hospitality, only that hospitality begins with, and is nearly synonymous with, the welcome. As Derrida describes it, the welcome is a “tending toward the other, attentive intention, intentional attention, yes to the other.” Derrida understands the welcome to be an operational concept. The welcome, for Derrida, is not a theme within the thinking on hospitality, but it is rather how hospitality works. It is the beginning of an action, but the action of the welcome is passiveness, allowing the other to come. It is only in this passive activity, where one directs one’s attention toward an/other, that one is open to the other without necessarily trying to find the other. And thus, the welcome begins the movement of hospitality; it becomes the condition of the possibility for one’s encounter with the other.21
The welcome is a work of hospitality because it does not seek to dominate the other in any way. Derrida wants to counter the common move of allowing the other to come and being open to the other but then placing stipulations upon the other as the other comes. Derrida seeks to show that in hospitality, thematization of the other should not occur, if one wants to continue hospitality. In fact, in offering hospitality by being open to the other, one seeks to avoid dominating this other by allowing the other to come as other. The other cannot be reduced to some theme or common denominator.22 Reducing the other so that “I” am in control of the appearing of the other is to calculate the way that the other can come. Such behavior destroys the welcome as welcome, reducing hospitality to some calculated, formulated event, and in that event, hospitality ceases.23
However, there is a certain tension within Derrida when it comes to the idea of thematization in hospitality. Derrida wants us to avoid “dominating thematization,” yet he argues that, paradoxically, thematization can only occur within hospitality, that hospitality is the condition of the possibility for encountering the other and that one cannot thematize the other without this encounter. And so hospitality is the condition of the possibility for thematization.24 The concern for Derrida is that we avoid dominating the other in this thematizing, that we allow the other to be other, to surprise and challenge us. In fact, it is impossible to dominate the other as other—it is only in trying to control the other, destroying the otherness of the other, that one dominates the other and ceases hospitality. There is a necessary impossibility for Derrida, then, in that the other as other evades all attempts to be controlled. We cannot develop a system, a method, a general criterion, or a set of norms for how the other appears and how this appearing should be elucidated. Rather, we take a risk in allowing the other to come as other and allowing this other to challenge us, defy our expectations, and overwhelm us.25
When the other comes and is encountered by the one who is open, it is in part because of the actions of the one who is open: the setting of the gaze upon the other, the extension toward the other, the reception of the other as other, the desire to give shelter to this other, et cetera. In all of this, the other is encountered by the one who is open. However, the other cannot be sought, as this leads to domination of the other. So, in being open for the welcome, one must prepare to not prepare, be ready to not be ready. There must be an expectation for the unexpected. The passivity of being open comes to the fore here: one must be open in such a way that one does not expect the other to come, but when the other does come, one allows oneself to encounter the other in such a way as to be overtaken, dominated, surprised by this other. Hospitality operates, then, on the aporetic nature of actively being open, to be ready to not be ready to be overtaken by the other. There is a simultaneous active and passive nature to being open and pursuing hospitality. Hospitality necessitates a dual role for the one practicing it, by first showing that one must be open to the other who is not mine, not controlled by me or even known by me, while second, also showing that to be hospitable one must say “yes” to the other who is not expected or being waited upon. This allows one to be “swept by the coming of the Wholly Other, the absolutely unforeseeable stranger, the uninvited visitor [ . . .].”26 We see, then, that in this double nature of the welcome—being ready for that which one cannot be ready for, in order to give friendship to that which is utterly foreign—real hospitality can take place.27
Here, I turn to Derrida’s explication of hospitality par excellence, which occurs, for him, in the interaction that occurs between God and Abram as told in Genesis 17–18, when God tells Abram of the gift of Isaac. Derrida says that the visitation of God to Abram is “radically surprising and overtaking.” This encounter with God radically overwhelms Abram to the point that Abram is no longer himself, but is transformed, becoming someone else entirely—Abraham. Derrida says that the identity of Abram is “fractured” because “he receives without being ready to welcome.” God visits Abram in such a way as to completely disrupt Abram’s life and to disrupt it in such a way that Abram can no longer be seen as Abram but has to be transformed into someone new. This is the ultimate act of hospitality on the part of Abram; he is open to God in such a way that while he was not expecting to encounter God—and not ready to do so—when he does encounter God, he allows himself to be overwhelmed and even transformed by this God.28
If the story of God encountering Abram is the story of hospitality, what does this tell us? How does this open up our thinking about hospitality? Initially, it shows that hospitality is the very root ethics.29 It is not that hospitality opens up ethics, but that hospitality is the condition of the possibility for ethics—hospitality is ethics. In this vein, Derrida pursues Levinas’s notion of ethics as first philosophy. He says that it is Levinas’s idea of ethics that opens up the ability to think hospitality. This is because Levinas posits the radical separation between one and the other, the experience of alterity that exists in any relationship, and examines what it is that makes this alterity negotiable: it is in the relation to the other. This is not to say that I am working with relation as a Hegelian dialectic; rather, in pursuing relation, the subject practices hospitality, because when one is in relation, one does not try to destroy the other’s alterity but allows the other to exist as other. This is not a movement to collapse the other into me or my calculations, but to have the other disrupt me and my calculations in a way that makes me deal with the other (even if it is a decision to not deal with other).30
If hospitality is ethics, there must be a moment of action. Here, Derrida talks of the “duty or responsibility” that comes with hospitality. He says that this “binds me to the other, to the other as other, and ties me in my absolute singularity to the other as other [. . .]. As soon as I enter a relation with the absolute other, my absolute singularity enters into relation with his on the level of obligation and duty. I am responsible to the other as other [. . .].”31 In the act of hospitality, then, it is not enough that I am open to the other and encountered by the other, but I also must become responsible to this other. This responsibility, or duty, stems from the relation that I enter with the other, the neighbor. It comes from the fact that I will not dominate or try to calculate the relation, but that I will allow the other to exist as other. My responsibility, then, ultimately resides in allowing the other to be other and embracing this other in her alterity.
It seems that Derrida offers an excellent example of responsible hospitality when he speaks of our relationships with foreigners. He says that we often ask the foreigners to come to us, to speak our language, to know our culture, et cetera, but Derrida does not see this as hospitality.32 Rather, hospitality occurs when the foreigners are allowed to exist as foreigners, speak their language, and practice their own culture, even in the midst of a dominant culture.33 The problem of hospitality, then, can only be addressed when one takes on the responsibility for the other, when the other may come and exist as other without having to become something that he or she is not. This is what it means to embrace the other as neighbor, to take responsibility for the other even though it may be difficult and may end with me being taken advantage of.
The Derridean Import to a Discussion of Race
To conclude, I will make this discussion of Derrida a little more explicit to our topic at hand. I believe that Derrida’s notion of hospitality provides a way forward in the discussion of race by showing us how to build a community that practices hospitality. As I illustrated in the first section of this essay, the flaws of the liberal ideal necessitate a new way of thinking about how to overcome the racial divide. I turn to Derrida because of his criticism of the liberal ideal and because his thinking on hospitality advances a new way of responding to racism. As I have suggested, the structures that caused racism in the United States are today the very same structures that are being used to fight racism. These structures are inherently racist, and so they continue to perpetuate the racism they are seemingly against. We must look to a new structure (or perhaps an unstructured structure) to work against the problem, and in this regard, the work of Derrida represents a helpful way of confronting this issue.
First, Derrida’s thought suggests that an approach to structural racism must begin with the welcome. We must open ourselves to the other as other, to the minority as minority. This task is difficult. It is not our job to offer quick solutions but to embrace the minority and learn about what it is like to be a minority. As Dyson articulated earlier, we must try to understand through conversation and hospitality all the aspects, all of the psychological, social, political, cultural, and historical realities that go into the identity of a race.34 This does not mean that we are able to get inside the head of the other or to become the other—it would be inhospitable to assume that we can be the other. Rather, we must listen to the other, welcoming the racial other (and the socioeconomic other) to the table. And this does not just mean proffering an invitation to the intellectuals that comment on race, like West, Dyson, and Bonilla-Silva. Rather, we must learn to listen to the people living in the worst of racial oppression, to those living in the ghettos and projects; we must learn to listen to their problems and their stories. In listening, our goal is not to become the racial other, but to learn to welcome the other to the table of conversation. Here, the Derridean account of hospitality counters the liberal idea of entering a conversation where the dominant party asks the questions and controls the conversation. Instead, in the welcome of hospitality, we must welcome the other and listen.
Second, a structure for understanding race as articulated through hospitality must not attempt to thematize or dominate the other. Rather, hospitality necessitates that we be open to the encounter with the other and that we be open to describe the other through this encounter. Hospitality implodes when it seeks to dominate an other, and so the structure of the discourse becomes one of conversation, of back and forth. An ebb and flow must occur between the encounter of the welcome and the subsequent encounters that each allow for a better understanding of the other. This means that we cannot operate on, nor continue to perpetuate, stereotypes.
Third, when approaching the problem of structural racism, we cannot make the white person the ideal or norm. To understand the other as other is to learn who they are and the ideal that they wish to become. It is not to force upon a community or group the kind of ideal that is often expected, especially under the tenets of the American dream, with its implications of being rich and successful, becoming like the powerful white slave owner or (currently) most CEOs. Instead, we must overcome those structures that continue to oppress minorities through the freedom that comes in overcoming the psychological, social, and economic (among other) ideal that American society implicitly places upon people. Again, however, this is not to say that we can completely know the ideals that the other may hold; rather, this is to enter into a genuine dialogue with the other by listening to her and taking upon oneself the impetus to speak with the other. Liberalism has often told the other not only how one should go about overcoming her oppression, but also what that overcoming may look like. Hospitality does not allow for this, as this places upon the other our expectations and our desires. Rather, hospitality, in welcoming and listening to the other, takes responsibility to help the other really live in a way that he can counter his oppression and work toward his own goals. In so doing, the other may then call into question the general notions of success and failure, ideals, and structures that a society often implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) places upon a people.35 Thus, hospitality allows for the other to continue to be other and, in so doing, to call into question some of the broader problems in a society.
Lastly, the white person must understand that because racism exists as a result of the majority and because members of the majority are the beneficiaries of racism, overcoming racism is not the responsibility of the other but the responsibility of the majority. In practicing hospitality, the majority must take responsibility and action on part of the minority, not allowing them to continue living in oppression through structures that say they end racism when they continue to perpetuate it. This means the creation of a society where people can exist differently, where the majority is not threatened by the minority, and where the minority is given the opportunity to become what it can through the actions of the majority. The necessity here, then, is to create a structure that is not hegemonic or totalizing, but moves with the other. This is what hospitality does. By taking responsibility for the other, the majority speaks with the other by critiquing the structures that have perpetuated racism. This means that the majority enters into serious dialogue with the other, dialogue that is meant to give voice to the other, not to tell the other how she is supposed to live or exist. By taking responsibility for the other, the majority works toward an alternative structure that avoids promoting injustice and oppression through things like housing projects, which usher the poor minority out of the sight of the majority, and builds a place where the other exists in the sight and hearing of the majority, like putting a housing project next to Central Park in New York City or on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Here, no longer can the majority ignore the plight of those who have been oppressed so that the majority can exist and prosper financially; rather, by taking responsibility for the other, the majority brings the other into the very structures that have kept her out.
We see, then, that a structure of hospitality, in contrast to the current liberal approach, takes seriously the place and plight of the minority by opening oneself to the other in order to understand the other. Minorities do not need to become like whites, but they need to be given the resources to overcome the systems of oppression that continue to impede them. These resources cannot be structures that look to end oppression but really perpetuate it; rather, the resources must be our very selves, speaking with the other to the majority to overcome the racism that continues to oppress. A society that approaches the issue of race through hospitality offers such an approach by not necessitating a method or right way of action but by pursuing a state of being-with the minority and thereby overcoming together the racism of American society. The liberal approach refuses to do this because it continues to measure success against the white ideal. The approach of hospitality counters the liberal approach by arguing that there is no white ideal and that liberalism upholds oppressive structures which cause injustice and actually endorse the white ideal. In contrast, hospitality welcomes the other, listens to the other, exists with the other, and in so doing, takes responsibility for the other in a way that brings the other to resist the oppression of the majority.
1. The original version of this paper was presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Wesleyan Philosophical Society. As a result, the impetus is more on the philosophical side of the issue of race than the theological side. For an excellent theology of race, see J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008). In a future essay, I hope to show how my proposal here and Carter’s thought work together to see Christianity as an ultimate place of resistance to the oppressive structures of much liberal thought.
2. I remember watching the morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and FOXNEWS the day after the election of Barack Obama and hearing this question come up again and again. And more recently, it was what was not said by media pundits that suggests the media’s belief in the end of racism. On the HBO episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” which aired on September 25, 2009, Maher interviewed Michael Moore about his upcoming movie Capitalism: A Love Story, and at the end of the interview, Maher said something to the effect that Moore has taken on corporations, gun control, the war(s), President Bush, and now the capitalist structure—what is left for him to do? This question ignores the fact that one of the biggest problems still plaguing the country is that of racism, or at least the continuation of structures that have continued to oppress many minority people.
3. This is contrasted with the conservative theory of race, which sees solution in the actions and attitudes of individuals and essentially ignores the structural problems of racism. Because I am here focusing on the problem of structure, I have decided not to focus on this approach..
4. For an example of this thinking, see Cornel West, Race Matters, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2001). Michael Eric Dyson also follows this way of approaching race. For representative essays, see Michael Eric Dyson, The Michael Eric Dyson Reader (New York: Basic Civitas Book, 2004). This is not to say that if given the choice, minorities would pick the conservative over the liberal. Rather, the conservative is not an option and the liberal is inadequate.
5. See Cornel West, Prophecy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), 47–69, especially 49 and 53–54.
6. An example here would be Michelangelo’s David: the fact that Michelangelo feels the need to make his statue of the Semitic David a Greek points to the problem West is articulating.
7. Ibid., 55. Italics are original.
8. Ibid., 58–59. Some in the discipline took this further by making the nose the main feature of the face and using this to begin his discussion of ideal types; the problem, of course, is that the African nose is generally quite different from the white nose, which, again, caused the African to be considered less beautiful.
9. Ibid., 61 and 64–5.
10. Michael Eric Dyson, “The Liberal Theory of Race,” in The Michael Eric Dyson Reader (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004), 37.
11. Ibid., 38–39.
12. Ibid., 40. I believe that it is much easier for an immigrant who is white to assimilate in the United States than an immigrant who is black. This is because a white immigrant can, for the most part, hide that they are an immigrant by learning English and living among other whites in society. They can blend in because they meet the normative gaze and ideal. Conversely, regardless of how well a black person learns English or tries to be neighborly, others can always see that the person is black (or brown or yellow or red or another race).
14. For a full explanation of this color blindness, see Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, 2nd ed. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006); his discussion of “playing the race card,” can be found on page 1.
15. Ibid., 8–11.
16. Ibid., 3–4.
17. Dyson, “The Liberal Theory of Race,” 45.
18. For an incredible “theology of race,” that begins to offer this way forward, I point again to Carter, Race.
19. I believe that much of Derrieda’s thinking on hospitality stems from his childhood in Algeria, a land owned by the French, as a Jew during World War II. Derrida was excluded from the public school system because he was Jewish, and that made him keenly aware of the lack that exists in current discussions and the need for a discourse that opens the way to reconciliation.
20. I use the term “(non)step” here to show that this is not a method for overcoming racism: I am not trying to be condescending here, but to say that the first thing that a Western thinkers must do is ask forgiveness. This is a (non)step, though, because, while an action, it is not meant to get a desired result: it is, rather, seeking a genuine engagement where there is learning from past wrongs and a sincere attempt to move into a world where racism is not the structural problem it currently is.
21. Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 22–3; also see 25. Italics are Derrida’s.
22. Ibid., 21.
23. Jacques Derrida, “The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida,” in Deconstruction in a Nutshell, ed. by John D. Caputo (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 19. In this reference, Derrida is discusses justice. However, it is my contention that for Derrida, justice and hospitality are, at times, synonymous, especially when Derrida discusses the operation of each. See Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 16–7. Also, see Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, 50. This view is contrasted to that of Stephen Minister, “Derrida’s Inhospitable Desert of the Messianic: Religion within the Limits of Justice Alone,” Heythroup Journal 48 (2007), 227–42. Specifically, Minister sees Derrida’s conception of justice as giving rise to his famous “religion without religion,” but not hospitality. I would also argue, if time permitted, that for Derrida, hospitality is intimately tied up with religion, which I hope will become clear later in this paper.
24. Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, 48. Derrida acknowledges, though, that as the condition of possibility for thematization, hospitality runs the risk of being perverted. In the risk of being open, there is the risk that one may not seek pure hospitality, but instead, after being hospitable, one may pervert the other for different means. This is not to say that it is necessarily bad (for Derrida, the law is unhospitable), but that it breaks with the singular acknowledgment of the other (See Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, 35).
The risk of being open is dual in nature. First, there is the risk for the one who welcomes the other. Here, the risk is that the other may harm you, may take advantage of you, etc. In being open to the other, there is an unpredictability of what the other may do. But, in order for hospitality to occur, there must be being open. Without this, there is no possibility for hospitality, it is not-possible. Second, there is the risk of the one who is welcomed, the other. This one takes a risk in being open to experiencing hospitality, in being welcomed. The risk involved here is that the one welcoming may attempt to thematize or dominate the other, destroying the otherness of the other. But, in order for hospitality to occur, the other must take the risk to be welcomed and experience hospitality.
25. Ibid., 35.
27.Within this discussion of hospitality and Derrida, I have intentionally left out the notion of “the third.” I have done this, not as an oversight, but because I am trying to articulate the openness of hospitality to the other. The third would constitute an other, but still other, thus not negating my claims here. For further discussion of this, see Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969); see also Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas.
28. Derrida, “Hostipitality,” 372.
29. Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 16–17.
30. Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, 46.
32. Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 15–17.
33. What I discuss here all too briefly could be called a summary a Derrida’s notion of cosmopolitanism. For a fuller treatment by Derrida, see On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 1–24.
34. See note 25.
35. An example, here, is from the 2008 presidential election, where Barack Obama was questioned about his work as a community organizer. The McCain-Palin campaign (and, to an extent, the Clinton campaign in the primary) consistently asked whether community organizing was a legitimate goal and whether it “qualified” someone to be president. The implicit question was why a Harvard educated lawyer would move to the south side of Chicago and become a community organizer. What we saw in the rhetoric was that this was not an ideal of success; rather, he should have been a war veteran—like John McCain—or a mayor and governor—like Sarah Palin. This example illustrates the implicit definition of success that underlies our society.
Nathan Crawford is currently Adjunct Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Indiana Wesleyan University, as well as a doctoral candidate at Loyola University of Chicago. He has published articles on religion, philosophy, and ethics in numerous journals and is the editor of the forthcoming The Continued Relevance of Wesleyan Theology: Essays in Honor of Laurence Wood. He lives in northern Indiana with his wife and son.