Philosophy of Race

When I say race, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? The Indianapolis 500 🏎??? Wait, no, wrong kind of race. Look, we get it. Race can be a tricky subject. Nobody wants to hear the crazy things their racist uncle has to say at Thanksgiving. Maybe you wish race didn’t exist in the first place, or maybe race is an important part of your identity! But race is something we should definitely think about. Philosophy of Race does just that: it ponders race in a way far deeper than how it’s talked about on cable television 📺every weeknight.

The first question philosophers of race usually ask is whether race is even real. You might immediately think, “of course it is, silly philosopher,” and, okay that’s fair. But when philosophers like K. Anthony Appiah and Naomi Zack say race is not real, they mean that it has no genetic🧬 nor biological basis and was basically made up by people to justify historical oppression. And science backs them up. But even if it is not biological, does that mean it’s not real at all? If race isn’t real at all, should we get rid of it? And why does it feel so real? These are all great and important questions that philosophers of race struggle with to this day. 

Another question is what makes someone racist? Does racism have to be intentional or conscious? Does being old or “from another time” give you a Racist Get Out of Jail Free Card? Can anyone be racist? These questions might seem obvious to you, but thinking more deeply about them will help you better understand why individuals might hold racist views and better understand how to combat these views.

Key Texts


  • Social Construction of Race

    The Partially Examined Life Episode

  • Ask Code Switch: What About Your Friends?

    NPR Code Switch

  • The Philosophy of Race

    The Forum for Philosophy

  • Philosophy in the Wake of Empire

    David Rutledge


Pop Culture Examples

Want to Know More?

Questions to Think About

  • What is race?

  • Is race real?

  • Should we get rid of race?

  • What makes someone or something racist?

  • Why is race so important in our daily lives?

Key Thinkers

  • Linda Martin Alcoff

  • Anthony Appiah

  • Derrick Bell

  • Robert Bernasconi

  • Kimberle Crenshaw

  • Angela Davis

  • W.E.B. Du Bois

  • Emmanuel Eze

  • Frantz Fanon

  • Charles Mills

  • Naomi Zack

“Chris Long, Linda Alcoff and Victor Kestenbaum” by cplong11 is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Kwame Appiah” by Oregon State University is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“KP0002991” by iukarchives is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Long and Bernasconi” by cplong11 is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“File:Kimberlé Crenshaw (46951501615).jpg” by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung from Berlin, Deutschland via Wikimedia Commons is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Enclosures: Quotidian Carceralities in the US and Occupied Palestine (Angela Davis)” by Columbia GSAPP is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“NAACP founder and advocate of action W. E. B. Du Bois: 1945” by Addison N. Scurlock is licensed with CC-BY NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“File:Frantzfanonpjwproductions.jpg” by Pacha J. Willka is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Charles W. Mills Katz Lecture on Liberalism and Racial Justice” by Simpson Center for the Humanities | UW is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Key Terms

  • institutional racism
    the distribution of power through social and political institutions to the benefit of white individuals and to the detriment of people of color
  • prejudice
    A preconceived opinion about someone based on their membership with a perceived group rather than reason or actual experience
  • intersectionality
    A conceptual framework or understanding how aspects of one’s social and political identities might combine to create unique modes of discrimination.
  • critical race theory
    A theoretical framework, developed out of legal scholarship, that analyzes how race and power interact in the law. It posits that the law has historically developed power structures based in white privilege and supremacy.
  • white privilege
    The ability to have greater access to power and resources than people of color (in the same situation) do.
  • double consciousness
    A concept that refers to a source of inward “twoness” experienced by Black people because of their racialized oppression and devaluation in a white-dominated society.

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