What inspired you to form this group?
- During my first semester (Fall 2017), a discussion between my friend Zach Kofi and I led us to form the group. Originally, we wanted to (re)read Charles Mills' The Racial Contract in a rigorous way. But we also had interest in reading a wide array of Black philosophy and topics. Since I had volunteered as one of our department's GSA representatives, I knew there was money available to pay for food for reading groups. So, we decided to form our own reading group, technically called the Philosophy of Race and Political Theory Reading Group, which was shortened to Philosophy of Race group. [I also had recently encountered Frederick Douglass' concept of "Black counterpublics" and wanted to put that into action in some way.] Howard McGary, who is now retired, served as an indispensable informal advisor and mentor to the group during our early semesters.
What types of books do you read in it?
- In four years, we have read a wide range of topics in the form of articles and books. We began with two books situated in contemporary (analytic) Black political philosophy: Tommie Shelby's Dark Ghettos and Charles Mills' Black Rights/White Wrongs. The following semester we moved into a discussion of Black racial realism, which is a resurgent strain of metaphysical claims about the biological reality of race. From there, we spent two semesters on Mass Incarceration. After that, we spent a good part of a semester reading Cedric Robinson's influential book Black Marxism and then turned to Black Feminist literature for the remainder of the academic year. This past Fall we spent our time returning to the metaphysics of race, in particular, the relationship between race and ethnicity. This semester we have partnered with UPenn's Philosophy of Race Reading group (organized by Alex Tolbert) to focus on the philosophical arguments for reparations (domestic and international).
What types of discussions do you have?
- The types of discussions we have depends largely on who is in attendance. Since most of the philosophers who regularly attend are analytically trained, we tend to focus on the specifics of concepts and arguments. Much of our discussion focuses on the use of language and methodology. We have had graduate students from Rutgers' History and WGS departments attend and interject interesting and valuable observations unavailable from the philosopher's armchair. The enriching nature of these discussions demonstrate the aptness of Africana's interdisciplinary methodology. The silver lining of the pandemic has been our ability to partner with UPenn's group (via Zoom), which brings young philosophers and young academics outside of philosophy into a synchronous global discussion! This latest iteration of the reading group by far is the most enriching.
What are your future plans?
Interview by Izzy Mizell