We all agree that racism is wrong. Yet beneath this abstract consensus we find deep disagreements about what to do about it, and even about what racism is. We will address these questions by thinking about some very specific issues, drawing on work in philosophy, law, history, and the social sciences. Is racism best understood as a system of beliefs or social structures? What makes racial discrimination wrongful? Should we seek to discourage hate speech, and if so, should it be regulated by law or through informal social norms? Is a just society colorblind? If so, how should we think about the justice of desegregation, affirmative action and reparations for slavery, all of which aim to use racial categorization to address racism? On the other hand, if a just society need not be colorblind, is it wrong for police departments to use racial profiling where profiling enables them to deploy resources more efficiently? All of these are important questions for us to confront, for the very answers that seem obviously right to some us will seem obviously wrong to others.
This course will require us to probe our convictions about some deeply held beliefs on significant issues. Students will seek out the best arguments that can be marshaled on behalf of their own moral and political views, identify the vulnerabilities of these arguments, and seek to understand those who disagree by considering the strongest arguments for the views they reject. Our understanding of our own values will deepen and may shift in the process. We will emerge from this investigation with a clearer grasp of what racism is, why it is wrong, and what a world without racism might look like.