White Ignorance, Black Lives Matter, and Gentrification
June 3, 2015 5:12 PM   Subscribe

White ignorance refers to
the connection between privilege, ignorance and denials of complicity. It is Charles Mills, however, who has drawn special attention to the epistemology of ignorance. Mills’ work is guided by the question, ’How are white people able to consistently do the wrong thing while thinking that they are doing the right thing?’

You may have heard the term in connection with Black Lives Matter protests, as in the Salon/Alternet article "White America’s ignorant bliss: Why so many “good” white people are completely oblivious". The connection between white ignorance, racism, and gentrification in Halifax, Nova Scotia has been a topic of recent discussion. Not all commentary on the phenomenon is recent, however.

The idea has spawned an area of inquiry in philosophy, epsitemology of ignorance, and has been influenced by (and has influenced in return) feminist critiques of social contract theory.

The basic idea is that those in a priviledged class within a hierarchy (racial, sexual, class, etc.) are structurally shielded from knowledge of the workings and impacts of oppression on the non-priviledged class; and, in fact, are structurally encouraged to adopt a world view that justifies the oppression (eg. learning ideologies that deny that a hierarchy exists, and that would be read as victim-blaming by those who view the hierarchy as both existent and unjust - think, for example, of colonial claims of racial superiority).

That framework leaves a lot of room for assessing individual moral culpability for partcipating in systems of oppression, from Jay Smooth's oft-quoted more gentle approach, to the opinion that "'White Ignorance' Is a Lame Excuse for Racism".
posted by eviemath (5 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The idea of an 'epistemology of ignorance' sounds interesting, but you need to be logged into a member institution to view the first link. Are there any other options? I'd like to see a critical, academic approach to the concept. The other links don't really provide that.
posted by kanewai at 5:41 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding kanewai's request. The Racial Contract was extremely thought provoking and this looks equally interesting. Thanks!
posted by ropeladder at 9:04 PM on June 3, 2015

Do you have examples of or explanation for feminist critiques of social contract theory?
posted by koavf at 9:51 PM on June 3, 2015

The term of art for it these days is "agnotology". Googling that will turn up a bunch of stuff.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:52 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Andrew Hacker wrote “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.” He habitually asked his white college students how much money they would need to be Black. Their average sum was “$50 million, or $1 million for each coming black year.”

I am certain (we) white people are unaware of many particulars but I too am skeptical that most would fail to show awareness of the generalities presented with this sort of exercise.
posted by atoxyl at 11:53 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

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