Theorizing Racism in Britain: The Contribution of the Dummetts
Robert Bernasconi (Pennsylvania State University)

part of: Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now
June 5, 2014, 9:00am - 9:30am
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room G22/26, Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

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  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Institute of Commonwealth Studies
  • Aristotelian Society
  • Mind Association
  • Analysis Trust
  • UCL Department of Philosophy
  • UCL Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies
  • UCL Race Equality Steering Group


Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman
University College London

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Theorizing Racism in Britain: The Contribution of the Dummetts (Bernasconi)

Michael Dummett is widely regarded as one of the foremost British philosophers of the post-war period, but his work on immigration is ignored in discussions of Critical Philosophy of Race and Critical Race Theory. This is in part because these disciplines are predominantly rooted in the United States, where the history of racism and the history of racial classification are both very different from the corresponding histories in Britain. Furthermore, because the United States understands itself as a country of immigrants, the issue of immigration is approached very differently. 

In this paper, I argue that Michael Dummett's discussions of immigration, like those of Ann Dummett, who, as a director of the Runnymede Trust and a consultant for the Commission for Racial Equality, had a rare understanding of British racism, should belong to the canon of Critical Philosophy of Race, as part of its attempt to include more perspectives. I base my argument not only on their publications, but also their unpublished papers: I have access to Ann Dummett's papers, which have recently been deposited at Penn State University, and I will also make use of an unpublished essay by Michael Dummett, in which, on the basis of his first-hand experience of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he sought to explain to the British public the character of racism in the United States, about which he believed the media had deceived them. My paper will include a comparison between both their approaches to racism and those of other British theorists of this period, who are mainly sociologists. 

My analysis is framed by my ongoing project, inspired by Foucault, to develop a genealogy of the concept of racism and I will pay particular attention to their attempts to define and otherwise characterize racism. I will also show that their arguments about the racist character of immigration policies in Britain at that time continue to have relevance both in the British context and beyond.


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