philosophical Origins of Racist thinking


Dr. Martin Luther King placed much blame upon the white moderate for blocking the black man’s stride toward freedom. The white moderate was more concerned with preserving order than bringing blacks to justice. During Professor Wills’s unit, we spoke about the danger of unchallenged violence. We spoke of religion’s role in inventing racial thinking, but we never discussed the philosophy behind such thinking. White moderates kept putting off the severe issue of violence against blacks, advocating that the right time would eventually come. Dr. King, however, argued that the “right time” would never come and that change would never occur under this mindset. He presents a rationale for white moderate racism in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This rationale is as follows:

Premise 1: We should obey all laws

Premise 2: The laws currently permit treating different races differently

Conclusion: Differently races should be treated differently (until the law changes).

For King, the defect in this rationale lies within premise 1, the idea that all laws should be obeyed. He would argue that the white moderate argument is unsound, for not all of the premises are true. The modern white moderate would advocate for the deportation of Dreamers because they broke the law. Dr. King, however, would argue that we should really be focused on whether or not the law is just. 

These invisible conceptual schemes at work are extremely powerful. I am apt to wonder if the white moderate actually operated under this ideology or if it was purely a facade to justify perpetrating acts of racism that clearly worked in their favor. No “order” was being maintained. The environment could be described as completely chaotic, as evidenced by the seemingly pointless lynichings and imposition of violence upon innocent blacks protesting peacefully on the streets. 

Dr. King felt that these white moderates who indirectly advocated for continued racism were genuine people with good intentions. Had these white moderates been educated out of their indifference, King believed, they likely would have changed their position to a more radical one and advocated for justice. Thinking, as explained by Valerie Hartouni, can make men abstain from evil doing. Dr. King and Dr. Hartouni seem to be more optimistic than me in their interpretations of these evil-doers. I believe that the white moderates do not even believe themselves in their cries as to why they cannot end racism. The flaws in their argument are too obvious; how could anyone overlook them? Either way, however, it is clear that we always have justifications (whether or not they are genuine) for our imposition or perpetuation of violence.