The Dennes Room

Philosophy 117AC

Fall 2017

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
117AC Philosophy of Race, Ethnicity, and Citizenship Kolodny MWF 11-12 LeConte 3

This course explores philosophical questions of race, ethnicity, and citizenship, with special attention to the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and indigenous peoples of the United States. Topics include the meaning of “race,” “ethnicity,” and “citizenship,” border control and immigration, reparations for past wrongs, discrimination and affirmative action, civic obligation and group solidarity, and the right to vote.

We define ourselves, or are defined by others, as members of social groups: for example, as a U.S. citizen, as Latina, as African American, as Yurok, as sansei, and so on. Needless to say, our real or perceived membership in these groups affects what we can expect of others and what they expect of us.

• If you are a U.S. citizen, then you may stay within the U.S. as long as you like, you may vote in a variety of elections, but you will be required to pay tax on foreign income. The same will go for your children. If you are not a U.S. citizen, then you may be deported for a crime, you may not vote in most elections, but you will not be required to pay tax on foreign income. The same will go for your children, unless you happen to give birth to them in a U.S. hospital.

• If you were of Japanese descent, living on the West Coast during the Second World War, then you were most likely confined in an internment camp. If you survived until 1988, then you were sent an apology and $20,000 from the federal government.

• In Plessy v. Ferguson, the US Supreme Court decided, roughly, that the State of Louisiana could count the fact that you had an ancestor who would today be described as “African American” as a (decisive) reason to keep you from sitting in certain railway cars. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the US Supreme Court permitted, roughly, the State of California to count the fact that you were African American as a (partial) reason to admit you to medical school.

• If you are Latino/a, living in certain neighborhoods, then you may find other Latinos/as offering to drive you to the polls on Election Day, when they wouldn’t if you were Anglo, living in another neighborhood. If, on the way, they find out that you can’t speak Spanish, or you support Donald Trump, they may ask you to explain yourself, in a way they wouldn’t if you were Anglo, living in another neighborhood.

This course is not about the fact, important though it is, that our real or perceived membership in such groups affects what others do to us and what they expect us to do for them. Instead, this course asks when and why, if ever, our real or perceived group membership ought morally to affect what others do to us and what they expect us to do for them.

We will begin discussion of each topic with stage-setting readings, drawn from law and history, to help us to understand the real-world, and distinctively American, contexts in which these moral questions have arisen. However, we will approach these topics not as lawyers or historians, but instead as moral philosophers. The focus will be on making precise, deciding among, and ultimately justifying the underlying values and principles that might answer these moral questions.