Collective Identity and Cultural Pluralism: Alain Locke on Stereotypes in Literature

Southwest Philosophy Review 39 (1):209-216 (2023)
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Abstract

In this paper, I consider Alain Locke’s critical pragmatism to see how he might address the problem of racist literature, particularly, the use of stereotypes. For my purposes here, it will be assumed that stereotypes are sustained by evil and malicious intentions, whether consciously acknowledged or not. Two issues arise when considering Locke’s critical pragmatism. First, Locke denies the objective status of morality—objective in the sense that moral absolutes exist “out there” and can be classified rightly or wrongly. Thus, claiming that stereotypes are “evil” must have a different connotation for Locke than one might assume. The second issue is that it has been argued that Locke creates and uses stereotypes himself. The paper will progress as follows: I first address Locke’s use of stereotypes, contending that Locke does not in fact use stereotypes. He has a notion of collective identity or representation that he uses as a heuristic to counteract racist uses of stereotypes. While similar to a stereotype, collective identity is qualitatively different. Next, I discuss Locke’s understanding of cultural pluralism as the tool with which Locke is able to address racist stereotypes, on the one hand, and defend his use of collective identity on the other. I conclude that though Locke’s account is useful it lacks the moral weight, which I would like, to condemn stereotypes as fully wrong.

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Joshua Anderson
Virginia State University

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