Strategic Ignorance

In Shannon Sullivan & Nancy Tuana (eds.), Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. State Univ of New York Pr. pp. 77--94 (2007)
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Abstract

I want to explore strategic expressions of ignorance against the background of Charles W. Mills's account of epistemologies of ignorance in The Racial Contract (1997). My project has two interrelated goals. I want to show how Mills's discussion is restricted by his decision to frame ignorance within the language and logic of social contract theory. And, I want to explain why Maria Lugones's work on purity is useful in reframing ignorance in ways that both expand our understandings of ignorance and reveal its strategic uses. I begin with Mills's account of the Racial Contract, and explain how it prescribes for its signatories an epistemology of ignorance, which Mills characterizes as an inverted epistemology. I briefly outline his program for undoing white ignorance and indicate that retooling white ignorance is more complex than his characterization suggests. Making this argument requires an abrupt shift from the white-created frameworks of social contract theory to Lugones's system of thinking rooted in the lives of people of color. So, the next section outlines Lugones's distinction between the logic of purity and the logic of curdling and explains its usefulness in addressing ignorance. With both accounts firmly in place the third section demonstrates how the Racial Contract produces at least two expressions of ignorance and explains how the logic of purity underlying the Contract shapes each expression in ways that limit possibilities for resistance. I don't mean to suggest that the social contract theory's love of purity invalidates Mills's work, only that this framework limits prospects for long-term change by neglecting the relationship between white ignorance and non-white resistance. The final sections explain how people of color use ignorance strategically to their advantage , and argue that examining ignorance through a curdled lens not only makes strategic ignorance visible, but also points to alternatives for retooling white ignorance.

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Alison Bailey
Illinois State University

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