Josiah Royce on Race: Issues in Context

The Pluralist 4 (3):1 - 9 (2009)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Josiah Royce on RaceIssues in ContextJacquelyn Ann K. KegleyAll philosophy, whether or not we want to admit it, is done in a context, filtered through lenses that are personal, intellectual, historical, cultural, social, and political. Thus to fairly treat and fully understand Royce's views on race, we must set a situational framework. First, Royce's 1906 article entitled "Race Questions and Prejudices" is the lead piece in a collection that implements his philosophy of loyalty. It applies his principle of loyalty to what he considers one of the most significant social/political issues of his time—the race question. As we discuss Royce and race issues, the philosophy of loyalty must be in the background as a point of reference. Indeed, Royce tells us that he will address the various questions in his article "Race Questions and Prejudices" by calling attention to "a few principles which seem to me to be serviceable to any one who wants to look at race questions fairly and humanely" (6).Secondly, except for W. E. B. DuBois and Jane Addams, no other major figure associated with pragmatic philosophy substantially addressed issues of race and racism in their written work, nor did anyone so early in the twentieth century as did Royce. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, which came out in 1903, immediately preceded Royce's article. Jane Addams briefly touched on race issues in her 1915 Democracy and Social Ethics. Alain Locke, who sought to study with Royce at Harvard but could not because of Royce's premature death, gave his "Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Race" in 1915, but they were published posthumously. John Dewey's "Race Prejudice and Friction" appeared in 1922. There is an absence of treatment of race issues in George Herbert Mead, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Alfred North Whitehead. Thus Shannon Sullivan and I agree that Royce stands out in the history of classical American philosophy in taking an antiracist focus on race questions when very few philosophers—especially white male philosophers—took scholarly time to think about these issues.1 [End Page 1]Another important context for Royce's article is the political climate of the time. Royce identifies the era as one in which there were "more ways and places in which men find themselves in the presence of alien races with whom they have to live in the same social order" (4). It was a time of "white anxiety." In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt gave his famous "On American Motherhood" speech in which he warned of white "race suicide" if white families continued to reproduce at a slower rate than other races. Thus, Royce was speaking and writing against racism in a time of anti-immigration and proimperialism sentiment due to white anxiety in the United States about the possible decline of global white supremacy. It is in this setting that Royce highlights the color line as a significant problem.Royce states the problem as follows:This is the problem of dealing with the men who seem to us somehow very widely different from ourselves in physical constitution, in temperament, in all their deeper nature, so that we are temped to think of them as natural strangers to our souls, while nevertheless we find that they are stubbornly there in our world and that they are men as much determined to live as we are, and are men who, in turn, find us as incomprehensible as we find them.(5)With increased contact among different populations, the age-old problem of how to deal with people who seem different from one's own group intensifies. There will be, says Royce, numerous questions including those of superiority-inferiority, power and sovereignty, and a new assessment of the ways in which these "different" people might be helpful or perilous to one's own group interests. Royce notes that one cannot assume an automatic answer. He asks, "Is it a ‘yellow peril,' or a ‘black peril,' or perhaps after all, is it not rather some form of ‘white peril' which threatens the future of humanity in this day of great struggles and of complex issues?" (6). With the question posed in this...

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Jackie Kegley
California State University, Bakersfield

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