Sunday, February 2, 2014
First Aired: 
Feb 05, 2012

What is it

From the abolition of slavery to the Black Power movement, African-American unity has been considered a powerful method to achieve freedom and equality. But does Black solidarity still make sense in a supposedly post-racial era? And how should we think about racial solidarity versus class or gender solidarity? In honor of Black History Month, John and Ken join forces with Tommie Shelby from Harvard University, author of We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.

Listening Notes

The show begins with John suggesting that racial solidarity might belong in the past, since racial relations have made great improvements over the last few decades. Ken points out that serious racial disadvantage still exists, and that it gives good reason for black people to unite. They explore the difficulties in defining “black” and in distinguishing economic or social disadvantage from racial disadvantage.

Guest Tommie Shelby, author of We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity, joins the show. John and Ken begin by asking him exactly how he understands black solidarity. He says that it is a sort of commitment or “vow” to work toward ensuring justice for black people and protecting them from harm. Tommie distinguishes two notions of blackness, one “thin” and one “thick,” to accommodate Ken’s worry that racial categories have no biological basis.

Ken and John both wonder about solidarity among other groups. Would Shelby’s justification for black solidarity also justify, for instance, solidarity among rich people? Tommie replies that it wouldn’t, since solidarity is rooted not merely in group interests, but in the political value of justice. Ken suggests that this might not capture the real force of solidarity. Isn’t it a deep moral commitment, and not just a political strategy? Perhaps Ken is getting at a sense of community, Tommie replies, which should be distinguished from political solidarity.

The three philosophers then discuss the future of race and black solidarity. Given that racial groups are less separated than ever, is there still a place for black solidarity in the modern world? Will (or should) race just wither away? Tommie argues that the dissolution of race is a long way down the line, and that there is still an important place for solidarity. They conclude the conversation by discussing the related political issues of drug laws and the mass incarceration of black people.   

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 5:54): Reporter Caitlin Esch speaks with black leaders, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee and composer Marcus Shelby, about the important role that racial solidarity plays in their lives.   
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 49:07): Citing his experiences of living in a predominately black neighborhood, Ian Shoales argues that race is just a socially harmful myth.  

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Tommie Shelby, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy, Harvard University

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