Racism as Subjectification

17 Berkeley J. Af.-Am. L. & Pol'y 3 (2016)

Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 11-05

44 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2007 Last revised: 17 Jul 2016

See all articles by David H. Schraub

David H. Schraub

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: July 15, 2016


Nobody likes to feel used. But everyone likes to feel useful. This paradox has long been overlooked by people examining the parameters of racism in the United States. The classic model of racism focuses on the manner in which Black Americans have been objectified — and for good reason. From chattel slavery to Jim Crow, African-Americans have faced a long and sordid history of being regarded as little more than objects — useful tools for White powerbrokers, but not independent subjects with their own desires, perspective, and rights.

However, following the Civil Rights revolution, this dynamic has shifted. While racial objectification has by no means disappeared, today the prevailing sentiment in American society is one that, outwardly at least, respects the independence and inherent dignity of its minority members. However, even as they are granted the full rights of citizenship, the idea that racial minorities are objectively valuable, are necessary to the full and complete functioning of society, has faded away. While they admit that they have inherent dignity and human rights, White society nevertheless denies that members of racial minority groups have any objective use — and if their presence is lacking in political, economic, and social institutions, it is not seen as a cause for concern. This is the problem of subjectification — when people who are conceded to possess subject status are nevertheless treated as if they have no objective worth. In this essay, I articulate the concept of subjectification and show how it provides a new and fruitful perspective on the problems of race and racism in American society.

Keywords: racism, philosophy, subjectification, objectification, law

Suggested Citation

Schraub, David H., Racism as Subjectification (July 15, 2016). 17 Berkeley J. Af.-Am. L. & Pol'y 3 (2016); Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 11-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1032263 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1032263

David H. Schraub (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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