Ignorance and racial insensitivity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


Some insidious forms of racial oppression operate through patterns of ignorance that contribute to the stigmatization of racial minority groups. In this paper I offer an analysis of how racial ignorance produces systematic distrust and miscommunication across racial lines. I explore ways in which people could become aware of their racial ignorance and of their complicity with racial injustices. I offer an account of racial insensitivity as a kind of numbness, reflecting on the affective and cognitive aspects of people's inability to respond to racial injustices. I analyze insensitivity as a form of narrow-mindedness that involves the incapacity to see the point of view of the other and the resistance to acknowledge certain things that are hard to live with (such as one's complicity in the suffering of others). I argue that epistemically responsible agency demands that we live up to certain epistemic responsibilities with respect to oppressed groups: these include our responsibilities for knowing and caring for the injustices they suffer, and also our responsibilities to fight against their exclusion or marginalization as communicators and fellow citizens. On my view, epistemic responsibility is the precondition of and the basis for other social responsibilities we have; and until the epistemic responsibilities breached in racial ignorance are repaired, complicity with racial injustices cannot be uprooted. The work toward racial justice must begin with the acknowledgment of racial ignorance and the epistemic limitations it creates for social relationality. In Section 1, I develop an account of racial insensitivity that begins with classic accounts of racial ignorance as a form of blindness and continues with more contemporary analyses of racial insensitivity as a form of numbness that includes not only perceptual and cognitive elements, but also conceptual and affective elements. In Section 2, I draw from my epistemic interactionism and contextualism to articulate a robust notion of epistemic responsibility. According to my polyphonic view, multiply situated, overlapping and intersecting perspectives and sensibilities call for multiply situated, overlapping and intersecting forms of responsibility. I argue that the accountability and responsivity required to address epistemic injustices can be of all sorts, but it must always start with the acknowledgment of one's epistemic positions and relations, and with the acknowledgment of the epistemic privileges and epistemic limitations one has.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Epistemic Dimensions of Ignorance
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780511820076
ISBN (Print)9781107175600
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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