Two Varieties of White Ignorance

Journal of Politics 86 (3):920-933 (2024)
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Abstract

The concept of white ignorance refers to phenomena of not-knowing that are produced by and reinforce systems of white supremacist domination and exploitation. I distinguish two varieties of white ignorance, belief-based white ignorance and practice-based white ignorance. Belief-based white ignorance consists in an information deficit about systems of racist oppression. Practice-based white ignorance consists in unresponsiveness to the political agency of persons and groups subject to racist oppression. Drawing on the antebellum political thought of Black abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, I contend that an anti-racist politics that conceives of its epistemic task in terms of combating practice-based white ignorance offers a more promising frame for liberatory struggle. A focus on practice-based white ignorance calls for a distinctive form of humility that involves recognition of the limits of one’s own political agency in relation to others, which is integral to democratic relations between free, equal, yet mutually dependent persons.

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Philip Yaure
Virginia Tech

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