November 26, 2012

The Power of Credibility

I found myself surprised to read that intellectuals such as Kant, Hume and Hegel, philosophers I have read and whom I respect for some of their ideas, held the same misconceptions about race that were commonly believed. Gates, Jr.'s article seem to place cause of this idea in the intellectual sphere on Rene Descartes' thesis that reason is privileged about all other human characteristics, and that writing is the "visible sign of reason" (8). Because Africans did not have a formal literature, they were perceived as lower on the hierarchy of human beings as a species.

The belief implicit in this association of reason and writing was that any race with a different method of understanding the world, and therefore of living in society (as distinct from the notion of civilization as understood by "Whites") was inferior to the dominant one. These beliefs were associated with people based on the color of their skin, and therefore skin color became associated directly with mental capacity. What is worst about these philosophers upholding such beliefs is the authority their words possessed. People read the writings of these philosophers and accepted them as credible truths about the world, rather than the fictitious social constructs they truly are. If those respected as being of utmost intellectual capacity agree that "black" is correlated with "stupid", why should the masses think anything otherwise? (11) The prioritization of writing over other forms of expression as means of communicating reason and understanding of the world is a social construct just like race as an indicator of intelligence is a social construct.

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