Volume 17, Issue 1, 2014
What Is Radical Philosophy Today?
Charles Mills, Materialist Theory, and Racial Justice
Charles Mills has urged philosophers to turn their attention away from issues of class injustice and towards the deep inequalities in wealth, opportunity, and life prospects that divide racial groups in American society. Mills’s position is that philosophers on the left should make racial justice the higher priority. His argument advances two theses: first, race is a “material” structure with the same causal power Karl Marx attributed to class, and second, a reparations-oriented redistribution of wealth from all white to all black Americans is a moral imperative. Mills’s materialist understanding of race is cogently argued, but undercuts his moral argument favoring reparations. Considering (1) the extreme and growing inequality of wealth between black and white Americans and (2) pervasive white resistance to the goal of racial equality, a radical redistribution of wealth on the basis of class offers the only hope for progress towards the goal of racial justice.