Volume 16, 2000
Race, Social Identity, and Human Dignity
Jessica Prata Miller
A Critical Moral Ethnography of Social Distrust
This paper explores the ways in which trust and distrust, especially among relative strangers, are connected to social identities and locations. It begins by sketching an account of interpersonal trust, emphasizing the role that socially salient identities, based in part upon cultural figurations, play in their development. It then contends that these cultural figurations both foster and result from distrust of specific social groups, including African Americans, the poor, and (some) women. Treating social roles and relations as central to moral analysis enables an understanding of the injustice of some forms of social distrust which does not imply that one individual’s distrust of another is culpable in a straightforward way. The paper then develops the claim that one’s social location can affect the moral desirability of trust and distrust, concluding that social distrust can sometimes function as a kind of dissident attitude, a political stance with emancipatory potential.