Here are some paper topic suggestions. Ideally you will not need them and will develop your own topic. Please feel free to set up a meeting to brainstorm about paper topics, where to find relevant research material, how to structure the paper, or any other questions that you may have.
You are free to write either a formal research paper or a less formal essay. A danger, though, with writing a formal research paper is that you merely end up compiling other people’s thoughts, and writing an essay can easily turn into an excuse to be sloppy and spurt out poorly substantiated opinions.
During the course we have covered the origins and workings of modern racism and how it relates to some basic political concepts such as the liberal state, equality, justice, democracy, class, gender and cosmopolitanism. Now it is your job to put what you have learnt to good use!!
- What is (Racial) Equality? As you know, the so-called Age of Enlightenment gave birth to the revolutionary and anti-feudal idea that all persons are moral equals and that a state can only be justified so long as it upholds this equality. For Immanuel Kant persons are moral equals since they all have the capacity to act as moral agents, legislating and acting on their own moral principles and reasons, and should therefore be equally treated as moral ends. For John Locke—the “father of liberalism”—in force of a natural law that can easily be comprehended by any (normal) person, all persons have the same basic and equal rights to freedom, life, health and possessions. For a political theorist like Charles Mills, both these conceptions of human equality are racial. Is this fair? If it is, what then would true (racial) equality mean? How could we, in a non-racist way, make sense of the statement that we all deserve equal moral concern and respect? And what would the consequences of such an alternative conception be to our understanding of racial equality in society?
- Is there (Racial) Equality in America? Some would say that America since the civil rights acts of the 1960s has achieved racial equality? Others, like Glenn Loury, would say that the formal equality of American laws (e.g. criminal laws, voting rights and laws that govern public education) are illusory since they in practice discriminate against non-white people and since they do not rectify racial injustices (that fly in the face of equality). Focus on one or two laws (or other societal phenomena such as wealth disparities) and make an argument.
- Race and Equality of Opportunity. “Equality of opportunity” is a central and contested concept of liberalism. If all citizens should be treated by the state as moral equals, then the state should guarantee each citizen’s equal right to, say, a fair trial, quality public education or having access to decent housing. Pick an area, such as public education, and put the principle of (racial) equality of opportunity into question.
- Race and Poverty. Due mainly to a history of slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination African-Americans are unequally poverty stricken. Should the disproportionate poverty of African-Americans be ameliorated in the name of justice? Should perhaps poverty, regardless of whose poverty it is, be ameliorated in the name of justice?
- Race and the Criminal Justice System. African-Americans are more likely to be arrested, sentenced and receive harsh penalties than white Americans. For instance, although African-Americans on average neither consume nor sell more drugs than white Americans, they are much more likely to be arrested and sentenced on drug charges. Has the American criminal justice system reinstated a new Jim Crow as Michelle Alexander argues in a recent book? And what should be done? Should, for instance, prisons be abolished as Angela Davis argues?
- Reparations, Native-Americans and African-Americans. A long-standing debate is whether or not Native Americans and African Americans should receive economic (and/or social) reparations for the American history of slavery, genocide and oppression that have left these communities disadvantaged. What do you think?
- Black Bodies, White Norms. How are black bodies judged on the basis of white bodies as an aesthetic (somatic) norm? For instance, skin tone, hair texture, facial features and body shape? And how are these judgments racially loaded? And is a preference for white beauty ideals and a distaste for black beauty ideals—or a reverse preference—an expression of racism/white supremacy or merely a harmless personal preference (like preferring vanilla to chocolate or red hair to blonde hair)? Use examples from media and make an argument.
- Rap Music against a Background of White Supremacy. Mainstream rap music has stirred a lot of debate over the past decade. Mainstream rap music can in many ways be seen as a response to, some would even say an expression of, white supremacy. On the one hand, it is often said to be an expression of the oppressive conditions black Americans face. On the other hand it is aid to traffic two-dimensional racist stereotypes for a voyeuristic white audience and for the profit of predominantly white shareholders. Some black cultural critics celebrate mainstream rap music as progressive, others criticize it as promoting misogyny, gangsterism, violence and cheap materialism. What is your spin?
Race, Class and Gender
- Sexism and Racism. African-American womanists and other third-wave feminists have criticized white feminism for not paying attention to how race and gender can intersect as oppressive categories. White feminism have tended to see the oppression and liberation of white women as the model for women regardless of race (or class) and failed to see their own racially loaded complicity with white patriarchy. African-American womanists have also criticized black male civil rights advocates for not acknowledging, and even reinforcing, gender oppression and for failing to see parallels between racism and sexism. What’s your take?
- Addressing Poverty: Race or Class? Is ameliorating poverty among people of color a social justice issue? And should it be addressed as a racial issue or as a class issue or as both?