Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Nussberger, Danielle K.
Massingale, Bryan N.
Even whites who desire racial justice often fail to recognize systemic racism and their complicity in it. Antiracist scholars such as Charles W. Mills and Barbara Applebaum identify this white ignorance as an active ignorance that results from a desire to maintain power and a sense of moral innocence. Whites’ disagreement with antiracist ideas is therefore received as an act of resistance rather than an honest contribution to dialogue. One overlooked aspect of whites’ response is white epistemic disorientation, a felt inability to participate in the knowing process about issues of race. To help whites understand this identity-threatening disorientation, I explicate Bryan Massingale’s concept of cultural racism in terms of an epistemic environment’s distorting impact on meaning-making. Bernard Lonergan’s theory of human development clarifies how whites’ process of asking critical questioning about race remains biased because of the inauthentic culture in which it takes place. In this light, antiracists’ accusations of white ignorance are not attempts to stifle whites’ epistemic agency but to point out the shift necessary for whites to dialogue authentically. Whites have hit what Constance FitzGerald calls an “impasse,” and progress requires a holistic conversion that recalibrates their approach to discursive knowing. This conversion involves intellectual humility, in which whites critically examine not only their ideas about race but the authenticity of their approach to understanding race. As José Medina argues, whites’ social positionality hampers their ability to know racism, so I suggest the need for whites to increase their belief of people of color, who have epistemic advantage regarding race. Whites struggle with the discomfort of self-critical intellectual humility, but framing this journey as a participation in Christ’s kenotic disposition may help. Sarah Coakley’s théologie totale offers a model for a kenotic intellectual humility that can 1. promote the self-emptying necessary for overcoming white ignorance, 2. provide a purified sense of agency to ensure whites remain active knowers, and 3. ground the dynamic in the goal of conformation to Christ and participation in the Trinity. Carmelite and Ignatian prayer practices can promote this growth, which must lead to communal epistemic solidarity.
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