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Publisher's Summary

The Racial Contract puts classic Western social contract theory to extraordinary radical use. With a sweeping look at the European expansionism and racism of the last 500 years, Charles W. Mills demonstrates how this peculiar and unacknowledged "contract" has shaped a system of global European domination: how it brings into existence "whites" and "non-whites," full persons and sub-persons, how it influences white moral theory and moral psychology; and how this system is imposed on non-whites through ideological conditioning and violence. The Racial Contract argues that the society we live in is a continuing white supremacist state.

Holding up a mirror to mainstream philosophy, this provocative book explains the evolving outline of the racial contract from the time of the New World conquest and subsequent colonialism to the written slavery contract, to the "separate but equal" system of segregation in the twentieth-century United States. According to Mills, the contract has provided the theoretical architecture justifying an entire history of European atrocity against non-whites, from David Hume's and Immanuel Kant's claims that blacks had inferior cognitive power, to the Holocaust, to the kind of imperialism in Asia that was demonstrated by the Vietnam War.

Mills suggests that the ghettoization of philosophical work on race is no accident. This book challenges the assumption that mainstream theory is itself raceless. Just as feminist theory has revealed orthodox political philosophy's invisible white male bias, Mills's explication of the racial contract exposes its racial underpinnings.

©1997 Cornell University (P)2016 Cornell University

What listeners say about The Racial Contract

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An important but difficult read

A good thing for us whites to read even though its hard and painful. It pulls back the curtain on our complacency with racialized ideals, philosophy, and world. Its hard to be told point blank how much one is missing when thinking themselves to be the default. please read or listen to this, I know its a bit tricky with the anthropological language, but having it read to me helped a lot. the narrator was very good and clear, but I still want to go in to listen again as well as read along-- I want to take more thorough notes since I KNOW I missed things. its not too long and its a good intro to trying to unfuck your thoughts. I'd write more but just finished at work!

5 people found this helpful

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An incredible book

This book points to fundamental issues in philosophy that explain the ways in which mainstream political theory operates to make invisible the racial structuring of our society. It is a book that every white person and surely every white philosopher should read.

5 people found this helpful

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Wow!

Liberating. Good to listen the first time. Better to listen multiple times to really internally conceptualize what he is saying. This should be standard in philosophy and global history studies.

2 people found this helpful

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Listen, then re-listen

Written, it seems to me, in the language of philosophy, it has too many challengingly big words, I.e., not in the language of the people, but in academia-speak. Yet it has a lot to say that the people need to hear. I'm re-listening.

1 person found this helpful

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Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant - Oh My!

This book is difficult to read and even listen to. The book makes three claims: (1) white supremacy, both local and global, exists and has existed for many years; (2) white supremacy should be thought of as a political system; (3) white supremacy can illuminatingly be theorized as based on a “contract” between whites, a Racial Contract. The book goes on to attempt to support this third claim.

This is gobbligook of unsubstantiated opinion mixed with the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mills, and Kant. It takes for granted the "social contract" (except when it doesn't) and attempts to demonstrate an underlying "racial contract" between the whitest of Europeans to oppress anyone not quite as white. I personally find classical "social contract" theory inadequate to explain human cultures (as well as being kind of silly). Modifying the social contract concept into a racial contract does not really seem to help.

After 4 hours of complex arguments using the term "White" many hundreds of times, he alters stance and says: "...in a parallel universe it could have been Yellowness, Redness, Brownness, or Blackness. Or, alternatively phrased, we could have had a yellow, red, brown, or black Whiteness: Whiteness is not really a color at all, but a set of power relations." So race & whiteness are not the real issue. So what is? A set of power relations. I wish he has said that at the very beginning instead of the very end and if it is not really about race why call it a racial contract?

I did not find the framework of a white racial contract demonstrated or even very well through through.

The author does not really describe how these power relations came to exist, but instead focuses on how power advantages have been maintained, leveraged against other groups, and justified to excuse the atrocities committed. This (somewhat uniquely) focuses on the racism of prominent philosophers.

I would argue a very simple theory. The group that first happens upon a mass producible writing system (Proto-Canaanite=>Phoenician =>Arabic=>Greek=>Latin=>etc. as opposed to things like logographic Chinese) along with a method of mass production (printing press; even if "borrowed" from another culture) will have a massive advantage over other groups and they will leverage that advantage to the max. They will make up any convenient justification for using that leverage against others. They will feel completely justified in feeling superior to those other groups. They may use melatonin, hair color, eye color, accent, body type, or anything else that differentiates the "us" from the "savages". These justification and differentiations can be used to excuse virtually any atrocities. Those who have gained this advantage will scheme to maintain this advantage as long as possible.

My favorite book on racism, that actually makes sense, is "How to be an Antiracist".

I am usually pretty forgiving regarding narration, but found this to be a bit substandard and challenging to listen to.

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An insightful perspective on Racial inequities and Systemic Racism

The Author presents a clear analysis of how the Racial Contract came to be and how past and current inequalities are as a result of the enforcement of this contract. I would recommend this book for anyone who desires to understand race relations and race inequities from a historical perspective.

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  • Katita
  • 09-17-21

Timeless, brilliant

This is a well written classic that challenges the social contractarian theories by addressing to the ontological and sociopolitical aspects that divides societies by a racial contract. The performance makes justice to this brilliant book.