Joshua Glasgow: Confusing genocide and racism

glasgow philosophy

Racism is assumed in most Western philosophy to be a singular and widespread phenomena. However we should consider whether racism is more like a virus or bacteria. It can evolve and adapt to different environments. In addition some virus and bacteria mutate from virulent to innocuous and back again. Racism could be a family of human behaviours. While we identify the virulent strain as objectionable any suggestion that elements of it are widespread might suggest that the underlying behaviour may be useful and benign under certain circumstances but reveals itself in a mutated form that we recognise as racism under certain conditions.

Contemporary western philosophers are so committed to identifying racism with mental aberration that they loose any sense of reality.  Unless there is a guilty mind or a guilty thought there can be no racism in their opinion. This absurdity is cover for their wish to exculpate themselves. “I did not intend a racist result or have a racist thought in mind so I cannot be racist.” There is an apparent plausibility to this so that its absurdity is not always immediately apparent.

Glasgow writes: 

‘“if [an institution] does not operate from [racist] motives (at time T1), then it does not embody institutional racism (at T1).”  (Glasgow p.74)

He later writes:

‘harm from an unintentionally structured institution that is not caused carelessly, negligently, or recklessly should never be called ‘racist’’

This is of course circular nonsense. It cannot be ‘harm’ if it is not caused deliberately, negligently or recklessly.

But consider  the case of a city that was aware that the spread of crack cocaine would lead to a rise in STD’s but on becoming aware of an impending epidemic does not increase provision of health care facilities in advance  is acting with deliberate negligence. If that City actually reduces provision of healthcare to a racial minority in such a situation  we can say that this was institutional racism.(Ladimeji 2015)  Clearly we expect the apparent paper work to explain that they did it for some other reasons e.g. say budgetary reasons.  Also consider the situation where  a select group of people withhold information from the rest of the decision makers. Liability of the organisation is not reduced by any internal concealment of information. Justice systems would have no difficulty conceptualising what has happened but apparently Western philosophers are struggling. Legal systems have no difficulty dealing with ‘non action’.

At one point Glasgow writes: ‘Thus it seems that institutional racism can be present at (time) t without any agents who interact with the institution at (time) t being responsible for that Racism.’ (Glasgow p.76)

This is of course nonsense. There is clear complicity in allowing the state of affairs to continue. However such a view would implicate academics in general and western philosophers in particular.

Basically, many contemporary Western philosophers are saying that without ‘mens rea’ (guilty mind) there cannot be racism. Strangely no one asks that discrimination against women MUST be evidenced by someone’s personal hostility to women. Many would laugh at someone defending himself against discriminating against women by saying he has many girl-friends and really likes women. In fact most people would laugh at anyone who suggested that an institution could not discriminate against women unless someone in the organisation  could be found who disliked women.

Why, one asks, can Western philosophers not see this? Because they are busy urgently  trying to exculpate themselves anyway they can and are looking for a concept of racism that will do this work for them.

They are telling the world ‘move on nothing to see here! or ‘ain’t nothing here but us chickens!’

Both the theological and philosophical faculties are implicated. In the Papal Bull , Dum Diversas 1452, (Papacy), the Pope, Alexander VI, stated:

we grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same Saracens, Pagans, infidels, and the enemies of Christ, also realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps, possessions of the king or prince or of the kings or princes, and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, possessions and goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors the Kings of Portugal.’

These statements must be put in the context of significant trade in white slaves to the middle east and North Africa. (Davis 2003) It is estimated that over 2 million white  people suffered slavery in North Africa.

For a person following faithfully the Papal edicts it is difficult to see how on the current Western philosopher’s interpretation of ‘racism’ such a person could be convicted of racism. However such a person could be convicted of genocide. We shall come back to this interesting point.

For philosophers we have Kant’s view that  conflict and war were necessary for social progress: ‘Does this mean that in his vision of ‘perpetual peace’ he expected it to be achieved by rational discourse? This would be a contradiction at a fundamental level of his theory of social change. To follow the engine of history: If the world wide constitution of perpetual peace was to be achieved it would be achieved after many travails of warfare. But what wars? An obvious answer would be wars of genocide against all other races. At the end of which Man (white men- last race standing) would realise that genocidal wars must be stopped and a better way of ordering international relations found.’ (Ladimeji 2019)

If the arch of history was to social  development through conflict  then racial conflict is merely one of the  ‘tools’ of history and whereas this view allows us to condemn the perpetrators the  ideologues of this view can claim only to be reflecting the arch and dynamic of history. Far from being in favour of genocide they can claim to be appalled by it while  at the same time accepting it as necessary and inevitable for the working of history.  As a consequence of this view minimal effort might be made to protect minorities such as Jews and Roma, and other races or to prevent deliberate genocides as such efforts to prevent such  are simply  trying to stop an inevitable activity which in the end will all be for the best. Such views according to philosopher’s concept of racism would not qualify as racist.  As a reductio ad absurdum, one would suggest that Heydrich could acquit himself of racism or if he claimed that while accepting the charge of genocide he was responding to overwhelming historical necessity he could deny any evil doing . What kind of philosophy is this if not concealed self exculpation?

What are we to make of the Vatican injunction to commit genocide? Does it add anything to call this also racism?

It is clear that this confusion arises from treating genocide as an extreme form of racism whereas it could be argued that some forms of racism are themselves the consequences of genocidal projects. If racism has many forms, like bacteria and viruses, some virulent some innocuous, then the relationship between racism and genocide may be quite complex. Not all racisms may be genocidal. But Western philosophers have much to answer for.


Davis, R. (2003). Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean Coast. Palgrave Macmillan.

Glasgow, J. (2009). Racism as Disrespect. Ethics, 120(1), 64–93. JSTOR.

Ladimeji, D. (2015). RACISM & HOMOPHOBIA IN GLADWELL’S “TIPPING POINT”. African Century Journal, 6.

Ladimeji, O. A. (2019). Kleingeld, Bernasconi and Kant’s Colonialism. African Century Journal.

papacy. (2018, August 27). 1452: Papal Bull Dum Diversas. Tyler, Texas – History Of Racism & Hatred.