35 minutes | Feb 17, 2022

Freedom and Racism: Neil Roberts

Neil Roberts is Professor of Africana Studies and Faculty Affiliate in Political Science and Religion at Williams College. He’s working on a new book titled How To Live Free in an Age of Pessimism. We discuss the legacy of Charles Mills’ scholarship on the racial contract, freedom, and transforming society from the bottom up.

 

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Racial Contract 

White supremacy has shaped modern society in ways that may not be immediately obvious. Charles Mills proposes in the Racial Contract that we’ve operated under the assumption that rights belong to whites and are theirs to give away. By changing our conceptions about the racial contract and, in turn, racism, we can work towards constructing a new approach towards living free in our democracy.

 

Living Free 

Living free isn’t simply the lack of enslavement. In our world, social and political orders are constantly changing, creating new dynamics of subjugation. If we choose to think of freedom outside of the context of enslavement, then living free requires the individual to grow a sense of awareness of their surroundings and the political system they exist in. For example, suffrage is a hallmark of a democratic and free society.

 

Positive and Negative Freedoms

Positive notions of freedom are about the visions of freedom that are desired in a body politic, such as autonomy or plurality. They also include public policy, legislation, and constitutions. Negative notions of freedom are about non-interference and non-domination. One example is mask mandates, which is considered by some to be an interference of freedom.

 

FIND OUT MORE:

Neil Roberts is Professor of Africana Studies and Faculty Affiliate in Political Science and Religion at Williams College. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago with a specialization in political theory. Roberts is the recipient of fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation as well as a member of the Caribbean Philosophical Association Board of Directors. 

His present writings deal with the intersections of Caribbean, Continental, and North American political theory with respect to theorizing the concept of freedom. His most recent book is A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass (The University Press of Kentucky, 2018). Roberts was President of the Caribbean Philosophical Association from 2016-19 and, since July 2018, he has served as the W. Ford Schumann Faculty Fellow in Democratic Studies. His next book is How to Live Free in an Age of Pessimism.

You can follow Neil on Twitter @neildsroberts.

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