This page contains a list of the six best books on the philosophy of race. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on the philosophy of race” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on the philosophy of race. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on the philosophy of race. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on the philosophy of race in no particular order:
Race: A Philosophical Introduction – Paul C. Taylor
Publisher description: In Race: A Philosophical Introduction, Second Edition , Paul C. Taylor provides an accessible guide to a well-travelled but still-mysterious area of the contemporary social landscape. As in the first edition, the book blends metaphysics and social philosophy, analytic philosophy and pragmatic philosophy of experience. In this thoroughly updated and revised volume, Taylor outlines the main features and implications of race-thinking, while engaging the ideas of such important figures as Linda Alcoff, K. Anthony Appiah, W. E. B. Du Bois, Michel Foucault, Sally Haslanger, and Howard Winant. The result is a comprehensive but accessible introduction to philosophical race theory and to a non-biological and situational notion of race.
The book unfolds in a sequence of five chapters, each devoted to one of the following questions: What is race-thinking? Don’t we know better than to talk about race now? Are there any races? What is it like to have a racial identity? And how important, ethically, is colorblindness? On the way to answering these questions, Race takes up topics like mixed-race identity, white supremacy, the relationship between the race concept and other social identity categories and the impact of race-thinking on our erotic and romantic lives. The second edition’s new concluding chapter explores the racially fraught issues of policing, immigration, and global justice, and interrogates the thought that Barack Obama has ushered in a post-racial age. This volume is suitable for the educated general reader as well as for students and scholars in ethnic studies, philosophy, sociology, and other related fields.
Philosophy of Race: An Introduction – Naomi Zack
Publisher description: Philosophy of Race: An Introduction provides plainly written access to a new subfield that has been in the background of philosophy since Plato and Aristotle. Part I provides an overview of ideas of race and ethnicity in the philosophical canon, egalitarian traditions, race in biology, and race in American and Continental Philosophy. Part II addresses race as it operates in life through colonialism and development, social constructions and institutions, racism, political philosophy, and gender. This book constructs an outline that will serve as a resource for students, nonspecialists, and general readers in thinking, talking, and writing about philosophy of race.
Racism: A Short History – George M. Fredrickson
Publisher description: Are antisemitism and white supremacy manifestations of a general phenomenon? Why didn’t racism appear in Europe before the fourteenth century, and why did it flourish as never before in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Why did the twentieth century see institutionalized racism in its most extreme forms? Why are egalitarian societies particularly susceptible to virulent racism? What do apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany, and the American South under Jim Crow have in common? How did the Holocaust advance civil rights in the United States?
With a rare blend of learning, economy, and cutting insight, George Fredrickson surveys the history of Western racism from its emergence in the late Middle Ages to the present. Beginning with the medieval antisemitism that put Jews beyond the pale of humanity, he traces the spread of racist thinking in the wake of European expansionism and the beginnings of the African slave trade. And he examines how the Enlightenment and nineteenth-century romantic nationalism created a new intellectual context for debates over slavery and Jewish emancipation.
Fredrickson then makes the first sustained comparison between the color-coded racism of nineteenth-century America and the antisemitic racism that appeared in Germany around the same time. He finds similarity enough to justify the common label but also major differences in the nature and functions of the stereotypes invoked. The book concludes with a provocative account of the rise and decline of the twentieth century’s overtly racist regimes–the Jim Crow South, Nazi Germany, and apartheid South Africa–in the context of world historical developments.
This illuminating work is the first to treat racism across such a sweep of history and geography. It is distinguished not only by its original comparison of modern racism’s two most significant varieties–white supremacy and antisemitism–but also by its eminent readability.
The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Race – Paul C Taylor et al.
Publisher description: For many decades, race and racism have been common areas of study in departments of sociology, history, political science, English, and anthropology. Much more recently, as the historical concept of race and racial categories have faced significant scientific and political challenges, philosophers have become more interested in these areas. This changing understanding of the ontology of race has invited inquiry from researchers in moral philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, and aesthetics.
The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race offers in one comprehensive volume newly written articles on race from the world’s leading analytic and continental philosophers. It is, however, accessible to a readership beyond philosophy as well, providing a cohesive reference for a wide student and academic readership. The Companion synthesizes current philosophical understandings of race, providing 37 chapters on the history of philosophy and race as well as how race might be investigated in the usual frameworks of contemporary philosophy. The volume concludes with a section on philosophical approaches to some topics with broad interest outside of philosophy, like colonialism, affirmative action, eugenics, immigration, race and disability, and post-racialism.
By clearly explaining and carefully organizing the leading current philosophical thinking on race, this timely collection will help define the subject and bring renewed understanding of race to students and researchers in the humanities, social science, and sciences.
The Idea of Race – Robert Bernasconi & Tommy Lee Lott
Publisher description: A survey of the historical development of the idea of race, this anthology offers pre-twentieth century theories about the concept of race, classic twentieth century sources reiterating and contesting ideas of race as scientific, and several philosophically relevant essays that discuss the issues presented. A general Introduction gives an overview of the readings. Headnotes introduce each selection. Includes suggested further readings.
Black Skin: White Masks – Frantz Fanon
Publisher description: Few modern voices have had as profound an impact on the black identity and critical race theory as Frantz Fanon, and Black Skin, White Masks represents some of his most important work. Fanon’s masterwork is now available in a new translation that updates its language for a new generation of readers.
A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in 1952, the book remains a vital force today from one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.