Charles W. Mills was a U.K.-born and Jamaica-raised philosopher and a distinguished professor in the U.S. Mills has pioneered the study of the social contract theory that focused on the intersection of political philosophy and race. In particular, he researched the issue of racial injustice. Mills died of cancer in New York on September 20.
Reparations scholar Sandy Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University. Tweeted, “We have lost a brilliant thinker and vital voice for justice.”
Mills was Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Graduate Center, CUNY, and John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy at Northwestern University.
Beyond his influence in critical philosophy of race, Mills was widely known for his work in social and political philosophy, African American and Africana philosophy, ethics, and Marxist thought, according to CUNY.
Here are seven things to know about the legendary professor.
“Throughout his long and fruitful career, Mills worked to show how, despite its pretenses to universalism, liberalism as a political tradition and philosophy has historically been strongly biased toward the material interests of white people and white polities to the detriment of nonwhite peoples and nonwhite polities. Put another way, Mills sought to answer the question posed by the great English literary critic and poet Samuel Johnson on the eve of the American Revolution, ‘How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?,'” The New York Times reported.
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Most consider Mills’s most famous work to be “The Racial Contract,” published in 1997.
In “The Racial Contract,” Mills “moves step by step to show how Enlightenment liberalism and the thinkers who made it took racial domination for granted. And how that assumption of white supremacy shaped their theories of the ‘universal,'” The New York Times reported.
The book won a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award for the study of bigotry and human rights in North America.
Mills authored six books and more than 100 articles. In his book “Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race,” he addresses the “profound whiteness of philosophy as a discipline and shows how this has shaped its fundamental concerns and interests,” The New York Times reported.
“Without even recognizing that it is doing so,” Mills wrote, “Western philosophy abstracts away from what has been the central feature of the lives of Africans transported against their will to the Americas: the denial of Black humanity and the reactive, defiant assertion of it.”
Other books include, “From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism” and his last book, “Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism.”
Critical race sociologist and author Crystal Marie Fleming tweeted, “Anyone who’s read HOW TO BE LESS STUPID ABOUT RACE knows that one lecture from Charles Mills changed my entire life. He remained generous, kind and supportive over the years. Here we are, with my colleague Oyeronke Oyewumi, at an event during my last book tour. Rest in power.”
Mills often explored the philosophy of white supremacy.
“White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today,” he announces at the very start of the book. And the “racial contract,” he wroet, “establishes a racial polity, a racial state, and a racial juridical system, where the status of whites and nonwhites is clearly demarcated, whether by law or custom.”
In a 2017 interview with the African American Intellectual History Society about his book “Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism” Mills said, “It’s certainly a perfectly reasonable question, given liberalism’s actual history. The case I try to make in the book is that racialized (‘racial’) liberalism has been the problem rather than liberalism as such, but that it is understandably hard to appreciate this considering that the former has been the dominant form of liberalism for hundreds of years!”
“He has led the way in decolonizing philosophy’s canon and re-reading the history of political philosophy in the context of global white supremacy,” The American Academy of Arts & Sciences wrote of Mills.
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Dr Folúkẹ́ Adébísí @folukeifejola tweeted, “Charles Mills as always is exceptionally succinct. Here he explains what ‘race’ is. His work has been exceptionally important to me. He leaves behind him a legacy of brilliance and compassion. The world will miss him.” The tweet was accompanied by a video of Mills give a lecture.
In the video, Mills said, “Race does exist. But its existence is not a biological existence. It’s a social political existence.”