So you thought metaphysics doesn’t influence politics?  Think again.

Once upon a time, false ideas about biology were used to keep certain people down.  In the name of liberation, some reformers decided that the body means nothing.  Yet in the name of science, others insist that the body means everything.  Considering this confusion, is it any surprise that no matter how often it is beaten down, biological determinism keeps coming back in new forms?

A case in point is a speaker at the publically-funded White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin a few months ago.  Never heard of it?  Maybe you should have.  The organizers claim that 1500 people attend every year from more than 35 states as well as Australia, Bermuda, Canada, and Germany.  The person I am quoting is a former high school English teacher and current doctoral candidate in something called “critical whiteness studies” at a public university in Canada.  Her name and the name of her school are not important; her metaphysics is.

The nineteenth-century physiologist Jacob Moleschott famously remarked that “The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile.”  Apparently the speaker thinks white skin secretes racism in much the same way.  For one might suppose that racism is an attitude in the mind -- but no, she says, it is a characteristic of the body: 

“I came to higher ed to study.  What is this problem that I'm scared of?  I don't know what to do.  My principal is scared of this.  Where do I point?  Who's at fault?  My white body is at fault.”

“Being a white person who does anti-racist work is like being an alcoholic.  I will never be recovered by my alcoholism, to use the metaphor.  I have to everyday wake up and acknowledge that I am so deeply imbedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body that I have to choose every day to do anti-racist work and think in an anti-racist way.”

“My partner, who is a man, can't tell you about feminism.  ... You need to learn what it is like to be a woman from a woman.  He can't teach that.  I can't teach students of color nearly as well as a person of color can.”