No “Justice.” No “Equality.” — Philosopher Naomi Zack Aims to Radically Revise the Anti-Racism Conversation

October 7, 2015

Lecture on a new way to think about racial oppression and anti-racism:
Everyone is welcome to the free talk;
5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22

– How can we nudge American society toward racial justice and equality? Somewhat paradoxically, philosopher Naomi Zack argues that the best way to do so is to stop talking about justice and equality—at least in the way that standard liberal thinking often dictates. Instead, she argues, we need a new set of conceptual tools for anti-racism discourse.

Naomi Zack is a leading figure in the philosophy of race. She has developed a distinctive brand of anti-racism in her recent and forthcoming books: White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide? (2015); The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality after the History of Philosophy (2011); and Applicative Justice: A Pragmatic Revision of Injustice Discourse (2016).

Zack will give a free public lecture, titled “A New Paradigm of Anti-Racism: Why Discourse of White Privilege, Justice, and Equality Do Not Work,” at University of Puget Sound on Thursday, Oct. 22, in Rasmussen Rotunda, Wheelock Student Center. The talk will run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and everyone is welcome. Audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment.

The lecture will present a new way to think about racial oppression and other forms of current injustice. Consider what Zack says about the term “white privilege.” Although this concept is prominent in standard liberal thinking about anti-racism, Zack argues that it leads to misdescriptions of the ethical landscape.

“A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being white confers privilege, but that not being white means being without rights in many cases,” she said in a New York Times interview with George Yancy. “Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.”

“Naomi Zack is one of a handful of thinkers who have convinced philosophers of the centrality of issues of race to philosophy,” said Douglas Cannon, professor of philosophy at Puget Sound. “She has cast the nature of race as a metaphysical problem, particularly highlighting mixed race as a pervasive challenge to resolving this problem. More recently she has dared to renounce shibboleths of equality in favor of what, to her mind, are more promising ideals of fairness.”

The free public lecture is part of the inaugural Cascade Lecture Series in Philosophy. Zack will also give lectures at Whitman College and Lewis and Clark College as part of the series. The series is organized by the philosophy departments of the members of the Northwest Five Consortium (NW5C), as part of their Philosophy in an Inclusive Key project. The NW5C, founded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, includes Lewis and Clark College, Reed College, University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, and Willamette University.

“We are very excited to have Naomi Zack deliver the inaugural Cascade Lecture Series in Philosophy, and it is a great time to have her visit our campus,” said Ariela Tubert, chair of the Department of Philosophy at University of Puget Sound.

“Issues in philosophy of race are being discussed in several of our courses this semester, and we will offer a new upper level course on Race and Philosophy starting in the spring. Naomi Zack is a leading philosopher working in this area, and we look forward to her contribution to ongoing campus discussions about race and to extended discussions with colleagues at each of the Northwest Five campuses.”

Naomi Zack is professor of philosophy at University of Oregon. She received her doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University and is the author of numerous books on philosophy of race, political philosophy, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of science. Some of her earlier works include Ethics for Disaster (2009); Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality (2005); Race and Mixed Race (1993); Philosophy of Science and Race (2002); and the short textbook, Thinking About Race (2nd edition, 2006).

Zack is also chair of the Community Philosophy Institute Homelessness project, at University of Oregon, that aims to support creative, intellectual, and practical means to address the problems of homelessness.  

For directions and a map of the University of Puget Sound campus:
For accessibility information please contact or 253.879.3236, or visit

To read an interview with Naomi Zack in the New York Times visit:

Press photos of Naomi Zach are available upon request.

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