Appointed As

Political and Civic Engagement Program


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Indiana University Bloomington

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University

Dissertation Abstract

"You're Not as Ignorant as You Say You are: A Knowledge/Understanding Distinction"

In my dissertation, You’re Not as Ignorant as You Say You Are, I critique the white ignorance literature and offer up a remedy for not only the lacuna I identify within the literature, but also the pragmatic problems that I see the literature creating. Epistemologies of ignorance regarding anti-Black racism either situates white ignorance as pertaining to a lack of knowledge regarding the atrocities committed by white America or the ignorance concerns false truths, which then cannot constitute itself as knowledge. Often the remedy to white ignorance is for white allies to gain knowledge regarding anti-Black racism. Racial horrors within America occur due to the lack of knowledge within the white ignorance framework – be it a deficit in knowing or a believing of racial falsehoods. However, I argue positing epistemologies of ignorance as hinging on knowledge can manifest problems that has been highlighted within multiple Black feminist works. The main point within my dissertation is that the epistemologies of ignorance framework should utilize the distinctions between ‘understanding’ and ‘knowledge’ that have recently resurfaced within virtue epistemology. The recent distinction between understanding and knowledge within virtue epistemology will not only provide a more robust description of the phenomena of white ignorance, but I believe that it will better remedy some the racialized problems that the white ignorance literature seeks to alleviate. The consequences of solely utilizing the knowledge-model of ignorance stemming from veritistic epistemology is briefly as follows: 1- it helps to facilitate a hesitation to engage and act in matters of racism due to a 'lack of knowledge,' 2- it does not adequately require individuals to interrogate the ways in which they are complicit with white ignorance, 3- it renders Black individuals as epistemic objects of study, which reduces our subjectivity, and 4- if coupled with a strong feminist standpoint theory program, then any knowledge of anti-Black racism would be impossible for those who are not Black.
Regarding the theoretical considerations, there are several distinctive characteristics of understanding that distinguishes itself from the classical conception of knowledge. I position understanding as an achievement that is more holistic than knowledge. Understanding in this light is not merely pertaining to the object of epistemic inquiry, which in this case is anti-black racism. Rather, it examines the relationship the object holds within the world. Sets of knowledge propositions regarding anti-Black racism do not account for an explanatory or causative power amongst racism and the external world. Understanding can highlight the ways in which racial oppression operates. I also argue that understanding can allow for degrees and variances that knowledge cannot, since it is not focused on the exactness or the truth values of every proposition. Individuals may never understand the entire system of racial oppression; however, lack of complete comprehension does not constitute a failure of understanding. This theoretical distinction I believe will help to solve consequences 1, 2, and 4. Another theoretical distinction is between higher-order knowledge and higher-grade understanding, which requires the white individuals to interrogate themselves within the racialized American system, something I believe that the k-model of ignorance does inadequately – re: consequence 2. To address consequence 3, I believe the theoretical aspect that a u-model of ignorance offers is that it can be non-factive. Allowing for non-factive understanding would facilitate white individuals to obtain understanding via exemplary means rather than necessitating that the remedy of ignorance must be through knowledge acquisition.
I concur that anti-racist allies may indeed greatly lack knowledge of oppressive experiences; however, allies can obtain the cognitive achievement of understanding regarding anti-Black racial oppression. White allies may never understand the totality of racial oppression; however, lack of complete comprehension does not constitute a failure of understanding. A failing to understand the ways in which racism is situated within the world would be the inability to come up with any relational aspect or consequence of anti-black racism. For white allies, understanding is something that is attainable and can alleviate white ignorance. I conclude my dissertation with the argument that the distinctions between higher-order knowledge and higher-grade understanding requires the white ally to interrogate themselves within the racialized American system.