Racial Contract (Charles Mill): Summary and Critique

Mill (1997) argues that the racial contract is a theoretical tool, which enables Whites to dominate Blacks, and has enabled them to do so for the past 500 years. Mills argues that the racial contract is a set of agreements between Whites that categorizes Blacks and perceives them as an inferior species. Although all White Westerners -- particularly Americans -- are recipients of this contract, not all are signatories, but that, on the whole, Black suppression and oppression can be understood by means of this political system that serves as overt manipulator of laws and tools to put other races in their place. Critiquing classical contract theory (where it is stated that by means of a 'social contract' people decide to live in communities as pragmatic instrument to meet their ends), Mills replaces the classical social contract theory with the racial contract idea, stating that the racial contract serves to better describe and explain historical reality. In fact, implementation of the social contract would be an excellent prescription for obliterating the racial contract since, in this situation, all would live in unison as equals instead of one community of people (males and Whites) lording it over another (females and Black, or other minority races). To that end, Mill recommends that the social ideals of the Enlightenment (liberty, equality, and fraternity) become reality rather than ideological myth. These concepts (of liberty, equality, and fraternity) never existed, states Mills. Instead, Enlightenment men and the founders of the State merely mouthed these words whilst setting themsleves up as Lords over another race whom they deemed inferior.

More so, according to Mills, the original social contract excluded Blacks and women from political obligation and, therefore, from the rights of citizenship. Africans were considered savages or sub-humans, and slavery was the norm, at least in the U.S.A., whilst in both the States and Europe, the most famous philosophers and scientists (such as Kant and Darwin) derided Blacks and people from so-called primitive countries. The whole was a white supremacist society.

Even though America has a history of white supremacism, I take issue with Mill's contention in that the U.S. deliberately structured itself that way. The slave trade was a common feature in Europe's past; America inherited that tradition from Europe, and many, although not all, Americans continued living a tradition that benefited them. Very few people are able to stand aside and critique their acculturation honestly. Even fewer are courageous enough to change traditions, particularly when changing them causes disadvantage to themselves. There is no doubt that America, for much of its existence, was in a dominant position over Blacks, but I do not think that they had deliberately created a form of government contract to be so. It is natural for one to perceive oneself and one's race as the foci of the universe -- Darwin himself perceived Whites as the peak and savages as inferior. And Darwin truly believed this to be a scientific, rather than a value, statement. Many equate alienness, or differentness, with strangeness, and, from there, it is a short step to regarding the alien individual as inferior (for after all one naturally perceives oneself as superior). This is a psychological fact…