THE RACIAL CONTRACT: Quid Pro No

A crime does not occur when white men stalk and kill a black stranger. A crime does occur when black people vote.

The underlying assumptions of white innocence and black guilt are all part of what the philosopher Charles Mills calls the “racial contract.” If the social contract is the implicit agreement among members of a society to follow the rules—for example, acting lawfully, adhering to the results of elections, and contesting the agreed-upon rules by nonviolent means—then the racial contract is a codicil rendered in invisible ink, one stating that the rules as written do not apply to nonwhite people in the same way.

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal; the racial contract limits this to white men with property. The law says murder is illegal; the racial contract says it’s fine for white people to chase and murder black people if they have decided that those black people scare them.

“The terms of the Racial Contract,” Mills wrote, “mean that nonwhite subpersonhood is enshrined simultaneously with white personhood.”

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