Kaieteur News – Charles Mills, one of the most learned minds the CARICOM region and the Third World has birthed is dead. He died from cancer on September 20, last. I didn’t know until I was sent an email yesterday about the upcoming day of appreciation on Sunday. We were contemporaries in the doctoral programme at the University of Toronto (UoT).
Charles, a Jamaican was a strange fellow. He hardly mixed with anyone on the campus in the context of foreign student life. West Indian students on foreign campuses in White countries become a tightly knitted unit. Tall, handsome and soft spoken, Charles did not appear as a free spirited West Indian. I may be wrong but I think his English background may have led to a dual personality.
Charles never hung out with the West Indian students who were doing their doctorates at UoT. While the West Indians, including me, were a neatly solidified group who were always in each other’s company, I would say Charles was a peripheral member.
His dissertation was on philosophy and even though he was studying such a subject, he never seemed to want to discuss Black politics in Toronto or West Indian politics. It is one of academia’s phenomenal transformations that after obtaining his doctorate in philosophy, Charles went on to exceed Walter Rodney, CLR James, and Franz Fanon – Caribbean geniuses.
I honestly feel that Charles has been more profound than any West Indian scholar including the names above in explaining the ways in which White domination of Third World people and the African race in general shaped the modern, White world.
I would rate his work above anything else in the adumbration of the effects of colonialism and Western domination on the Black race. I believe Edward Said’s magnum opus, “Orientalism” is one of the most classical analyses on the destructive influence of Western domination of the Third World but Charles’ magnum opus, “The Racial Contract” is one of the great books of a great Third World Mind.”
Charles published some brilliant works but The Racial Contract is a masterpiece in philosophy. If you are not White, The Racial Contract, on reading it, will transform your understanding of your identity. Simply put, Charles argued that all philosophy from Socrates to the 21st century is flawed because philosophy was composed by white people who saw the world and its existence from a White perspective. Nowhere in their consciousness were they aware that they were essentially preaching White supremacy which, Charles contends, is part of the white psyche.
Prior to Charles’ publication of “The Racial Contract,” philosophy rested on the “social contract” by Plato passing through two thousands year from the Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and 18 centuries and finally being crystallised by John Rawls’ celebrated book, “A Theory of Justice.”
But even the most brilliant advancement on Rawls’ work, the Indian thinker, Amatya Sen (see his fantastic book, The Idea of Justice) did not configure race into philosophy’s equations. From Plato to Sen, The Social Contract was about one type of discourse led by one type of civilisation. Race in that discourse was non-existent until Charles Mill’s genius appeared.
Cornell University, the publisher of the book will publish a reissue next year in honour of the greatness of this philosophical work. I would never have believed Charles, my student contemporary at UoT, would have taken global academia by storm with his radical approach to the study of philosophy.
When I left UoT to work with the Maurice Bishop government in Grenada, I lost contact with him. I only knew of his intellectual genius through his work. Looking at his pictures on the net, I couldn’t believe it was him. He was still more than six feet tall but had lost his hair.
Philosophers are strange people, two of them being Martin Heidegger of Germany in the 1930s and Charles Mills of Jamaica. (I thought about how Heidegger, a man who wrote one of the best books on philosophy – “Being and Time”, could have supported the Nazi regime). I couldn’t understand how, for all Charles’ efforts in educating the world about the flaws of European philosophy and educating the Non-white peoples of the world of thousands of years of white supremacy and its continued penetration, he Charles, could have taken American citizenship.
When I came home and took a teaching job at UG, I didn’t want to write books and articles in journals. I wanted to be a public intellectual. It is a loss to West Indian society that Charles, unlike Rodney and CLR James before him didn’t shape a public political profile. West Indian civilisation would have been better off if he had.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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