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Blum, Lawrence A. 1943–

BLUM, Lawrence A. 1943–

PERSONAL: Born April 16, 1943, in Baltimore, MD; son of Irving and Lois (Hoffberger) Blum; married Judith Smith (a college professor), June 22, 1975; children: Benjamin, Sarah, Laura. Education: Prince ton University, A.B., 1964; Harvard University, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1974; attended Linacre College, Oxford, 1968–69. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: University of Massachusetts, Boston, assistant professor, 1973–80, associate professor of philosophy, beginning 1980; became professor. Visiting associate professor at University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, spring, 1984.

MEMBER: American Philosophical Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of National Endowment for the Humanities, 1986–87, 1995–96; Social Philosophy Book of the Year, North American Society for Social Philosophy, for I'm Not a Racist, But—: The Moral Quandary of Race.

WRITINGS:

Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1980.

(With V. J. Seidler) A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1989.

Moral Perception and Particularity, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1994.

I'm Not a Racist, But—: The Moral Quandary of Race, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2002.

Contributor to books, including The Virtues: Contemporary Essays in Moral Character, edited by R. Kruschwitz and R. Roberts, Wadsworth, 1987; The Emergence of Morality in Young Children, edited by J. Kagan and S. Lamb, University of Chicago (Chicago, IL), 1988; and Public Education in a Multicultural Society, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996. Also contributor to philosophy journals.

SIDELIGHTS: In his book Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, Lawrence A. Blum argues that morality is as much a matter of emotion as rationality. This places him opposite great moral philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and more in line with classical thinkers like Aristotle. Blum asserts in particular that compassion, sympathy, and friendship are central moral phenomena neglected in Kantian-influenced traditions of morality.

Blum applied his moral thinking to a sensitive subject with his 2002 release, I'm Not a Racist, But—: The Moral Quandary of Race. This book argues that the hot-button word "racist" is often misused, "thereby stripping the concept of its meaning," as a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote. "The title came from hearing people say, 'I'm not a racist but,' and then go on to make statements that many people might find objectionable," Blum explained to Kate Tuttle in an interview for Africana. "I think this form of words has come to be the contemporary equivalent of 'some of my best friends are…'."

Another purpose of the title, Blum added, is to get readers thinking about the meaning behind words like "racist" and "racism." "People kind of reach for those words because they're the most common words that have come to be used in this area, but they aren't always helpful or accurate," the author said. He also noted that the word "race" comes with a legacy: It "does imply a lot of baggage about inherent characteristics and people of the same race being the same and being totally different from people in other races." At bottom is hesitancy on the part of virtually every racial group to discuss race matters openly. "White people don't want to talk about race because they don't want to feel guilty," he told Tuttle. "And black people don't want to talk about race in mixed-race settings because it's painful, and they're worried they won't be acknowledged for the pain that they feel." Booklist's Vernon Ford read I'm Not a Racist, But—and found Blum's section on "colorblindness" to be "especially enlightening." Ford also lauded the author for acknowledging "the practical need to remedy wrongs of the past and present."

When not writing, Blum conducts classes in racial awareness to high-school students in his home state of Massachusetts. This is where he perceived the emotional terrain in young people on the subject. But the concept must be broached carefully to children, he adds: "Talking too much in school or families about cruelty, honesty, dishonesty, compassions can produce glazed-over looks, can fail to make contact with young people, can work against the very moral improvement and moral nurturance we aspire to," he wrote in a 1999 essay for Philosophy of Education. "At the same time, some actions, some motives, some remarks are racist, and it is very important to teach young people what they are, how to avoid them, how to detect them in others, how to intervene to mitigate them and their effects. Whether one accomplishes these ends by a constant use of the terminology of racism is another matter." Fortunately, he noted to Tuttle, young people seem more flexible than their elders in their acceptance of those different from themselves. "They're not rattled, the way some previous generations would be, by the diversity. I think that's a real step forward." However, even the high-schoolers practice a form of segregation, often choosing to associate only with members of their own race.

The goal of open dialogue, Blum said in his essay, is one of "racial harmony, understanding, and community. We want racial and ethnic groups not only to tolerate each other—to take a live-and-let-live attitude—and to lack prejudice against one another, but to care about understanding one another, to appreciate the race-based differences in one another's experiences, to live out our sense of common humanity, and to seek to bring about a society and its subinstitutions in which different groups live harmoniously together."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2002, Vernon Ford, review of I'm Not a Racist, But—: The Moral Quandary of Race, p. 781.

Boston, October, 1982.

New Republic, June 18, 1990, p. 40.

Publishers Weekly, October 15, 2001, "Re-Thinking Race," p. 61.

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, spring, 1990, p. 663.

Times Literary Supplement, February 20, 1981.

ONLINE

Africana, http://www.africana.com/ (May 14, 2002), Kate Tuttle, "Racism 101: The African Q & A with Lawrence Blum."

Philosophy of Education, http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/ (September 19, 2002), Lawrence Blum, "Shared Values and Particular Identities in Anti-Racist Education."

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