On Racial Barriers

Kayla R Mehl, University of Texas at El Paso


My thesis examines: the nature of racial barriers, by what means racial barriers manifest in society, and the ways in which we can use racial barriers to evolve toward a more just society. I argue that within particular contexts a look of the Other will construct a racial barrier between racialized bodies. More specifically, when one perceives a threat from a look of the Other, one will undertake a particular—what social psychologists call—self-representation, in attempt to exhibit a particular type of persona they feel is called for in that context. Furthermore, I argue in my paper that racial barriers emerge not only in the presence of particular individuals, but also in the presence of unjust social structures. Thus, I show that one may experience two different types of racial barriers as a result of a perceived threat from the look of the Other. In order to do make this argument for social structures, I draw form the work of Iris Marion Young and her definitions of social structures and structural injustice. By putting Young’s work in dialogue with some fragments of Sartre’s, I am able to show that social structures also have a “look” and “face” and these faces may take the form of objects or symbols, such as the Confederate flag. I use the example of the Confederate flag to illustrate my point that some objects have a “face” of the social structure that is white supremacy. In the final chapter, I argue that at the junctures in which people of color perceive a threat in the form of racial barriers as lived experiences or racial barriers as social structures are trouble spots that need attention and reformation. I further argue that while racial barriers as social structures contravene in our attempts to achieve justice, some racial barriers as lived experiences are imperative for justice—they help people (particularly whites) become aware of the ways in which they are racially privileged or oppressed and thus, serve as measures in developing self-awareness and understanding how race continues to influence our judgement and behaviors.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Mehl, Kayla R, "On Racial Barriers" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10817499.