Progress and Imagination

| September 30, 2017

Talk of racism in the U.S. has grown tremendously this year. I feel a key underlying issue of racism itself is a lack of imagination, or effort to use one’s imagination in such a context.

"Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) Take a Knee"

“Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) Take a Knee”


Why are some people racist? Do they feel superior to others? Or rather, do they fail to understand the struggles of others? These are some preliminary questions that come to mind. Sometimes we focus on a failure of empathy to understand racism, but the broader concept of imagination is also interesting to consider.

An exploration of an “imagination deficit” could be defined by at least a few different moments:

  • A lack of awareness of others’ struggles.
  • An inability (or reluctance) to consider alternative perspectives than one’s own
  • An unwillingness to accept, embrace, or champion change

The latter aspect of an imagination deficit—an unwillingness to accept or embrace change—is particularly bothersome in a world full of institutionalized racism. For it’s from the vantage of acceptance that one can enact behavioral change (not espousing racist views, for example). And alas, it’s the hard work of taking the final step of championing change that makes real change possible.

We can also understand an imagination deficit by coming at this the other way around: a resistance to change. Why, after all, do some people resist change? Are they so comfortable? Are they so worried about losing power or control?

Either way, the ability to imagine a future that is more fair and just for everyone would seem to be a key motivation.

I wonder if an argument from imagination could be useful in conversations with racists. (Did Maxine Green think so?)

I suspect that an inability to imagine a different future isn’t only manifested in racism, but sexism and discrimination of all sorts as well.

I would love to expand this into a longer reflection on the liberal ideal of progressivism.