Charles W. Mills

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Charles W. Mills
Charles Wade Mills

(1951-01-03)January 3, 1951
London, England, UK
DiedSeptember 20, 2021(2021-09-20) (aged 70)
AwardsGustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award
Academic background
ThesisThe Concept of Ideology in the Thought of Marx and Engels (1985)
Academic work
Era20th-century philosophy
Notable worksThe Racial Contract

Charles Wade Mills (January 3, 1951 – September 20, 2021) was a philosopher who was a professor at Graduate Center, CUNY, and Northwestern University. Born in London, Mills grew up in Jamaica and later became a United States citizen. He was educated at the University of the West Indies and the University of Toronto.

Early life and education[edit]

Charles Wade Mills was born on January 3, 1951, in London, England, to Winnifred and Gladstone Mills.[1][2] His parents were graduate students in London and moved to Kingston, Jamaica, shortly after he was born.[3] He grew up in Kingston.[4][5]

Mills received a BSc in physics at the University of the West Indies in 1971 and an MA and PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1976 and 1985, respectively.[6] His dissertation was titled The Concept of Ideology in the Thought of Marx and Engels.[7] He endorsed historical materialism until the 1990s.[8] While at the University of Toronto, Mills helped to unionize teaching assistants.[5]

Academic career[edit]

Mills taught physics in Kingston from 1971 to 1973 at the College of Arts, Science and Technology, and from 1976 to 1977 at Campion College; he later taught philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (1987–90) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (1990–2007) where he was a UIC Distinguished Professor.[6]

Mills was John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy at Northwestern University, before his appointment as Distinguished Professor at Graduate Center, CUNY, in August 2016.[9][10][11] He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017.[12] He gave the Tanner Lectures on Human Values in 2020.[13]


Over his career, Mills published six books and over 100 articles.[13] Shannon Sullivan argues that Mills's oeuvre can be understood through the concept of smadditizin, a word Mills used in the title of a 1997 article. Sullivan, quoting Mills, describes smadditizin as "the struggle to have one's personhood recognized" [emphasis in original]. She argues that, no matter whether he embraced Marxism, Black radicalism, or racial liberalism, Mills's work opposed the non-recognition of persons.[14] According to an obituary in CBC News, Mills is regarded as a pioneer in critical race theory and the philosophy of race.[5] Philosopher Christopher Lebron described him in The Nation as a "black Socrates".[3]

Mills's book The Racial Contract (1997) won a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award for the study of bigotry and human rights in North America.[15] The Racial Contract posits that the social contract is really a contract based on the notion of white domination.[3] According to Jamelle Bouie, the work argues that "classic contractarian theories", such as those proposed by "Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant", "were built on an assumption of white racial domination, a racial contract, so to speak".[16]

Later in his career, according to Tommie Shelby, Mills launched a sustained critique of John Rawls's contractarian theory of justice. Shelby notes that Mills rejected the Rawlsian turn to ideal theory in political philosophy in favor of an approach that takes careful account of the realities of oppression.[17] Despite his critique of Rawls, however, Mills came to endorse a version of liberalism in Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism, suggesting that the history of liberalism reveals the dismantling of social hierarchies.[18] Reviewing Black Rights/White Wrongs in Political Theory, Ainsley LeSure observes that "[t]hough [Mills] acknowledges that racial justice need not be realized through the liberal tradition, he affirms that it can."[19]

Personal life[edit]

Mills has been described as "Afro-Caribbean",[20] "Caribbean",[21][22] and "Jamaican".[23] He described himself as "Caribbean-American".[24]

In a 2014 publication, Mills stated, "I was a citizen of a small Third World country, Jamaica, which owed its very existence to … oppressive international forces."[25] As of October 2020, Mills was an American citizen.[4]

Mills was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in May 2021.[5] He died of cancer in Evanston, Illinois, on September 20, 2021.[1]


  • Mills, Charles W. (January 27, 2014) [1997]. The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press. doi:10.7591/9780801471353. ISBN 978-0-8014-7135-3. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt5hh1wj.[26][27][28]
  • Mills, Charles W. (December 18, 2015) [1998]. Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race. Cornell University Press. doi:10.7591/9781501702952. ISBN 978-1-5017-0295-2. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt1tm7j79.[29]
  • From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism. Rowman & Littlefield. 2003. ISBN 0-7425-1301-7. OCLC 52216116.[30][31]
  • Mills, Charles W.; Sample, Ruth J.; Sterba, James P., eds. (2004). Philosophy: The Big Questions. Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-0828-2. OCLC 52386246.
  • Mills, Charles W.; Pateman, Carole (2013). The Contract and Domination. Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-3621-4. OCLC 843202341.[32]
  • Radical Theory, Caribbean Reality: Race, Class and Social Domination. University of the West Indies Press. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4619-0675-9. OCLC 759207752.[33]
  • Mills, Charles W. (May 25, 2017). Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190245412.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-024541-2.[18][19][34]


  1. ^ a b Risen, Clay (September 27, 2021). "Charles W. Mills, Philosopher of Race and Liberalism, Dies at 70". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  2. ^ Herdeck, Donald (1979). Herdeck, Donald E. (ed.). Caribbean writers : a bio-bibliographical-critical encyclopedia. Three Continents Press. pp. 146–147. ISBN 0-914478-74-5. OCLC 5223510.
  3. ^ a b c Smith, Harrison (October 1, 2021). "Charles W. Mills, incisive philosopher of liberalism and race, dies at 70". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Lim, Woojin (October 29, 2020). "'The Racial Contract': Interview with Philosopher Charles W. Mills". Harvard Political Review. Archived from the original on October 29, 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Raza, Ali (October 10, 2021). "Toronto-educated philosopher and critical race theory pioneer Charles W. Mills dies at 70". CBC News. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Charles W. Mills (Curriculum vitae)". Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  7. ^ "Search - Theses Canada". Library and Archives Canada. March 8, 2019. Retrieved September 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Loggins, Jared (September 24, 2021). "The House That Charles Built". Dissent. Archived from the original on September 24, 2021. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  9. ^ "Mills from Northwestern to CUNY Graduate Center". Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. November 16, 2015. Archived from the original on October 8, 2016. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  10. ^ "Professor Charles Mills to Join Graduate Center Philosophy Program". Graduate Center, CUNY. November 28, 2015. Archived from the original on January 4, 2017. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  11. ^ "Charles W. Mills". Graduate Center, CUNY. Archived from the original on June 18, 2021. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  12. ^ "Charles W. Mills". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  13. ^ a b Táíwò, Olúfémi O. (September 27, 2021). "The Radical Generosity of Charles Mills". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  14. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2017). "Smadditizin' Across the Years: Race and Class in the Work of Charles Mills". Critical Philosophy of Race. 5 (1): 1–18. doi:10.5325/critphilrace.5.1.0001.
  15. ^ Roberts, Neil (April 3, 2017). "The Critique of Racial Liberalism: An Interview with Charles W. Mills". AAIHS. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  16. ^ Bouie, Jamelle (September 25, 2021). "The World Lost a Great Philosopher This Week". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 25, 2021.
  17. ^ Shelby, Tommie (2013). "Racial Realities and Corrective Justice". Critical Philosophy of Race. 1 (2): 145–162. doi:10.5325/critphilrace.1.2.0145.
  18. ^ a b Hughey, Matthew W. (February 19, 2018). "Four thoughts on Charles Mills – Black rights/white wrongs: the critique of racial liberalism". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 41 (3): 523–531. doi:10.1080/01419870.2018.1389967. ISSN 0141-9870. S2CID 148904929.
  19. ^ a b LeSure, Ainsley (October 2018). Political Theory. 46 (5): 801–805. doi:10.1177/0090591717750345. ISSN 0090-5917. S2CID 149215821.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  20. ^ Ferguson, Stephen C. (January 10, 2017). "Exploring the Matter of Race". In Zack, Naomi (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 265. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190236953.013.56.
  21. ^ Rabaka, Reiland (2011). Hip Hop's Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement. Lexington Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-7391-6480-8.
  22. ^ Murphy, Philip (August 1, 2018). The Empire's New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth. Oxford University Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-19-093478-1.
  23. ^ Gordon, Jane Anna (March 5, 2020). "Mapping Afro-Caribbean Political Thought". In Jenco, Leigh K.; Idris, Murad; Thomas, Megan C. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Political Theory. Oxford University Press. p. 148. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190253752.013.25. ISBN 978-0-19-025375-2. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  24. ^ Mills, Charles W. (2009). "Rousseau, the Master's Tools, and Anti-Contractarian Contractarianism". The CLR James Journal. 15 (1): 92–112. doi:10.5840/clrjames20091515. ISSN 2167-4256. JSTOR 26770019.
  25. ^ Anievas, Alexander; Manchanda, Nivi; Shilliam, Robbie, eds. (October 30, 2014). "Unwriting and unwhitening the world". Race and Racism in International Relations. Routledge. p. 203. doi:10.4324/9781315857299-20. ISBN 978-1-315-85729-9.
  26. ^ Cohen, Philip N. (June 1999). Review of Radical Political Economics. 31 (2): 102–105. doi:10.1177/048661349903100208. ISSN 0486-6134. S2CID 153979951.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  27. ^ Ahmed, Sara (1999). Women's Philosophy Review. 21 (21): 63–66. doi:10.5840/wpr1999219. ISSN 1369-4324.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  28. ^ Valls, Andrew (September 1998). American Political Science Review. 92 (3): 691–692. doi:10.2307/2585505. ISSN 0003-0554. JSTOR 2585505.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  29. ^ Harris, Leonard (January 2000). Ethics. 110 (2): 432–434. doi:10.1086/233284. ISSN 0014-1704. S2CID 171340106.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  30. ^ de Allen, Gertrude James Gonzalez (2005). Philosophia Africana. 8 (1): 83–86. ISSN 1539-8250. JSTOR 10.5325/philafri.8.1.0083.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  31. ^ Shelby, Tommie (September 2004). "From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism". Perspectives on Politics. 2 (3). doi:10.1017/S1537592704320372. ISSN 1537-5927. S2CID 141786277. Archived from the original on September 22, 2021. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  32. ^ Bonner, Frank (January 2009). Gender and Education. 21 (1): 120–122. doi:10.1080/09540250802580877. ISSN 0954-0253. S2CID 145408041.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  33. ^ Thame, Maziki (2011). Social and Economic Studies. 60 (3/4): 221–225. ISSN 0037-7651. JSTOR 41635326.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  34. ^ Winant, Howard (February 19, 2018). "Charles Mills for and against liberalism". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 41 (3): 551–556. doi:10.1080/01419870.2018.1389969. ISSN 0141-9870. S2CID 149033335.

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