As I did with Joel Olson, here is another thinker whose work I often discuss.
In my recent posts on Daily Kos (especially), and here on WARN (to a far lesser degree), some readers do not seem to get how race is a fiction, a true lie, a social construct, yet one that is nonetheless real. There is much emotion here--when we call out whiteness and the relationship between race and power, many people believe themselves to be experts because they "possess" a racial identity; this is far afield from having done the hard work and research necessary in order to develop expertise on such topics.
Those who study these questions for a living often get frustrated by how so many in the general public are unable (or unwilling) to grasp these basic priors. We have to do so much work to explain the very idea that power is real; then we have to explain how individuals are invested in social institutions and systems (such as race, gender, class, and sexuality); and finally, now exhausted, the work still has to be done to soothe hurt feelings and clarify how none of this is "personal."
In less than academic-speak I could care less about how people, White folks especially, feel about these basic matters. But inevitably, much energy is spent allowing for personal anecdotes, qualifiers, exclusions, and the "but not me" card, while still trying to explain how macro-level forces, more often than not, operate independent of individual and personal intent.
Ultimately, to correct that gap in understanding (an imperative often colored by a desire to reject the messenger in order to save one's pride, as well as a yearning to live in a cocoon of safe and warm denial), it is both useful and helpful to go to the original citation so to speak, those scholars who we make reference to, and channel, in making claims about race and politics. Expertise should not be based on magic tricks or subterfuge; our Lengua Franca ought to be made naked.
In all, Charles Mills is cool folks for a variety of reasons. First, he is one of the few black philosophers in the game, and he smartly locates race as central to political theory, as opposed to secondary to it. From the great book The Racial Contract, to The Contract and Domination, he is fearless. Plus, Mills has a British-Afro Caribbean accent. In my neck of the woods, he also gets extra points on the authority scale for such a persuasive and cool affect.
True, I am a ghetto nerd academic fanboy of Charles Mills. He is very nice and patient in person. I also find his dry humor, and sharp wit, disarming. Nevertheless, Mills has so much to offer on these matters.
There are a series of lectures with Dr. Mills now on Youtube. For anyone at all interested in a serious study of the relationship(s) between race, politics, and philosophy, these lectures are all worth watching.