Black Women in Philosophy, and forthcoming conference

See here for details of the forthcoming Inaugural Conference of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers (Oct 19-20th, Vanderbilt University).Recently written about in The Chronicle (here, but subscription only, I’m afraid. I’ll quote, for non-subscribers, specifics that I refer to),  Professor Kathryn Gines (who set up CBWP) notes that this offers a rare opportunity for black women philosophers to work in context that does not consist of, as she puts it ‘a sea of graying, white males’:  ‘if you’re a black women, you cannot identify with the majority of the people in the profession’.Whilst much has been written about the number and status of women in philosophy (see e.g. here, here, here), but when one comes to think of the number of non-white women in philosophy, the numbers are, well, appalingly small: in the US, ‘fewer than 30 black women are known to hold full-time jobs in the discipline’.  The caveat ‘are known’ is needed here, because, there  is so little data:

  • ‘The American Philosophical Association does not even keep  even keep up-to-date figures on how many of North America’s approximately 10,000 philosophers are women or minority group members’

Note, though, that what we’d want to know additionally is how many philosophers are women AND minority group members: the intersection of the two (in philosphy) minorities brings the amplification of problems that have been discussed with repsect to women in philosophy, namely, solo status. Haslanger writes, that for black women philosophers, ‘their scarcity means that [they] are always solo in every context.’The impact of this solo status is manifest in the report of Professor Jaqueline Scott, (Loyola University Chicago) who is quoted:

  • ‘I spend a lot of time being the only women and the only black person … Every once in a while it hits me, and I wonder what I’m doing here’

Indeed, the kinds of problems that have been recently discussed – homogeneity of shortlists, deparment members often not noting this; schemas that favour, in hiring, publishing, at teaching evaluations, the majority (white males); the problems of how to respond to this – will, surely, all arise – but perhaps qualitative data should also be gathered; it would be a mistake to suppose that white women’s experiences of being a minority group in the profession can straightfowardly generalise to black women’s experiences, across all cases (such as, noted above, the fact that being a ‘double minority in the field’ ensures that black women are solo in pretty much every context) (see Spelman 1988 on the problems of essentialism in feminist theory).Some, though, are critical of the seeming ‘separatism’ of such a conference – Professor Carol Swain, also of Vanderbilt worries about ‘encouraging black people to marginalise themselves’ and, it is written, ‘doesn’t believe that ‘self-segregation’  is in any scholar’s best interest.But others, such as Professor Allen, endorse what she describes as an ‘opportunity to sit down with 20 African-American philosophers to figure out our place in the discipline and talk about issues that are on our minds’.On a more positive note, though, The Chronicle also reports that concerted efforts to raise the small number of black women philosophers are having a significant effect:

  • ‘The philosophy department [at the University of Memphis] has made recruiting black women a top priority. Faculty members and graduate students regularly visit historically black colleges to try to interest undergraduates early on. Since 2003 the department has turned out five black female Ph.D.’s, and seven more are making their way through the program.’

 In my online forays, I couldn’t find any stats for the number of non-white women philosophers in UK departments. Any help – has any such data been gathered?  (Thanks, Sally, for passing this one on!)

Knowledge and Emotions

Feminist philosophers have been played an important role in the now-quite-popular rejection of the idea that emotions are only obstacles to reason and knowledge-seeking.  Here’s a nice example of emotions helping someone to arrive at moral knowledge– specifically the knowledge that gay relationships and people deserve the same respect as straight ones. The Republican mayor of San Diego recently reversed his opposition to same sex marriage, citing knowledge gained from his relationship with his lesbian daughter and her partner: 

He fought back tears as he said that he wanted his adult daughter, Lisa, and other gay people he knows to have their relationships protected equally under state laws. His daughter was not at the news conference.“In the end, I could not look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships – their very lives – were any less meaningful than the marriage that I share with my wife, Rana,” Sanders said.