Boycotting “White Dude” Panels?

This article discusses the idea that white men should refuse to participate in all white male panels.  Reader L suggests that philosophers might consider doing something similar (presumably extending it to workshops, conferences, anthologies, etc).  What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Boycotting “White Dude” Panels?

  1. It’s a bit dismaying that this feminist wheel has to continually be reinvented. When I was just a wee tot in the seventies, feminist women and male allies knew that it was good strategy to assert, “I’ll be on your panel if and only if …” and use your invitation to ensure that someone you suggest is invited along with you or in your place. Has this been forgotten again? Better than boycotting is to assert your power to do something about the make-up of the panel!

    There are many ways to define responsibility, but one is: Possessing the capacity to respond. We may all helplessly wave our hands and say, “How was I to know the panel was…” but if you’re being invited to participate, then you are apparently desirable enough to the inviters to assert your damn self. Don’t boycott. Take that invitation by the horns and WORK IT!

  2. Boycotting the panel MIGHT be a good idea if that panel’s being composed only of white males was evidence of discrimination. So if %50 percent of philosophers were women, and %40 percent were minorities it MIGHT (I stress ‘might’ because even then I think this alone would be insufficient grounds for suspecting bias) be reasonable to boycott. But this (perhaps unfortunately) is simply not how philosophy is composed. And, therefore, I think it is a ridiculous requirement that EVERY panel have some minority or woman.

    The bottom line is: there simply are not enough women and minorities in philosophy for the absence of representatives of these groups to count as evidence of discrimination (or other wrongdoing) on the part of panel or conference organizers. And therefore it is unreasonable to boycott.

  3. @c_willis: Your response seems to miss that there might be good reasons to work against an all-white-male panel other than discrimination or wrongdoing on the part of the organizers. One such good reason would be the effects on the profession created by the predominance of these lineups. Those effects work the same no matter whether any discrimination or wrongdoing was involved or not.

    Boycotting a panel, though, 1) shuts you out of the event, and 2) may well result in an all-white-male panel anyway. Looks to me like @Profbigk has a very helpful idea here.

  4. I highly doubt that even if this policy were universally instituted, there would be a significant effect on the gender make-up of the philosophy profession. What would result is that there would be ridiculously high demand for the female or minority philosophers presently in the profession and a substantial new impediment to putting on such an event. So, even granting that that might be some prima facie reason to favor such a policy, I think that this reason is far outweighed by reasons against it (including the ones you mentioned).

    One more thing: am I the only one a little bit annoyed by the obviously derisive phrase “white dudes” that is used in the title of this post and which is seen repeatedly throughout this blog? It seems clearly to imply that the “white dudes” in question are complicit in some sort of wrong-doing (why else would they be the object of vitriol?). But if this is not what you are alleging, why the belittling language? It seems unfair and more than a little unprofessional.

  5. What *size* “panel” would anyone suggest is too large to be “all white” or “all male” or “all-anything-else*? A panel of 3 as is common for many APA sessions? A panel of 4? 2? 8?

  6. c_willis is right that one of the dangers of this is that minority philosophers spend so much time being on panels, etc. that this gets in the way of doing other aspects of job, which then damages career prospects of said minorities. We’ve discussed this at length elsewhere. There are no simple answers.

    The extent to which suggestions like this substantially impede putting on events is unclear. As we’ve discussed at the blog before, implicit bias makes minorities less visible, and in many cases, there may well be a minority philosopher doing relevant work that one could invite to one’s panel/conference/etc. if one spends a little more time thinking past the obvious big names that spring to mind. Moreover, since women often progress less in their careers than men, for various reasons, choosing to invite some less well-established or less senior people in an area can then provide a more diverse range of people from which to choose. As we’ve emphasised many times before, doing these things needn’t result in less quality philosophy. Indeed, it may have the opposite effect, as one may bring lesser known, but excellent philosophers to the public table.

    It’s not clear to me that the phrase ‘white dudes’ is obviously derisive – it certainly wasn’t intended as such. Bear in mind that this whole post is about things that ‘white dudes’ can do, if they are concerned about diversity issues. No offence is intended.

  7. CrimLaw – no obvious answer to that question. Presumably, it will depend on part on the philosophical area in question. This might be another reason why the boycott strategy is a bad one, and something like ProfBigK suggests is better.

  8. The issue of complicity is an interesting and difficult one. If we grant that there is White male privilege (not doubting that there are other privileged groups), then White men have some unearned benefits that give them an advantage over those who are not part of that identity group. Those benefits exist whether or not one intends to exercise them or intends to harm members of other groups. IE people of genuine goodwill, just by going about their daily lives, can take part in and support institutions that benefit them and harm others (see Iris Young here). Once one is aware of one’s privilege, I think one has some kind of responsibility to work toward minimizing this harm.

    I think that going to a panel or workshop or conference, and seeing only White men represented among the speakers harms women and people of colour in the audience. And further that this sort of harm contributes to the lack of women in the profession and hence your concern about the lack of available women speakers.

    So, if one is in a position to create diversity in philosophy forums, I think one has a responsibility to try to do so and I think that not trying, _is_ an issue of complicity. Of course, I think that all of us are complicit in a wide range of significant harms. But, this is one that those with authority and institutional power in our profession are in a good position to address without much effort. I am not asking philosophers to fix global warming, I am asking that philosophers to make an educated effort to include women and people of colour in public philosophy forums.

  9. One final thing – whether or not adopting such policies will have a significant effect on the gender make-up of the philosophy profession is an empirical question. There is empirical evidence to suggest that these things will make a significant difference. A plausible hypothesis for the gender imbalance is that philosophy is stereotyped as male. This has (at least) two effects, both of which are unconscious: implicit bias means that people who don’t fit the stereotype are deemed less good at philosophy, and their work judged more negatively. Second, stereotype threat means that people who don’t fit the stereotype are caused to underperform by the stereotyping. Part of what helps to perpetuate the male stereotyping is all-male conference and panel line-ups. Change these, and so change the stereotype, and so remove the implicit bias/stereotype threat that comes with it. There’s more on this on this page, with some refs.

  10. Meet the author of the article.
    How about boycotting panels peopled exclusively by professors fromelite colleges and universities ?

    Race, gender, and class: which is the most important now? Which gets the least attention? Which is the most threatening to liberal self-regard?

    The academy over the past 40 years has become focused more and more on a sort of technocratic Darwinism.

    “I suspect this point holds across a number of disciplines. Administrators who prefer public intellectuals to specialists are confused about the core mission of a research university. The intended audience of most scholars in a university should be the future scholars of that discipline, not contemporary non-scholars.”

    The contradictions of this attitude are the definition of neoliberalism.
    The Arab spring didn’t “spring” from the elite.

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