The third comment (by lk macpherson) on this important post by Jender makes two claims that create a considerable challenge for white philosophers. On the one hand, lk tells us that he has had experiences that are difficult to believe have happened, with the implication that the experiences were due to racism.(But see comment #7 below.)
At this point, it might be tempting to think, “Well, I’ve never caused any such thing. So it’s a problem in my profession, but not exactly a serious one for innocent me.” (Thinking about this has made me wonder how many people come away from reading about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy with a self-congratulatory sense that at least they do not do that sort of thing. If that’s what you are saying to yourself, stop it! And read on.)**
lk then goes :
The philosophy profession–in composition, sensibilities, and content–is a racially hostile environment, even if that hostility typically manifests itself as benign neglect. …
I could try to assure you that “well qualified” blacks are not in great demand – other than for submitting job applications and responding to pointless “diversity office” surveys. I could dismiss the need for more studies of a type which basically presuppose that the gross underrepresentation of blacks in philosophy is due almost entirely to external factors…
But why are we talking about this? The philosophy profession has clearly spoken: it has no shame regarding its extraordinary whiteness; and blacks have virtually no leverage in such an environment. I cannot in good conscience encourage any black student in the U.S. (or U.K.) to enter the philosophy profession. The extraordinarily few who are determined to go should at least be aware of what awaits them.
So the problems of racism show up in lots of less overt ways, even in the frequent conjectures that the absence of blacks is due to external factors, which allows us not to see our role in it, and so permits the puzzlement about the lack of black presence to persist.
Both such issues – the racism of the profession and the role of white people in it – show up in the recent APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience. Leonard Harris’s “Philosophy and Flagships”, which contains a lot of information about various topics, remarks on the profession:
African American philosophers have struggled to create intellectual niches in a viciously hostile academic community… The idea that philosophers are above racial prejudice is about as defensible as the idea that there could be a discipline of philosophy in a racist academic culture magically governed by racially blind virtuous intellectuals.
The second article I want to mention is John Warren’s favorable review of Barbara Applebaum’ s Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Applebaum recommends revising ways of discussing and teaching about whiteness and racism. She thinks such discussion tend to center the problem around white people and what they can do; it restores the white subject at the cost of the black subject. A major alternative is to look at the complicity of white people in racism. And, because the book is actually quite expensive even on Kindle (grrrr!) I’ve only read a selection from it. Still, one motif comes through, and that is the ignorance of white people. As in, perhaps, we just don’t really know why there are not more blacks in philosophy.
BTW, I was in fact motivated to write this post after having read only two articles in the newsletter, so my singling those out is not a comment on the others.
**The as-of-now most recent post on the What is it like blog describes a very familiar kind of passive sexism; that is, the inability to cope adequately with women at a guest speaker dinner. Perhaps some people can congratulate themselves on not having so failed, but on the other hand, do consider what it is like to be in the middle of a social problem like this on social occasions with your colleagues for your entire career. Perhaps we should come away from such encounters with the realization that our profession’s ability to integrate the different is pretty minimal, and most of us do not even see the need.