“Good philosophers don’t have anxiety attacks”

The first post at the new blog Moontime Warrior includes the following:

As the Native woman in a classroom full of white students, studying a white, male dominated discipline, I am aware that my presence is constantly scrutinized. I become the representative for all Native people, and anything I do wrong is attributable to my genetics. If I enter a classroom late, if I answer a question incorrectly, if I misspeak, if I don’t speak, if I speak too much, if I get a bad grade, it’s not just a personal failure; it’s a failed responsibility to break stereotypes and represent all Native people everywhere in a positive way.

…No pressure, kids.

Read the whole thing here.

9 thoughts on ““Good philosophers don’t have anxiety attacks”

  1. This was a very eye-opening essay.

    It raises a question for me, as someone who teaches courses on ethics: Is there a way of presenting that Bernard Williams article in a way that does not raise stereotype threat? Or should that article be bypassed, perhaps?

    I have always been struck by how casually philosophers trot out the “Jim and the Indians” example. And there is another example in that essay that has unnecessarily sexist undertones (about the man who is deciding whether to work for the munitions factory). Both of these examples make me uncomfortable, but assigning that reading makes encountering them unavoidable.

  2. I think there’s so much in Bernard Williams’ body of work to use that one can easily avoid using that example, and I think context matters a great deal. I wouldn’t use it at all myself. Relevantly similar intuition-pumps can be found in other readings.
    I also think the blogger is saying that one should think about the course and the students in which one plans to use readings. If you know there’s one visible minority in the room and she’s relevantly racialized-as-“Indian,” then change plans. Heaven knows I’ve changed readings many a time, and my students just trust that I’m making a good call. “Listen up, everyone, I’m using this piece by X instead of the piece I originally scheduled by X” does the job.

  3. Yes, I do plan to re-evaluate the way I use that particular article and example. I do address (or try to address) some of the issues with “Jim and the Indians” in my ethics course, but I could probably stand to do better here.

    The other thought experiment #1 talks about – George and the munitions factory – is one I’ve had a lot of success with, I think. When I ask my students to address problems with the thought experiment, students themselves often point out and criticize the sexism in the experiment. And even when they don’t, I’ve found that they will with a little prompting. We then usually have a nice class discussion about sexism and thought experiments.

  4. “I got tired of being the only one challenging casual racism in the pseudo-anthropological musings of my peers on issues of cultural relativism, ex. “Well you know, for the tribal people of X, cannibalism and Female Genital Mutilation are morally acceptable practices. Do you still agree that morals are culturally relative?” that became a near daily occurrence.”

    I have a question about this. I can see the problem with people saying that some particular group X finds cannibalism or FGM morally acceptable when, as a matter of fact, they don’t. Is the problem just a matter of getting the facts wrong (on the basis of racist assumptions), or is there a more general problem with discussing what some far away group finds morally acceptable? If it’s the latter case, it’s not clear to me how one is supposed to discuss the implications of cultural relativism in much detail.

  5. I’ve found Ch. 8 of Hilde Lindemann’s book “An Introduction to Feminist Ethics” to be very helpful reading for students on some aspects of Richard’s question (#4). One of the things she points out, among other helpful things, is that claims of that sort often come loaded with assumptions of cultural essentialism. And even students who aren’t sympathetic to relativism often assume essentialism. These class discussions tend to reinforce that problematic and damaging view, and most of the standard objections to relativism seem to not address the issue.

  6. I have always felt very uncomfortable with the “Jim and the Indians” example. This post confirms my worries. (I also dislike Williams’s Gauguin example.)

  7. I think the blogger is saying more than just we should think about the content with respect to who our students are. I think she’s making a larger point about appropriate and inappropriate content in general. I.e. Williams’ example is not only inappropriate when you have a student radicalized as “Indian” in the class, but it is inappropriate at all times. In the same way, Jarvis Thompson’s example of the “fat” man with respect to the trolley problem is inappropriate whether or not you’ve scanned your class to see whether any of your students could be considered overweight. Simply put, we can and should do far better than these examples.

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