The Whiteness of Philosophy– and other Humanities

Eric Schwitzgebel decided to compare philosophy’s racial makeup to that of other humanities subjects.  He found that– unlike the picture with gender– Philosophy is not an outlier among the humanities with regard to race.  There are many humanities subjects just as white as philosophy.  But importantly his conclusion is not a complacent one.  Instead, his work leads him to float an important hypothesis:

Despite aspiring to be a broad, topically-driven inquiry into fundamental questions about truth, knowledge, beauty, and morality, perhaps philosophy as currently practiced in the U.S. is experienced by students as something closer to the study of a piece of ethnically European cultural history.

6 thoughts on “The Whiteness of Philosophy– and other Humanities

  1. I really worry that people will take this and say, “See, we’re not so bad!” No…it means our discipline is still *really* white and that’s a problem. Just because there are some disciplines where the composition is *worse* doesn’t make us any less problematic.

  2. With racial diversity, it might be better to use a better proxy than just the % of those who self identify as black. According to the APA’s “Minorities in Philosophy” report, 2.48% of philosophers were black in 2009, .45% were ‘American Indian or Alaska Native,’ 3.39% were Asian or Pacific Islander, and a (startling) 1.81% belong to the largest minority in the United States: Hispanics.

    I don’t have good 2014 data (though I trust the recent “What’s the Status of Blacks in Philosophy?” article), but I also don’t think it’s safe to infer much about the status of Philosophy Departments (or working philosophers) from the earned doctorates data that Schwitzgebel uses (it doesn’t even mesh well with his initial figure for blacks in philosophy). If we’re going to talk about diversity and the humanities I think it would be good to be more careful than just black/white (something Schwitzgebel explicitly does in his post).

    Let me be clear, I think this is an important conversation to be having (and, as Schwitzgebel points out…a conversation that most humanities departments should be involved in) but I also think we could use more consistent data on diversity.

  3. That’s just flatly untrue. I said nothing at all that violates the stated policies of the blog. I said nothing at all about Eric’s motives, nor did I issue any invitation to anyone else to do so.

    Obviously I cannot now say anything informative about what jennysaul removed, since she will obviously remove it again. Anyone who saw my comment, though, before jennysaul removed it, will know the truth, so I have that satisfaction.

  4. I am leaving diag’s comment above, so that people will know the moderating decision is debated. I can certainly understand how opinions about it might vary (which is often the case with moderating). But please can I ask readers not to turn the discussion of this important issue into a discussion of our moderation policies? Thanks.

  5. As to jennysaul’s comment above, my WordPress Reader is littered with these small posts–there is ample room to discuss their content, as much of them concern the same few topics. As a reader, I would like to see an example of a comment that has been deleted, that I might understand what is forbidden, and why.

    As to the substance of the quote, I’m left wondering why simply being a “white” philosophy professor necessitates their focusing solely on “ethnically European cultural history.” It seems a leap to draw this conclusion, even based on the information preceding it in the article.

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