Contessa Responds to Worries About LCC

You can read his post here.

“About a week ago I wrote a post in which I proposed a Languaged Conference Campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of philosophy conferences and volumes. I was expecting this to be a relatively uncontroversial move, since many support the Gendered Conference Campaign, whose aims and methods the LCC was supposed to co-opt. Boy, was I wrong!”

Another perspective on ESL philosophy

We recently posted about a campaign – modeled on our GCC – to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in philosophy. Sara Protasi has a different perspective on this issue, and she’s given me permission to share her thoughts here:

There are two senses in which something can be “unfair”. First, something can be *unfortunate*, an event or action that we would to exclude from any ideal world. Falling and breaking one’s neck is unfair in this sense. These are things that we regret, and try to prevent from happening.

Second, something can be *unjust*. When something is unjust, indignation and resentment are the appropriate reactions. Fighting for social justice is what we do in this case.

Then there are borderline or vague cases (not committing to any philosophical view here! Just using the terms loosely). Maybe being perceived as ugly, or being short, are like that. You are disadvantaged in many domains, and people may have different views about whether that’s unjust or simply unfortunate. The domain clearly matters: a TV show, a beauty pageant, a court, etc.

{I think there is some philosophical literature on notions of unfairness, but I don’t recall any specific reference right now. Apologies if this sounds trivial and not in need of being repeated}

I think *one* (only one) of the problems affecting the recent heated discussion on the disadvantage suffered by non-native English speakers in philosophy is that some people confuse these two meanings, or anyway are not careful enough in trying to distinguish them. I am among the lucky non-native English speakers who learnt English fairly early on (starting with some trips to the US when I was a teenager), went to graduate school (a second time) at (in?!) an Anglophone institution, and who speaks English with a lighter accent than the average Italian (and Italian is closer to English than Mandarin or Turkish, which gives me a further advantage). And yet, I know all too well how hard it is to do philosophy in a language other than yours. When I came to the US, the first few years were exhausting in good part because of this. As a kid in school I used to be considered an excellent writer, and now I wasn’t. I could not use what I thought were the appropriate words. I was a grammar fetishist and suffered for not being able to speak properly. I could not understand people at social events, where the noise level is higher and people speak all together. I had a hard time following seminars discussions.

Today, after seven years living in anglophone countries and having a partner with whom I speak mostly English, I am still frustrated by what I perceive as a suboptimal level of fluency. I had to hire a proofreader for my dissertation. I check online dictionaries *every single day*. I worry about prepositions, idioms, pronunciation *all the time*. I could go on and on, but let me instead add that some of these issues are not merely due to language but also due to having been raised and educated mostly in Italy. My education was quite good in general, but analytic philosophy is relatively young in Italy, and even though I had good teachers my philosophical Italian education simply does not compare to what I got at Yale, or I could have gotten at Michigan (where I was a visiting scholar a couple of times) or at other US institutions. This is obviously a purely contingent fact, due to a… (looking for the right word here!) wealth of factors: cultural, historical, economic, etc. Italians, like any other people from around the world, can be great philosophers. But it simply isn’t the case that they have the best analytic philosophy departments at this time in history. {Proviso which probably won’t spare me the wrath of some Italians, but here it goes: there are some excellent Italian analytic philosophers, and many good ones, who work and teach in Italy. I think they correlate with those who have had at least a partial education abroad, but I don’t have hard data on this, just anecdotal evidence. One might say that my perception of who is excellent is primarily driven by my knowing that they have been abroad. We can talk more about whether that’s the case, but I don’t think it’s a fruitful avenue of discussion.}

This, as the fact that analytic philosophy journals and conferences and even Facebook discussions take place in English, is very unfortunate. But it doesn’t seem to me to be unjust. That it is not unjust doesn’t mean that we should not try to alleviate the difficulties of people like me, or people who fare much worse than me. We should help non-native speakers to achieve the level of fluency required to succeed at philosophy in the context in which they want to do philosophy (I am partially repeating points made by commenters at Feminist Philosophers, such as “louisechanary”). But it’s not an injustice in the same way that racial and sexist and ableist and homo/transphobic discrimination is. Being able to speak good English is essential to do good philosophy. Being White, or male, or straight, or gender-conforming, or able-bodied is completely irrelevant.

There remains some space for actual, unjust discrimination in this area, of course. Discriminating or being inadvertently biased against people who speak English with an accent, or who speak and write in good but not fully idiomatic English is obviously something we should be aware of, and condemn. But even that is not as widespread or harmful as other forms of discrimination, in my experience, both from a first- and third-personal perspective (although since this is an empirical matter, I would be interested in scientific evidence that proves otherwise). Also, as it has been said by many, it seems to me that speaking with a certain accent is a lot more disadvantageous than being a non-native speaker in itself, so there are different nuances to be considered even within the language discrimination issue. But if the accent worry is already covered by the race or ethnicity worry, then maybe we can be less concerned with accent in itself.

What worries me the most, of this discussion, is that we seem to be slipping all too easily in the usual wars about who is the most disadvantaged, but at the same time forgetting that *it does make sense to worry about who is the most disadvantaged*! What I mean is that it is a psychologically harmful tendency: we should all unite to fight injustice of all kinds!

On the other hand, a perceived injustice may not be an injustice, or may be a minor injustice, and it is important to keep that in mind. We have finite resources (we have finite span of attention, funding, etc.). Worrying about poor kids who don’t have toys is worthwhile, but worrying about starving kids is more worthwhile. Similarly in this case: we have to figure out what our priorities as a community are. I think some of us think that, based on evidence and experience, some forms of discrimination are in more need of attention than others. And some other *very real* (I have lived them!) events and actions, while unfortunate and regrettable, are not forms of discrimination at all.

10 hours, more than 100 cat-calls

Via HuffPo

Street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people. Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking — the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence. These forms of harassment are not just sexist — but also racist and homophobic in nature.