This blog contains narratives of personal experiences, submitted by readers, of life in philosophy as a person of color. Some of these stories will undoubtedly be accounts of racial bias, whether explicit, unconscious, or institutional. However, other posts will be accounts of progress being undertaken or achieved.
This is a project of several philosophers of all colors, moderated by a group of philosophy faculty from a variety of institutions. It is partly inspired by the thoughtful conversations that grew up around the blog What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy.
We invite everyone to contribute. Many posts will be written by people of color in philosophy. But we hope that not all will be.
What is it like to be a person of colour in philosophy? December 1, 2014
Ferguson: Demand Justice November 25, 2014
Today, a St. Louis Grand Jury refused to indict Mike Brown’s killer — Police Officer Darren Wilson. On August 9th, the nation was horrified to learn that Mike Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was targeted and killed by police as he walked down the street with a friend.
Now, Mike’s killer may never be held accountable — unless President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder take action. The Department of Justice is investigating Mike Brown’s death and has the power and responsibility to arrest and prosecute Officer Wilson under federal criminal charges.
Interview with Charles Mills by George Yancy November 17, 2014
In The Stone. A snippet:
C.M.: [. . .] Here in the United States, for example, we have the absurd situation of a huge philosophical literature on social justice in which racial injustice — the most salient of American injustices — is barely mentioned.
G.Y.: In your 1997 book, “The Racial Contract,” you discuss the concept of an “epistemology of ignorance,” a term which I believe you actually coined. What is meant by that term? And how do you account for the complete thematic marginalization of racial justice? Does an epistemology of ignorance help to explain it?
C.M.: Yes, I believe it does help to explain it, but first let me say something about the term. The phrasing (“epistemology of ignorance”) was calculatedly designed by me to be attention-getting through appearing to be oxymoronic. I was trying to capture the idea of norms of cognition that so function as to workagainst successful cognition. Systems of domination affect us not merely in terms of material advantage and disadvantage, but also in terms of likelihoods of getting things right or wrong, since unfair social privilege reproduces itself in part through people learning to see and feel about the world in ways that accommodate injustice. “Ignorance” is actively reproduced and is resistant to elimination. This is, of course, an old insight of the left tradition with respect to class. I was just translating it into a different vocabulary and applying it to race. So one can see the idea (and my later work on “white ignorance”) as my attempt to contribute to the new “social epistemology,” which breaks with traditional Cartesian epistemological individualism, but in my opinion needs to focus more on social oppression than it currently does.
Ignorance as a subject worthy of investigation in its own right has, by the way, become so academically important that next year Routledge is publishing a big reference volume on the topic, the “Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies,” edited by Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. The book covers numerous varieties of ignorance over a wide range of different areas and divergent etiologies, but my own invited contribution (“Global White Ignorance”) appears in the section on ignorance and social oppression. In this chapter, I argue that modernity is cognitively marked by a broad pattern in which whites generally endorse racist views (one type of ignorance) in the period of formal global white domination, and then (roughly from the post-World War II, decolonial period onward) shift to the endorsement of views that nominally decry racism, but downplay the impact of the racist past on the present configuration of wealth and opportunities (another type of ignorance). So remedial measures of racial justice are not necessary, and white privilege from illicit structural advantage, historic and ongoing, can remain intact and unthreatened. Insofar as mainstream “white” American political philosophy ignores these realities (and there are, of course, praiseworthy exceptions, like Elizabeth Anderson’s “The Imperative of Integration”), it can be judged, in my opinion, to be maintaining this tradition.
Being a philosopher of color November 3, 2014
We are now collecting stories. Please send us any stories you have that are revealing about what it is like to be a person of color in philosophy. You needn’t be a person of color to send a story. Please anonymise your story as far as possible, especially if it is negative. (The editors may edit further for the sake of anonymity.)
Who has a right to self-defense? October 28, 2014
One Friday last May, the sun had not yet risen when a SWAT team ignited a flash-bang grenade outside Marvin Guy’s apartment in Killeen, Texas. Officers were trying to climb in through a window when Guy, who had a criminal record and was suspected of possessing cocaine, opened fire. Four officers were hit; one of them was killed.
Five months earlier, 100 miles away, a SWAT officer was shot during a predawn no-knock raid on another house. In that case, too, police threw a flash-bang grenade and tried to enter the residence. Henry “Hank” Magee, according to his attorney, grabbed his gun to protect himself and his pregnant girlfriend. “As soon as the door was kicked in, he shot at the people coming through the door,” says his attorney, Dick DeGuerin. With his legally owned semi-automatic .308 rifle, Magee killed one of the officers.
The cases are remarkably similar, except for one thing: Guy is black, Magee white. And while Magee was found to have acted in self-defense, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Guy. He remains in jail while he awaits trial.
Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen” reviewed in the New Yorker: quote added October 26, 2014
[My iPad refused to quote from the review, but the MAC air was happy to, so I’m sharing a bit.]
“Citizen: an American Lyric” has been short-listed for the National Book Award, and it is recently reviewed in the New Yorker. It is, the review says, especially important in this time, where injustices occur while the illusion of justice is perfected. One could hardly say the society she experiences is post-racial.
The poet Claudia Rankine’s new volume, her fifth, is “Citizen: An American Lyric” (Graywolf), a book-length poem about race and the imagination. Rankine has called it an attempt to “pull the lyric back into its realities.” Those realities include the acts of everyday racism—remarks, glances, implied judgments—that flourish in an environment where more explicit acts of discrimination have been outlawed. “Citizen,” which has been short-listed for the National Book Award, suggests that a contemporary “American lyric” is a weave of artfully juxtaposed intensities, a quarrel within form about form.
The review points out that its genre is hard to pin down. It reminded me startingly of the blog, What is it like to be a woman in philosophy. One might, of course, worry about what is not explicit about killing an unarmed young black man, but we can get their meaning.
Another word for what Rankine is exposing is “microagressions.” Readers might find the following blog interesting:
Is The Economist now The Onion? September 5, 2014
I’m asking because I just came across this line, in a critique of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, a book about slavery in America:
Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.
[Edit: I was so stunned, I forgot the link. Here it is.]
José vs. Joe September 3, 2014
Of course, we’ve posted about issues discrimination and bias issues with resumes before, so this will not be surprising to our readers, but it’s a subject worth revisiting (and I was pleased to see this from a source like BuzzFeed!).
From the Huffington Post:
His name is José Zamora, and he had a routine.
During his months-long job search, he says he logged onto his computer every morning and combed the internet for listings, applying to everything he felt qualified for. In the Buzzfeed video above, he estimates that he sent out between 50 to 100 resumes a day — which is, in a word, impressive.
But Zamora said he wasn’t getting any responses, so on a hunch, he decided to drop the “s” in his name. José Zamora became Joe Zamora, and a week later, he says his inbox was full.
As he explains in the video, “Joe” hadn’t changed anything on his resume but that one letter. But what Zamora had done, effectively, was whitewash it.