How Not to Interview a Philosopher of Color

As a junior faculty member, I was on a hiring committee with an AOS devoted to a major historical figure. This figure happens to have some strong views on race that can be interpreted as racist. There is an increasing number of scholars who wish to take up the role of race and racism in this the context of this historical philosopher’s work, especially since most contemporary philosophers fail to see any “real” problem with this figure’s racism, after all, he was  a product of his time (the fact that racism can be dismissed like this in our field is another entry all together).

We interviewed one applicant whose project focused on the racism implicit to the historical philosopher’s work. The interviewee happened to be a person of color. I was the only minority on the committee. I cannot say that the other members of the committee are outwardly racist or bigots in anyway ( we have those in our department and these individuals are not like that). Nonetheless, I was appalled, saddened and almost dumbfounded by what transpired in this particular interview:

The committee had already devised a script in terms of who asks what question, then a follow-up and so on. When it came to interviewing our minority candidate my colleagues’ demeanor, attitude and rigor (!) changed. The person who asked the “hard” question no longer asked it. The interviewer who was actively interested in everyone’s project was passive and patronizing. There were no follow-ups–none. This was not a serious candidate in their eyes. Worse, the fact that we interviewed a nonwhite candidate made the committee look good. When diversity can be manipulated in this way tough times abound for people of color.

What shocked me the most was the fact that I had to ask the tougher questions to this particular candidate and carry the interview. No one else was going to do and this was fine! In the silence that defined this applicant’s interview I witnessed the vulnerability and callousness of humanity. I would not let this person’s interview sour the way others had already decided that it would. I asked the same “hard” question that my colleague was already asking. Likewise, I asked the followup we rehearsed. It fell upon me to express interest in this project.  Here was this person who has worked for the past 6-10 years on a dissertation, course work and who knows what else to get to this point but was given a perfunctory interview. They never really had a chance.

Am I certain that applicant’s race was the deciding factor? No. However, the fact that I can’t dismiss race as a factor is points to my lack of white privilege. I’m forced to think in terms of race when instances like this continue to take place. While my colleagues may not have intended racism, although maybe they did,  the racism inhabits the space between us. Their actions are all I have to base my analysis of this instance.

My experience as a philosopher of color was one of shame, anger, frustration and disappointment.