Our Family Tree

Before I made my final decision about where to attend graduate school, the philosopher then in charge of recruitment at one university called to inform me that he had just recruited an African American woman, in case that was of interest to me. (I am an African American man.) I did eventually choose that department, but for a different reason.

The next year, at a bar with philosophy graduate students, I was introduced to a white woman from another department. She was delighted to learn that we had the same surname, and she proceeded to tell me a little about “our family history,” which, she said, she herself had learned from a famous American novelist, who also has the name, and whom she had recently met. She told me that before coming to the United States, “we” were Irish gentry, but originally British—and so on. There did not seem much point in explaining how most African Americans, myself included, came into our surnames.

The night before a job interview at the Eastern APA, one of the placement officers from my own department told me that I would be “a great diversity hire, if only we hired our own.”