Performing Philosophers

I am a Latino philosopher, tenured at a major research university. My family has no academic heritage: I’m the first person in my extended family to graduate from college. I have struggled to develop the temperament to ask “good” questions at talks, because I was raised to listen to others and to treat “important people” with politeness and deference. I have always been embarrassed by the hostility of talks in academic philosophy, and in my first job was called out by a senior white male who said that I was too quiet in talks. I guess it made me look slow or stupid. My preference is to play down the performative aspect of question sessions and to save more probing questions for later when the spotlight is elsewhere. Yet I have learned to overcome myself and speak up, because my ambitions demanded it. Wanting the spotlight, self-promoting: these are clearly good things for ambitious philosophers in our present culture, and it seems to me that those come more easily to white philosophers (and in particular, to white male philosophers). Our current academic philosophical culture gives a considerable advantage to philosophers that have not had to fight against their heritage to perform like mainstream philosophers. I hope that we someday overcome this.

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