Even when I win, I don’t

I’m a Latino philosopher on the job market for the nth time. I’ve had a few interviews, but no more than would be expected for a candidate of my caliber. Every time I talk about the job market with people, they say, “oh, but you’ll have such an advantage over other people because you’re Mexican.” But I’ve never noticed an advantage. What I *have* noticed is that whenever I get an interview, people say it is because I’m Latino. When I don’t get an interview, it has nothing to do with race. So all of my good outcomes are discounted because of my ethnicity, but none of my bad outcomes are. How can there be such an advantage if three-fifths of Ph.D. and M.A. programs in philosophy have NEITHER a Latino nor a black philosopher?

Some Hispanic Backgrounds Not Perceived as Diverse

I am a philosopher with a Hispanic background. I am of the second generation sort: my Spanish is creaky and I don’t have an accent. Multiple times in my career, my peers and colleagues seem to be profoundly unaware of, or disinterested in, this background. In discussions about ‘diversifying’ the department(s) in which I have been employed, my own presence was not seen as contributing to that diversity. My own lesson: Hispanic/Latino identity is not visible, especially in philosophy, and it is not taken seriously as a contributing ‘minority’ voice.

The Invisibility of Racial Hostility

This is a follow up to the previous post. White students can definitely be a problem in the classroom. And no department I know of does or will acknowledge this. Granted, acknowledging it’s an issue doesn’t make finding solutions easy. I don’t know how to solve this problem. But although acknowledging it is a start. If colleagues have never experienced this kind of unspoken racial hostility, which we have to deal with every day of our lives, then even otherwise supportive colleagues have a hard time taking such grievances seriously. For an example of this, see some of the post and discussion of “Me Studies” at Daily Nous.

How are you going to handle white students?

I was on the job market this past fall. At the end, there was a lengthy exit interview that occurred as the final step of a three-day, on-campus interview. The exit interview consisted of approximately six white males, one white female and myself—a person of color and a female. The following interchange took place:

White Female: “You realize, of course, that virtually everyone here at [the university] is white and you are not, right?
Me: “Uhm, yes, I guess….”
White Female: “So, our question to you is how are you going to handle that in the classroom? What strategies will you use to handle that situation?”

While I provided a list of everyday strategies for being a good teacher (giving everyone a fair hearing on all topics, etc.), I was struck by her complete lack of sensitivity to the fact that the real question should have been how would the DEPARTMENT support ME in my teaching the students at that institution. Obviously, this was not a question that had been contemplated by the department members. And just as obviously, this was not an institution where I (or anyone else of color) would be provided the kinds of support that faculty of color in philosophy currently need to succeed in the discipline.

It is important to understand that this lack of support and consideration persisted despite a sincere desire on the part of the faculty to hire a person of color. They just did not understand the relevant issues. Until this mindset changes, and until top quality diversity training becomes a regular part of, for example, new faculty orientations and/or REQUIRED faculty continuing education in philosophy, nothing will change. Faculty of color will continue to feel uncomfortable and unsupported in the discipline, despite recent efforts to dramatically increase the number of persons of color in philosophy through large-scale recruitment efforts.

Leave some brown people for other departments

Our department did a self-study, and part of this process was to identify goals for the department. One of the goals we identified is diversifying the faculty.

However, in response to this suggestion, one of my colleagues protested as follows:

“If less than 5% of philosophy Ph.D.’s go to minorities, then not every philosophy department can have even one minority on its faculty, since most philosophy department faculties are much smaller than twenty, and one out of twenty is 5%. So more diversity for one institution necessarily means less diversity for another. I believe that is something for us to think about in relation to what we often call the ‘common good.'”

So the lesson is this: we shouldn’t diversify too much lest we detract from the common good. We’ve got to leave some brown people for other departments.

As a result, I have nothing negative to say about philosophy

I don’t know if I am white or “of color.” I was born in South America, am fairly light-skinned, don’t think of race or ethnicity very much at all, and have never felt any sense of discrimination in the field. I am tenured and went smoothly enough through the PhD, I suppose. At least it was as smooth as it seemed to be for most of us going through the program.

The worst it got for me was being called a spic as a kid, but that kind of stuff rolled off my back after a while. It doesn’t hurt me now to think about it and I can’t say that it ever did hurt me much. I suppose I just toughened up pretty quickly. That was a benefit of growing up Hispanic in L.A. In the early 80s, I would say: you’d encounter various anti-Hispanic sentiments here and there, of course. Maybe that inured me.

As a result, or perhaps for other reasons, I have nothing negative to say about how philosophy has treated me. I tend to think of it as nothing but me engaged with a book or an idea, so I don’t really care about social slights to begin with. If they happen I tend to be clueless and fail to notice them, and I’m sure they undoubtedly happen to others who are deeply affected by them. I can’t say that those experiences are wrong, but I don’t want others to try to convince me that my experience has been wrong. I just have a real hard time relating to most of these stories.

Yesterday I was reading something by Kirchheimer, one of the “minor” critical theorists associated with the Frankfurt School. It was fun. What else matters, really? If I socialized much and I cared about social relations then I might grow concerned with issues of race. But I don’t, so I probably won’t. I’ll just hit the books and enjoy the ideas. Isn’t that why one becomes a philosopher, whether brown or white?

So by “diversity” you mean pedophiles, right?

I work in a department where white males constitute almost 90% of the faculty. In response to the suggestion that perhaps the department should address this lack of diversity, a senior colleague replied with this:

“Before I am convinced that diversity is a common good, I will need to be informed what diversity is. Are Cubans diverse? Are East Indians? Are Chinese and Japanese Americans? Are Arabs and/or Muslims? What about Evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, or Catholics? What about open pedophiles?”

The Funny Name Effect

Like Barack Obama, I too have a funny name. Unlike Obama, though, I have read papers at APA meetings.

One time when I was reading a paper at an Eastern APA meeting, many people in the audience left early during my paper and also during the Q & A. This, however, was not the experience of the Caucasian speakers who preceded me in our session. I have wondered: would this have happened to me if I were a blond, blue-eyed elite grad school Ph.D. called John Smith?

One philosopher who had left early, and had seen others leave early, apologized to me later, saying he had to leave to take a call as his daughter was sick.

Merely a Box to Be Checked

Job applicants who have been deemed diverse are thrown into a system that seemingly values their diversity. However, their value is determined by individuals with biases and individuals who are forced to meet certain standards determined by their bosses and HR departments. We (those deemed diverse) are asked to identify, prove, and convince others that unchosen features of our being adds to the value of our candidacy, when those very same unchosen features can be used against us. And in the instance that our unchosen features contribute to our appeal as a scholar and colleague, then we are left wondering if our unchosen features override our accomplishments. If this is the nature of the academic market and despite my accomplishments I am merely a box to be checked by a search committee, then my value is not as a productive colleague but rather as a way of meeting a quota.

I discuss my experiences as a diverse job candidate in the academic job market at http://www.bioethics.net/2015/01/how-are-you-diverse-how-the-academic-job-market-aggravated-my-racial-insecurities/

I’ve Never

I have never encountered racial and ethnic insensitivity in my graduate program. . .

. . . except when a professor talked about how Asian students are not fit for philosophy.
. . . except when students have asked me (more than once) to please tell them where I am from, because they “just cannot figure it out.”
. . . except when a student joked in the middle of class about me not having immigration papers.
. . . except when I had faculty member in a private meeting bluntly say that if I want to get a job I needed to specialize in Latin American philosophy. I do nothing of the sort. I work within M&E.

I love philosophy, but sometimes these little things are really, really annoying.