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?

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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.

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.

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.”

The Model Minority

I am Asian-American and an immigrant. While I was in graduate school, a few colleagues and I were discussing race and class issues. I made a remark about what it is like to be a minority and one of my colleagues said, “You aren’t really a minority. You are like a white person in yellow skin.” After getting my first academic job, I talked to the chair of my department regarding whether I constituted a minority hire. He said Asians are not a minority. I did a quick survey of my University (a large state school) identifying  4 tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the humanities and mathematics (out of a pool of over a hundred). Still, the fact that there were few Asians among tenured and tenure-track faculty members did not convince him. Indeed, the chair looked at me and said, “But, Asians are so successful.” In a wave of a hand, he dismissed all the racism I experienced and all the social injustices that many Asians endure.

Don’t Assume I Will Teach Race

My AOS is in Applied Ethics and my AOC includes Logic. I applied for the job I currently hold because these two areas were advertised in the job listing. During my first semester on the tenure track, I was asked to join the Latin American Studies Minor Committee whose charge was to develop a new minor in Latin American Studies. I have no expertise in Latin American affairs or in Latin American Philosophy, and there are many other faculty at my institution with such expertise. There is a faculty member in the Philosophy/Religion department who has the relevant professional credentials but is not Hispanic and was not asked to join the committee. The inference that I was asked to sit on this committee because I am Hispanic is irresistible.

I am a professional philosopher, not a professional Hispanic philosopher; I want that to be clear. My place of birth is irrelevant to my professional activities. I have now devoted two decades of my life to developing whatever philosophical ability I have; because of that I expect to be treated as a professional, not as a minority. The day whites without professional credentials in European studies are approached to teach such studies because they are European Americans, is the day I will teach Latin American affairs. It will never be professional to ask people to do things because of their ethnic backgrounds.

Does Demographic Composition of a Department Matter?

Here’s some context. More than half of the tenure-line philosophy faculty at my institution are from groups that are underrepresented in philosophy. Our student body is among the most diverse in the nation, and almost 70% women. Our curriculum, both in content and subject, are fairly varied.

It is perhaps something about this context that explains my surprise when encountering the traditional “let’s only read things by white males” philosophy syllabi. Ten years ago, prior to an extended stint working in so diverse environment of faculty and students, I’m not sure I would have noticed anything peculiar about those syllabi.

Context can really change what looks “political” and what looks like an “agenda” for “infiltrating” curriculum.