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.

Intersectionalities

I am Hispanic and gay. At my institution, untenured faculty are required to submit an annual reappointment form, which summarizes one’s experience for the previous year. I filled out this important form. One question asks for a list of the professional associations to which one belongs. I listed the gay and lesbian society in my profession.

During the review process, one of the individuals with review authority called me into his office and locked the door. I was questioned about the nature of this gay and lesbian association. I replied that it was affiliated with the national association of my profession, and that one of its aims is to foster scholarship on gay and lesbian issues. I was told by this individual that “This isn’t an issue on this campus. There is only a student group, but nothing more.” I replied that tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism are the words one hears the most on this campus. I could hardly finish my sentence, as I was interrupted with the individual’s assertion that those words “don’t include the gay issue.” It was suggested that I erase the reference to my membership in the association. I refused. Further efforts to make me change my mind failed and the issue was not pursued.

My membership in the gay and lesbian group has been mentioned in my reappointment forms since the earliest days of my teaching career. Never in the past has this situation occurred. That it happened at ­­­_______, a multicultural institution, is a sad commentary. Tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism are ideas rooted in the dignity and worth of each person, and not dependent my political expediency. And yet I know that if instead of a gay group, I had mentioned a minority organization, I would have been pressured to mention it – in italics.

People, This is Embarrassing

I wanted to note that reading one paragraph from an earlier post was spiritually rejuvenating. It made me feel less suffocated, and less alone. Thank you for publishing it.

 “Several of my closest friends are academic philosophers, yet I find the culture of academic philosophy off-putting.  Philosophy is not as imaginative, dynamic, timely, publicly engaged, worldly and inclusive as it could or should be.  Other disciplines have left philosophy in the dust.  I prefer being around historians, lawyers, artists, sociologists, nanoscientists—almost any other group.  Among philosophers I feel especially self-conscious.  I cannot be myself.  For example, I attended an analytic philosophy symposium in a major philosophy department a few weeks ago.  The audience was 90% male.  98% of the audience was white.   Most of the white women seemed extremely smart but guarded and intellectually artificial. (Did they care about what they were talking about?)  Some of the older men used inappropriate examples. (Really? Did he say that?)  I felt out of place and decided to skip the event dinner.”

 I am lucky to have a humane, deeply intelligent, no-bullshit advisor; without her I would have left the profession years ago, feeling like an utter failure. With her, I am more confident in thinking that it is the profession that is failing: it is unimaginative, narrow-minded, and arrogant. Its dominant culture is one that celebrates and rewards the very ways of thinking that I, naively, thought that philosophy is supposed to guard against. Should I choose to leave the profession now, it’ll feel like immigrating to a land of opportunity.

I won’t share particular anecdotes because the problems are systemic. It is comically absurd the level of ignorance that I have encountered about race and gender in the field. I don’t even mean ignorance about philosophy about race and gender (that is a whole separate and important issue), I mean simply the ways in which race and gender exist as salient properties in the lives of people who are not white, and not male. It’s not cute to deny the existence of these things because you hold some obscure metaphysical principle – yes, I realize how much explanatory power your account has. It’s not cute to insist that your favorite political theory can handle issues of race and gender because those properties are just as arbitrary and as morally insignificant as hair-color or the length of one’s toes – yup, I’m aware that your view doesn’t rely on positing any spooky properties!

People, this is embarrassing.

Finally: it’s just plain rotten to then place the epistemic burden on those whose entire lives are shaped by these categories to prove their existence or importance to you, or to react to the anger or disappointment of these people as though it is insane, or irrational. We’re already being erased by your project, and our voices are getting hoarse.

Circling the Wagons

I am a woman of color, full professor, so I don’t know if this had more to do with being a woman or not being white.

I was invited to give a paper at a conference.  The panel was made up of all white males, except for myself.  I gave the paper and it went very, very well.  The paper was very well attended and the audience was excited about my work.  Later on many graduate students, several from Ivy League programs, came to speak with me; they were very exited about my work.  The other men (Professors) on the panel were very uncomfortable with this, somehow drew these graduate students away from me and towards them, and made a circle from which I was completely excluded.  They were letting them know that it was definitely not ok to talk to the brown woman.  Later on I received an e-mail from one of the white men panel participants, which was sent out to everyone.  It noted just how wonderful everyone’s paper was, except mine.  It noted that mine was a disgrace.  

I was mortified, and since then I have not attended another conference.  No one came to my defense.  The person who put the conference together asked me if I had a response, that was all.  As I hate to send out mass e-mails and clutter people’s inboxes, I really did not want to do so, but I reluctantly sent out a defense that was as professional as possible, sticking only to the philosophical issues at hand.  I’d like to say that this was the only time something like this has happened at conferences, but unfortunately I cannot.  Bad things like this have happened before, but I am just getting older and more tired.  What is the point, if this is what to expect?  (The paper, by the way, was accepted for publication at the most prestigious journal in this area.)

Dissertation Doldrums

When I initially discussed doing American Indian philosophy for my dissertation, I was at first gently dissuaded and then barred from doing so. The stated reason was that no one at the school could direct such a project, which was a rather thin excuse since people on faculty were willing to direct such a project and the whole point of a “dissertation” is to add to the sum of human knowledge.  Behind the scenes, it was pretty clear that many people in the department didn’t believe it to be “real” philosophy.

Reflections on Bias

I’m a young white female philosopher, recently graduated and currently enjoying a postdoc.  I dealt with what felt like a lot of gendered BS during grad school.  Often, things were so bad that I thought about quitting philosophy.  I posted some stories to What It’s Like and that helped somewhat.  Publishing, graduating, and getting a job helped even more.

I’m writing now because, despite my frequent experience as a target of bias, I know I’ve inflicted my own biases on others.  For example: one afternoon during grad school I noticed a very well-dressed black man wandering around the halls of my department.  Despite that it was on the day and near the time of our weekly seminar, I wondered who this person could possibly be.  I didn’t go up and introduce myself or ask if he needed help with anything.  I didn’t take the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with him about his work.  I just wondered what he could possibly be doing there.

Of course, he turned out to be our speaker that week—in fact, he was quite a well-known and prestigious philosopher, though not from my own sub-field.  When I walked into our seminar room and realized this, I was so ashamed.  Normally I would have guessed that a well-dressed stranger in our department on that day and at that time was our speaker.  But this time the thought did not even occur to me, because he was black.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had my own unconscious biases appear so starkly within my field of view before.  So I just wanted to say I’m sorry—for this incident, and the many others that I’m sure I’ve committed without even noticing.  I can’t believe I’ve done to others precisely what I’ve resented people for doing to me.  I’m so sorry.  And thanks very much for setting up this blog—I will read these stories and then I’ll think about my own beliefs and behaviors.  I’ll try and do better.

Almost Blocked from Becoming a Philosopher

I am an African American male, and at my undergraduate university, every student who wished to major in philosophy had to interview with the undergraduate major adviser (a white male) before adding philosophy as a major.

During my interview, I made the mistake of saying that I wanted to study race from a philosophical viewpoint.  The adviser said that philosophy wasn’t for me because that’s not a topic that philosophy tackles.  Next, he recommended that I major in Africana studies, Asian studies, or the like instead.  I said that I had already taken courses in both Africana and Asian studies, and I did not like their methods for studying race.  I expressed that I preferred the method of analytic philosophy and I argued with him for at least 15 minutes about his claim that there was no such thing as philosophy of race.  My primary counterexample was the work of Anthony Appiah.  In response, he revised his earlier claim and instead said that the department just didn’t have any faculty who specialized in philosophy of race, and so philosophy still wasn’t for me.  He rejected my application for majoring in philosophy.

Afterwards, I went to the teacher who recommended that I major in philosophy (a white female).  I took a feminist philosophy course with her and I liked her inclusion of black feminism.  She was surprised by my rejection given my high grade in her course and my high grade in the other philosophy course I took (Ancient Philosophy).  She assured me that she would take care of the situation, and she did.  Together we filed a petition for me to major in philosophy, and the department, thankfully, accepted my petition.  I went on to graduate with honors in philosophy, earn an M.A. in philosophy, earn a Ph.D. in philosophy, and get a tenure-track job in philosophy, which I currently hold.