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.

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.

Spanish-looking People in the Back

I began a PhD program in philosophy a few years ago. When I was in the process of applying to graduate school, I was lucky enough to have several offers. A faculty from the program I am now attending called me one day to pitch me a case for the program and tried to highlight some of the benefits that I would get from attending the program.

This man’s “pitch” included two main selling points, neither of which had anything to do either with the quality of the program, the research or funding opportunities available to grad students or my “fit” into the department’s intellectual culture. No reference to teaching opportunities or mentoring programs. No mention of courses, placement record or degree requirements.

First, he very proudly told me that there is indeed one Mexican restaurant (I am Latino) “just down the street from our school where you can eat.” You know, just in case I was worried about starving to death in the absence of burritos and chilles rellenos. He went off, politely of course, about how good the food was and about how he knew it is really “authentic” because he could always see “Spanish-looking people in the back.”

Second, this full professor told me that the region is not as bad and racist as I might imagine. The reason? Because “we even have Telemundo on the TV.” I learned that this man once knew a family from “South America I think, maybe central America” that loved to watch telenovelas, which is how he knew about Telemundo.

I ultimately took the offer for reasons having little to do with burritos or telenovelas. But, still, this first impression put me a little on edge about the program.

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.

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.

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.