Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal

2017.07.25

 

SPECIAL ISSUE: TRUMP AND THE 2016 ELECTION

Some Comments about Being a Philosopher of Color and the Reasons I Didn’t Write a (Real) Paper for this (Seemingly) Ideal Venue for my Work

by Sean A. Valles

ABSTRACT. This special issue conspicuously lacks work by Philosophers of Color (with the exception of this commentary). I have been given this opportunity to discuss the impediments that kept me from submitting my relevant work, offered as a small step toward recognizing the impediments faced by other Philosophers of Color. I highlight factors including direct and indirect consequences of a disproportionately White community of US philosophers, and some underrecognized risk-reward calculations that Philosophers of Color face when choosing an article project. I urge further discussion of the topic, starting with an exhortation to choose the right phenomenon and accordingly frame the right question: Why are White philosophers deliberating the “ethical and social issues arising out of the 2016 US presidential election” in a prestigious journal, while Philosophers of Color are deliberating the same issues in tense classrooms, closed offices, and on-/off-campus forums?

EXCERPTED QUOTES. 

“Our profession perpetuates many of the same explicit and implicit racist structures/biases that I and others critique in the Trump era (adulation of White men of dubious merit, dog whistle invocations of Western culture, blindness to structural racism/sexism/heterosexism, etc.). That makes it feel…different…to critique the Trump era from the position of a Philosopher of Color. My career has been at least as benign and charmed as that of any Philosopher of Color whom I’ve talked to about career matters, but even mine includes a string of macro- and micro-aggressions from my fellow philosophers, including: outrageous defamatory peer reviews of my (non-anonymous) submitted work, condescending White-splaining of basic points during Q&As, flat refusals to believe that I know even a little about topics in which I have well-documented expertise, and many other incidents I can’t even safely mention.

In this milieu, the prospect of banding together with fellow philosophers to boldly stand together and critique the Trump era for its faults is not tantamount to hypocrisy, but it makes it a hell of a lot harder to feel the team spirit. I even get (often unfairly) frustrated when I see my White colleagues appear to overestimate the novelty of Trump era inequities, since it reinforces my perception that they still vastly underestimate the breadth and depth of inequities before the rise of Trump. It can grow frustrating, as a Philosopher of Color, to be surrounded by White colleagues getting “woke,” even though their waking up to social inequities is obviously a change for the better. Much is new about the Trump-era rhetoric, policies, and zeitgeist, but much is not.

_____

In this case, I urge readers of this issue to not get sidetracked by a misleading question (Why is this issue so White when the concerns of/about people of color are especially relevant?). The question that needs answering is: Why are White philosophers deliberating the “ethical and social issues arising out of the 2016 US presidential election” in a prestigious journal while Philosophers of Color are deliberating the same issues in tense classrooms, closed offices, and on-/off-campus forums? Publishing an article in KIEJ garners praise from promotion committees; those other activities, not so much. Let’s please discuss the right question. I have tried to articulate what I think are some ‘upstream’ social and professional structures that allowed an outpouring of excellent work by White philosophers, yet failed to channel work by Philosophers of Color into the same pool. For philosophers to forcefully and effectively critique the Trump era, we must simultaneously do the hard work of addressing our own profession’s inequities.”

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