Friday, August 15, 2014

"Somehow Philosophy Got Left Behind"

There's a really great essay by Eugene Sun Park entitled "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy's Homogeneity Needs Rethinking"  that appeared yesterday on HIPPO Reads.  Stop whatever you're doing and go read it now.

I've posted a fair bit of material on this blog addressing the racial and gender disparity in professional Philosophy, which remains truly embarrassing, but Park's first-person narrative of his experience is a telling account. After stipulating that Western academia has long been guilty of excluding women and minorities both from the Academy and from the canon, Park (citing Hollinger) concedes that much progress has been made in the last half-century to correct these errors and to broaden the humanities... BUT (Park notes in a transitional sentence that speaks more truth than its syntactical position suggests) "somehow Philosophy got left behind."  Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, Philosophy remains woefully "behind" when it comes to the inclusion of women and minorities not only in its professional representation, but also in "publications, citations and overall disciplinary influence."

Park asked himself, as I suspect all women and/or people of color do at some point in their philosophical careers: why did Philosophy get left behind?  And the answer he discovers, as I suspect all women and/or people of color also discover, is that Philosophy didn't "get" left behind.  It chose to stay behind.

From Park's essay:
The lack of women and minorities in philosophy may be an anomaly in the academy, especially among the humanities, but it is not an accident. Philosophers have made, and continue to make, decisions that impact the demographics of the discipline. Until they acknowledge their own complicity in the problem, philosophers will continue to scratch their heads about the lack of diversity in their field. It’s not that women and minorities are (inexplicably) less interested in the “problems of philosophy”—it’s that women and minorities have not had their fair say in defining what the problems of philosophy are, or what counts as philosophy in the first place.
It's all of our (philosophers') loss that a conscientious and critical thinker like Park left the Academy. As someone who has yet to muster the courage to do so, despite overwhelming evidence that I should, I'm both envious of his resolve and deeply disheartened by its necessity.

Last point, in the interest of full disclosure: one of my areas of expertise is Critical Race Theory and I regularly teach courses in that subject area.  In part due to my training and my interests, but more so due to my location (Memphis, TN), I've been guilty of teaching the philosophy of race almost exclusively within the black/white paradigm, a problem that I've off-handedly acknowledged to my students on many occasions, but never corrected.  To wit, I want to thank Eugene Sun Park for motivating me, via his essay, to make a more concerted effort to address the many and varied "non-Western" influences on Philosophy.

We all can and should do better.

ADDENDUM: I created the image at the top of this post quickly and on-the-fly by combining the symbol for Philosophy (the Greek phi) and the international symbol for male, superimposing both of them in white against a black background mostly for aesthetic reasons.  As I look at it now, though, it seems an even more appropriate image for professional Philosophy: mostly white, mostly male, doubly accentuating whiteness and masculinity where they overlap, and impossible to read except against a background of color.  So, feel free to use my image in the future to represent professional Philosophy.

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