MAP Issues Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Philosophy


Minorities and Philosophy (MAP), a global graduate student-led network of organizations that aim to “remove barriers to participation in philosophy for members of marginalized groups,” has issued a statement in light of the recent wave of anti-racism protests.

The authors say they are “outraged and heartbroken by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, among countless others who have lost their lives due to racist violence and police brutality, and by the continued violent response by police against protestors,” and call for solidarity and action from the philosophical community:

We call on philosophers—particularly on white philosophers, who form the vast majority of our profession—to take a public stance against white supremacy and racist violence; to engage critically with the ways our own community and institutions contribute to the perpetuation of white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and police brutality; to support anti-racist organizing in their on and off-campus communities; and to educate themselves about the issues involved. We encourage those who are currently teaching to recognize the effects of the current situation on their students, and to provide proper accommodation for those enduring trauma or taking part in anti-racist organizing. We also call on white philosophers not to ask or expect Black department members to take up special burdens in educating them, and to focus on concrete steps white philosophers can take to reduce the grip of racism in their own departments.

We take this to be an important moment of reflection for those of us who have not been personally affected by anti-Black racism, and to commit to doing better in the future. In this spirit, we strongly recommend that departments work on recognizing and elevating the voices of Black philosophers in their hiring, admissions, and curriculum decisions, and on ensuring that anti-racist education is an integral part of philosophical education at all levels.

You can read the full statement here. Below is a flyer that describes some of MAP’s advice for philosophers and philosophy departments (a PDF of it is here).

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NotImportantAnymore
NotImportantAnymore
9 months ago

I can appreciate and agree with the statement that was issued, but flyer is just downright insulting and condescending. Perhaps the only way that the flyer could be more degrading to the apparently inept white professionals in our profession is to have little cartoons depicting the list of “do’s” and “do not’s” that are being laid down for us to follow since anyone without the basic intelligence to understand these principles of human decency are likely to have difficulty understanding them by reading the text alone. Could you imagine finding flyers posted throughout your department with a list of moralistic “do’s” and “do not’s” *not* having this impact on the population it is targeting (the old white guys)? Of course, we are all subjected to the ridiculous nonsense like this that our universities post, but these typically come from higher administrators or are aimed at students (who often deserved to be treated like this). If my department chair posted this on my office door, for instance, I would feel (at best) like I was being treated like some morally backward oaf. At worst, this would create a climate of fear and mistrust (e.g., the flyer says not to ask my black colleague how I can help her; just to avoid any behavior that could reported to my department chair, I’d better not talk to her at all…).

When I see flyers like this, I see them as implicitly sending a message about how I am perceived by others. They are not instruments for changing minds and stimulating discussion around meaningful issues.Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
Reply to  NotImportantAnymore
9 months ago

I found this comment both impressively ignorant and impressively abhorrent. I thank yup2 for very clearly getting at some of the reasons I felt that way. I want to point out some others, though.

(1) NotImportantAnymore says “the flyer is insulting and condescending”. If this means that the flyer talks down to white people in philosophy departments, I think there’s a sense in which that’s correct. I also don’t know why that would be a problem, though. White ignorance is a very real, very problematic phenomenon. Talking down to that level of ignorance seems necessary if we’re going to combat it. If “the flyer is insulting and condescending” means that it talks down to white people in philosophy departments in a problematic and inappropriate way, much more needs to be said. Which brings us to…

(2) NotImportantAnymore says “Perhaps the only way that the flyer could be more degrading to the apparently inept white professionals in our profession is to have little cartoons depicting the list of do’s and do not’s that are being laid down for us…”. I must admit, it’s taking me some serious mindfulness work to not just yell in response to this. The context we’re talking is race relations and you thought it was appropriate to say that the only way something could be more degrading is by having a flyer with cartoons? No. I’m sorry. That’s just not okay. I’d ask you to do some serious soul-searching after that comment. We’re talking in a context where a half of a millennium of genocide, enslavement, rape, torture, and more are salient. And the most degrading thing you can think of is pictures on a flyer?

For the BIPOC who had to read that part of the comment, I apologize. I’m sorry I’ve been complicit in a system of whiteness that allows for that to go on. I must do better. We must do better.

(3) NotImportantAnymore says “If my department chair posted this on my office door, for instance, I would feel (at best) like I was being treated like some morally backward oaf.” Again, there’s a sense in which I agree with this (though I see problems in both the concept of ‘backwardness’ and ‘oafishness’). But again, I still want to know what’s wrong with that? Us white folks and especially us white philosophers have historically been extremely morally problematic when it comes to race. Modern anti-Blackness, racism, and colonialism have an unbelievably strong connection to modern philosophy. As an institution, philosophy still ignores these facts and trains people in ways that encourage them to ignore those facts. Wouldn’t a reasonable default position be that us white folks are going to be morally and factually problematic when it comes to race?

(4) NotImportantAnymore says “When I see flyers like this, I see them as implicitly sending a message about how I am perceived by others. They are not instruments for changing minds and stimulating discussion around meaningful issues.” This is interesting, because I’ve said many similar things about the all-white syllabi that are the norms in philosophy. “When I see syllabi like these, I see them as implicitly sending a message about how BIPOC are perceived by others. These classes are not instruments for changing minds and stimulating discussion around meaningful issues”. When I’ve said that, I’ve been criticized by many—including on this very blog. I’m still willing to stand by it, though, and I leave you with some thoughts from Charles Mills on the matter…

“Hume pointed out long ago that whatever skeptical iconoclasm with respect to everyday beliefs philosophers may indulge in privately (or with their colleagues) “immediately upon leaving their closets, [they] mingle with the rest of mankind in those exploded opinions.” Nor is this necessarily just a matter of expedient conformity with the unenlightened herd, for he admits that in his own case, when he tries to “return to these speculations” after a few hours at backgammon, “they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any further.” So one could be forgiven for suggesting that much of mainstream epistemology’s apparent intellectual radicalism and daring about foundational beliefs is purely ritualistic and (literally) academic having no practical implications for the actual beliefs and behavior either of the nonphilosophical population at large or even of the philosophers themselves.”
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Greg
Greg
Reply to  Matt LaVine
9 months ago

Well said, but rather than pontificate further I will provide some antidotes to such nonsense.
Bradley Campbell, California State University Los Angeles
https://quillette.com/author/bradley-campbell/
Jonathan Haidt, NYU… particularly The Coddling of the American Mind
Gad Saad, Concordia… search, much available
John McWhorter, Columbia, for example
https://quillette.com/2020/06/11/racist-police-violence-reconsidered/
Glen Loury, Brown… search, much available
https://www.city-journal.org/brown-university-letter-racism

For those keeping track of color statistics, two are white, one is an Arabic Jew, and two black. These men should be applauded for attempting to insert some reason into our discourse into the current tsunami or irrationality.

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Avalonian
Reply to  Matt LaVine
9 months ago

Matt, I’m not seeing why you’re having such difficulty understanding the problem that NotImportant is highlighting. Surely each of the issues MAP mentions is worth thinking about and many are clearly good advice. But Philosophy departments are very left-wing, chock full of people who at least try to be both anti-racist and thoughtful on general moral issues (maybe you think they fail, but that’s not the point, they, unlike much of the population, are at least trying). They are also full of people who have almost nothing at all to do with the incidents that are sparking the current uprisings: there is simply no remotely direct connection whatsoever between a philosophy department’s policy concerning course credits and police/state violence against African-Americans. UK departments are similarly in need of reflection on race and racism, but UK police killed 3 people last year. The structure of philosophy departments has little to do with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

So many of these people may feel a great deal of moral urgency about these *macro*-aggressions but remain puzzled that others’ moral urgency is being directed at them and their various unrelated *micro*-aggressions in academia. So it’s not hard to see why some of these people will justifiably feel talked-down-to and implicitly judged, when there are clear communicative alternatives. Why not just write and speak in an advisory mode, as though you are talking to thoughtful people who need a little direction? Why adopt the concepts and presentation of a parent speaking to their six year-old?
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Greg
Greg
Reply to  Matt LaVine
9 months ago

Matt,
Some further thoughts in the direction of your post. In the US we have some “faith-based” institutions which teach philosophy. In some of these universities, one would reasonably expect that the atheist position is not particularly welcome. To the extent that such arguments are presented, they are generally in the context of how to show the atheist is misguided. One may question such implicit bias in philosophy, but I do admire the honesty of the school (i.e. they clearly articulate their position and if you are an atheist, you will probably prefer to study elsewhere).

It seems to me that philosophy departments that accept the nonsense described above (and I use the term philosophically), have accepted critical race theory as a “statement of faith” (i.e. that which cannot be questioned). Furthermore, it appears to assume that the fragility of some is more important than the freedom of speech of others. Finally, is the university going to burn the Nichomachean Ethics under the auspices of de-colonizing the library? If these are the “statements of faith” of the department then they should be honest and declare them, so professors and students can make informed choices.

Hopefully, departments and institutions will rise that value freedom of speech and recognize certain books as “great books”, regardless of the gender or the color of the skin of the authors.

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Joanna
Joanna
Reply to  Greg
9 months ago

Greg, this is terrible straw-manning. There is legitimate debate to be had about the exact policies advocated by the post and how they can be most effectively presented. But I can’t see anything in that poster about restricting freedom of speech. (I also think that the value being promoted is something far more weighty than some people’s ’emotional fragility’, but that’s another matter again.) Neither do calls to diversify and de-colonize syllabi require us to no longer teach Aristotle or refuse to recognize that the classic canon doesn’t include ‘great books’, like the Nichomachean Ethics.

I believe that non-judgmental and honest discussion and debate from different sides is incredibly important to the health of the discipline and also to making progress on important justice and discrimination-related issues. This kind of contribution is not an example of that – you are not genuinely trying to engage.Report

justaperson
justaperson
Reply to  NotImportantAnymore
9 months ago

NotImportantAnymore — I implore you to take some time to reflect on your response after learning a bit about the very real phenomena of white fragility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45ey4jgoxeU

Regarding the point about not singling out Black philosophers / students — I didn’t interpret that as ordering white people to not ask their Black friends and colleagues how they’re doing, at all. I feel like a silver lining of all the awful shit that has gone down lately is the many conversations that are finally being had between Black people / people of color and their white friends, and a newfound awareness among many white people of the real history of the united states. A big portion of white America is taking this time to reflect on itself.

Instead, I interpreted that as telling white people not to ask their Black friends for a ‘to-do’ list for combatting racism — like maybe go online for that stuff. And obviously these recommendations, as with all recommendations, should be interpreted with the caveat “to the extent that is reasonable” — what’s appropriate for you to discuss with someone of course depends *also* on your personal relationship with them.
People are people. Report

yup2
yup2
9 months ago

my department does not currently count Black studies or other philosophy-filled courses from non-philosophy departments towards the major.

I know many white people who have reached out to black individuals to see if they’re OK and to ask what they should do (often when they’re not even close to that individual). Instead of just … googling.

My own department does not seem to recognize its pro-white/anti-Black bias, and we certainly don’t have anti-racist speakers visiting our department.

So, NotImportantAnymore, if all of this is obvious to you, perhaps you are not the target audience member for this flyer, but there are many white philosophers who need to hear these messages.

I thank MAP for putting together this flyer together and for their statement. I hope that my own and other departments will re-evaluate their hiring practices, Q & A culture, relationship w/ Af-Am departments, focus on philosophy of race, and much more in light of the ongoing protests.Report

IE
IE
9 months ago

The flyer says philosophy departments should find and pay “Professional educators who specialize in anti-racism” to speak. In my experience, these professionals tend to present a caricature of race relations that lacks context, nuance, and, most importantly, data. Many make a living by catering to university and corporate managers eager to check a box that they have performed the needed diversity training.

A better practice would be to have social scientists come to speak to philosophy departments about race related issues such as policing, incarceration, achievement gaps, and the like. Social scientists bring clear thinking and open mindedness that comes from a research culture where you can’t just say anything – your views need to regularly survive confrontations with the data, or else be modified. I also appreciate that social scientists allow open questioning from a variety of points of view. That exists far less than it used to in philosophy due to standpointism. If you presented your data at an epidemiology symposium and tried to shut down a critical line of questions with charges of “whitesplaining”, you’d get laughed out of the room, but in philosophy you can do that and others will immediately support you. Bringing more social scientists into philosophy departments to engage on race-related topics could thus also improve our epistemic norms, which have taken a beating lately.

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White Historian
White Historian
Reply to  IE
9 months ago

Right. More Black Studies, philosophy of race, Africana Philosophy etc. More interdisciplinary colloquial dealing with race and ethnicity. Not more HR or diversity training. Report

IE
IE
Reply to  White Historian
9 months ago

I tend to think of philosophy and black studies as disciplines that are dominated by group think and have a troubling record of policing of dissenting voices. No, I meant quantitative social sciences that have rigorous approaches to testing hypotheses with data and allow evidence to overthrow entrenched views. I meant philosophy could benefit from much more thoroughgoing engagement with those fields. Report

justaperson
justaperson
Reply to  IE
9 months ago

IE:
Can you say what you mean? What data, in your mind, are they missing? The way you’ve framed it just now, you’ve made it nearly impossible to disagree with.

Your apparently innocent desire for objective “data” and lamentation of the “erosion of epistemic norms” — especially on this thread and in this context — reads as an entitled, wistful desire for white people to feel comfortable again voicing, humoring and defending racist hypotheses in academia, just so long as they have some “data.” Why should you or they ever have the right to feel comfortable doing that? Countless white people hide behind the banner of “science” and “data” to justify the oppression of Black people (but God forbid they’re called out on it and feel “policed.”)

I just feel like you should clarify, because there’s a [*cough* racist *cough] subtext here that’s worrisome, only made doubly worrisome by your subsequent dismissal of entire fields centered on Black people / POC.Report

John
John
Reply to  justaperson
9 months ago

Hi justaperson,

If I can imagine IE’s viewpoint for a moment, I am wondering whether s/he was actually just making a claim that is pretty plain and unobjectionable: namely, that inviting researchers who use peer reviewed data to inform their arguments, claims and analyses would be more instructive and educational, and ultimately therefore helpful, than inviting professional educators whose arguments are less data-driven.

Sure, not all academic researchers respect the data, and not all professional educators ignore the data. So it’d be a mistake to sort out best educators on the basis of credential or institutional affiliation alone. And we should also be weary of data-worship, for instance being careful to spot cases where data is used in ways that distort the truth. But assuming academic integrity and intellectual competence , if we can choose between learning from a social scientist using peer-reviewed data in a rigorous and informative way, and learning from a professional educator who might not ground his or her arguments in empirical data, what should worry us about choosing the former?

As I understand your post, putting scare-quotes are ‘data’ suggests that you are suspicious of the integrity of empirical data. I think there is reason to worry about distorting data to further certain ends, whether they be political or what have you. So, again, data-worship is not the way. But I am not a complete skeptic about empirical data in social sciences. I think that data collection in these fields has genuine epistemic merit.

All else being equal, then, when our aims are primarily epistemic–by which I mean, we are looking to learn the truth about a matter, perhaps next with a practical aim of galvanizing political action–we should prefer listening to a social scientist about these issues.

This sincerely strikes me as really plain and straightforward. Where do you think this reasoning is getting gummed up, if you do?

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justaperson
justaperson
Reply to  John
9 months ago

Hi John,

The problems with IE’s posts is that they are incredibly entitled, tone deaf and make IE look completely ignorant of the history of racism. All of that is to say: tbh they struck me as pretty racist.

Let me highlight some areas/aspects of the posts for you which struck me as problematic (epistemically and morally):

It’s gross that IE thought it cool to blithely dismiss entire fields dedicated to Black history, perspectives and experiences in *this* background context — a context in which black bodies are being murdered on the streets in such a universally visceral/visible way that there are daily protests in all major cities in the U.S., and so close to Juneteenth — and to do so in the course of IE’s critique on the very recommendations of Black philosophers/philosophers of color & their allies in light of those murders;

It’s gross that IE thinks s/he’s entitled to do that by holding up the abstract mantle of “data”—apparently unaware that racism continues to be justified by appeals to data, and has been for centuries;

It’s petty that IE lacked the nerve to identify *what* data these scholars (often Black scholars) are missing. [because the way it’s written, apparently Black peoples’ own analyses of the history, the “data” and lived experiences of racism just aren’t epistemically worth it for IE, and highlighting the phenomena of white ignorance an instance of epistemic norms “taking a beating”… but that sounds bad, so s/he was content with gesturing towards it instead.]

It’s gross that IE feels entitled to believe this way based only on IE’s “experience” (how much experience does IE have in Africana philosophy? like really)

Tell me honestly: why would MAP recommend that philosophers formally invite the dude who sincerely argues that the racial income-gap exists because Black people just aren’t as responsible as whites (citing the “data” of lower rates of marriage), or are just less intelligent than whites (citing the “data” of scoring lower on their standardized tests)? The “data” here is neutral; the data here is “true”; scholars’ interpretations of that data are racist. But according to IE’s post, that would be preferable to a serious engagement / critical analysis of, say, racism directly because “data”. Note the function of IE’s move — to take race off the table, to make white people comfortable again. And to do it under the guise of appealing to intellectual “rigor”.

Philosophers generally need to get their heads out of their asses. That nearly 50+ people felt IE’s casual dismissal of entire fields centering on the perspectives of those grossly, grossly underrepresented in white academic philosophy — Black Studies, Africana Philosophy, philosophy of race, and any interdisciplinary dialogue on race and anti-racism— was even remotely epistemically responsible and could be justified by some abstract slogan “more data better than less data!” is shameful. If your “reasoning” leads you to that conclusion, do you honestly not see anything suspicious about that reasoning? Do you not see that as itself a reason to question what went wrong, there?

TL;DR: My problem is that IE’s comment is, at best, incredibly tone-deaf, and at worst, a dog-whistle for quiet racists.Report

John
John
Reply to  justaperson
9 months ago

Hi justaperson,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I will step aside and let IE respond to your thoughts about their intentions or motives, as I cannot speak to these. But I do have some thoughts about some the epistemic issues you’ve raised.

I think you’re right to be concerned about ways data are used to distort the truth. No one should be ignorant of the fact that appeals to ‘objective data’ have been used to oppress people throughout history. But I’m wondering about ways to respond to this concern that might let us separate out good and bad uses of data.

On one hand, following up on your observations about scholars’ /interpretations/ of data, I am wondering how exactly we should understand this. Perhaps there are two logical extremes that frame this idea. One extreme says that data are epistemically worthless because they are meaningful only when interpreted, and that such interpretations always introduce distortions or arbitrariness. The other extreme says that data are epistemically valuable because we’re just recorders who know them as objective facts, and only objective facts have epistemic value. Putting aside concerns about how to parse out this subjective/objective distinction, my sense is that each logical extreme is unsatisfactory. The former leads to skepticism, the latter to dogmatism. So a middle ground is the better way.

If this is right, then the hard question is how to make sense of epistemically reliable data without purging interpretations from the account. That’s obviously a big question, and I don’t have the answer. But I am inclined to believe there is a satisfactory answer nonetheless because the alternative entails a highly revisionary account of our epistemic practices. For example, if we accept skepticism about data, then we lose our ability to marshal data to make arguments that racism exists and persists. But not only would that be a really unfortunate outcome, it would seep into any field in which data play a role in our arguments about critical issues. Climate change next on the chopping block…

Perhaps one way to strike a middle ground, at least practically, then, is to argue that, yes, data are critical, as I understood IE to be arguing, but these data stand the best chance of being reliable if they are interpreted by scholars who might themselves have the lived experience necessary for these interpretations to be reliable. So, for example, it would be best to have racialized scholars interpret data about racism because these scholars stand the best chance of having the lived experiences necessary for interpreting these data. I said that this would be a /practical/ middle ground, however, because I do have concerns: what does it imply about the reliability of data of which we have no lived experience, like geological data of past ice ages? Are ‘natural’ data studied by geologists in some principled way different from ‘social’ data studied by social scientists such that we make sense of this? And if we are willing to stretch the concept of ‘data’ this way, does this put us on a slippery slope back to epistemic relativism if not skepticism?

So, in short, I’m not convinced that the price of data-skepticism is worth the cost. And that does seem to align me with at least part of IE’s original post, at least as I understood it: that when we have a choice, more reliable data are better than less.

Now if we’re not talking about data at all, but perhaps philosophical/conceptual analysis of structural racism, then that’s a very different discussion, and I’m inclined to agree that racialized scholars might be more epistemically reliable here. But again, working out the details would be tough, because, as always, there are concerns/objections.

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AD
AD
9 months ago

I don’t see why philosophy departments should count black studies or women etc. studies as philosophy courses — at least without qualification. Presumably, they should involve a substantial amount of philosophy, which we would need to judge on a case to case basis.Report

Daniel Munoz
Reply to  AD
9 months ago

AD, I think the advice is restricted to courses about black philosophers. Here is the text:

“DO COUNT BLACK STUDIES, Africana Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies courses (among other disciplines) courses [sic] on Black philosophers toward your department’s distribution requirements during coursework.”Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Daniel Munoz
9 months ago

I read them as saying courses on black philosophers, like black studies courses, should be counted. Maybe you’re right. But my goodness, that’s a an awful typo that makes their point really unclear!Report