He asked, "could you pass me the cheese?", and it was the angriest I had been that day. It wasn't his fault. He had said it politely, it was a reasonable context for the request, and I'm not above fucking up a plate of brie on your average Tuesday. But, despite all of these facts, it was about the worst thing he could have said to me.
You see, Ferguson was burning, and so was I.
Give me a second to work back to that. There's a particular kind of predicament to being a Black smudge on the pristine alabaster tile of analytic philosophy - particularly at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution). In other corners of the academy, I hear my colleagues complain that they feel they have to justify the value of their scholarship and scholarly commitments to their non-Black colleagues and professors. But in philosophy, it would seem, a Black person must do serious work to advance the discussion to the value comparison stage. This is because, in philosophy, one must first argue that Black people exist.
I will need to remember this to keep track of what is being said, as I will often hear statements about *the* (whose?) history of philosophy. I will hear views challenged by pointing out that *no one credible* (that we know of, where 'we' is an audience trained exclusively in the Western European-centered philosophy) has made that argument. And I will hear people's theoretical contributions dismissed because that person is not a "trained philosopher" (that is, does not have a particular kind of diploma).
When I hear these things, I will not respond by putting the word history in the plural, I will not question the implicit geography of credibility, and I won't ask about the demographics of who will be left to speak once we have ignored those who have not dissertated about what it means to say that tables exist.
This is not because I don't think the case can be made. I rehearse the necessary arguments in mirrors and at bus stops, in the margins of history books and hastily printed education articles, all the way down. It is actually because I can make the case that I, generally, will not. It is because I know intimately which fundamental assumptions about the world, the practice of philosophy, and the role of the academy are involved in the delusion that Westocentricity in philosophy is benign (on a conservative view) or primarily an unkindness (on a liberal view) rather than what it is - an utter epistemic crisis.
But I learned the hard way that conversations about that tend not to make it all the way down - they tend to make detours into shouting, abrupt subject changes, or the trustworthy oppression olympics. So when I see this delusion at work, I will mostly smile my friendly-hope-you-aren't-frightened-Negro smile and ask for the cheese.
Ferguson is out of the news cycle. In its place are controversies at Yale and Missouri. I suspect that, as with Ferguson, these will largely fail to be so much as a subject of conversation at the kind of gatherings we have in my department, much less (hey now, let's not get crazy) organizing. If the next wine and cheese reception fits this description, I will not be mad because I think that a fine Merlot must always be paired with banter about white supremacy. But if that absence seems an instance of a larger, unfolding pattern of the larger intellectual and material exclusion of Black thoughts and bodies from philosophical spaces - then, well, niggas might feel some type of way about that.
I hope they have gouda.