In my humble opinion, philosophy blogging on issues of race has been a mixed bag. Phil Percs' own Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò just submitted a wonderful piece, here, on the invisibility of black philosophers--both from our courses and from not having empathetic racial discussions at philosophy social events. Femi's post fits into an important line of inquiry into why there aren't more people of color, especially black and brown people (though it is true of all non-white faces), in philosophy.
In this post, I hope to add a bit of explanation to why philosophy does not attract more students of color, and this isn't my first foray to this question (also see here, for example). This issue is clearly quite complex and involves multiple factors. But I will be discussing an important factor here, with a focus on one specific kind of evidence.
So, here's the explanation in question: philosophers do and say racist things.
Here's the kind of evidence I will discuss: Philosophy blogging.
But before I get into this discussion, a bit of behind the scenes background. And even before that, I want to acknowledge that this blog isn't quite old enough to have too much history that people outside of the blog are likely to care about. But, I'm going to give a bit of that history in large part so that I look like less of a jerk for doing this to people who I'm currently blogging with, and who I don't think are horrible people. Also, at the same time, I'm going to be a bit vague, also to lessen the impact of me calling out people I blog with for their racism. So, my apologies for being vague. Hopefully my main point comes across regardless.
Here's the backstory. When this blog first got started, one of the bloggers here put up a bizarre picture whose natural interpretation was quite offensive. The picture doesn't matter now, and I don't think that the blogger in question meant to make an offensive statement by using the picture.
What does matter for my discussion is that behind the scenes, we had a long argument over what to do when someone does something that's, to be charitable, "unintentionally bigoted." My position was that we deal with it behind the scenes, asking the person if they would like to explain it on the blog (the original picture contained no such explanation), or if they would like to argue it out on the blog, but figure this out behind the scenes first.
The other side, which won, was that: no, things had to be fought over in public. If someone did something "unintentionally bigoted," you either had to ignore it or call it out.
Now, here I am, fast forwarding closer to the present, reading racist posts on this blog from time to time. Some of them are quite subtle, and I don't have the time, patience, or irrational hope of helping others see their subtle racism, so I have let it go. Lately, though, the posts are getting more pronounced.
More and more racism, right here, on a public philosophy blog.
So, it is leading me to wonder: Why don't students of color want to have careers in philosophy? Do they feel uncomfortable in philosophy for some reason? What could be causing their discomfort?
Oh, yeah, because they might read the racism that is blatantly on display on philosophy blogs and think, "Huh, I'm not really welcome here. Though there is a clear attempt to court racists and other bigots. Hope that works out for them." This is just a working theory, mind you.
And, so, the real question is: why is this happening? I don't think I'm blogging with white supremacists, nor are their posts out and out explicitly racist. In fact, we are engaging in the type of liberal racism that is even implicitly acknowledged as such on this blog. What I mean by this is that we are getting blog posts that say some subtle or (maybe not so subtle) racist point through a long blog post, and then they end with a statement of the form, "I can see how this might lead to support for racism [though, they don't explicitly say racism, but something close to it], and I can see how certain people [that is, people who are much more racist] will take this to a certain [logical] conclusion, but I obviously I don't endorse that [logical consequence of their view]."
And, then, upon having this thought and written those words, they push "Publish."
And, of course, because they make those points in their own posts, it isn't even necessary to point to the problems and try to argue that the racism is there. They acknowledge it, as if the acknowledgment makes it better.
So, again, why is this happening?
Well, here's my theory. Philosophers like to think that they have the right to follow their thoughts wherever they may lead. If their thoughts lead to something that's subtly or not so subtly racist (or sexist or heterosexist, or whatever), then they are just following the arguments. So, it is good to share the thoughts (though they may be harmful or offensive to oppressed groups) with the public. After all, if they are wrong, others can point this out (I think this is why the very people who were pushing for having these fights in public are the ones who post the bigoted things). So, they push "Publish."
Of course, philosophers also know quite well about biases, about how hard it is to be persuaded off of their settled position, about white privilege, etc. But, in spite of knowing these things, this knowledge doesn't stop philosophers from acting in exactly these ways. After all, they are just following the arguments (which, of course, are provided to them through their biases and with a psychological block from seeing the other side, which, when combined, add up to a very big difficulty of later appreciating the other side's response, especially when it comes from the oppressed group they are subtly/implicitly attacking. This often leads to anger directed at the victim: "Why didn't you tell me? I would have listened to you." No, you wouldn't have, and it is painful to do this--this very thing I'm doing right now).
So, that's my explanation. It could be wrong, of course, but I think I see enough of it to think it is plausible. Of course, regardless of whether my explanation is right, it certainly is going to keep our numbers of students of color, as well as students from other oppressed groups, down if philosophy bloggers are out posting about their random, bigoted thoughts that they just think flow from their arguments. And, of course, these students are right to stay away. These bloggers are not the minority, and this point (philosophers thinking they have the right to follow the argument and just speak their mind) reflects a trend that surely is often repeated behind the veil of classroom doors.
To finish, there's pretty much no way I'm going to respond to comments that try to explain or justify (subtle/liberal/hipster) racist philosophy blogging. If people want to write such comments, I'm not going to delete them, but I'm certainly not going to respond.