This is a brief aside from class last week.
As we were discussing a paper that discussed the (abstracted) conceptual history of the term ‘Race’, and were focusing on the categorization of Races as it relates to christian religion (we were planted in discussion right around the enlightenment and enlightenment thinkers at the time), a fellow student interjects, “I just find this so fascinating [how everything about Race categorization centered this christian rhetoric during the enlightenment]!” As they proclaimed their fascination, I couldn’t help but wonder why even though we are both part of the same class and read the same assigned readings, I was most certainly not excited, and was more concerned with the power that we give the canon.
As we were discussing Kant (he comes up in pretty much any philosophy class) among other enlightenment thinkers, I began seeing most of my classmates visibly shaken because of the racism involved in the categorization process, in the name of science. At this point in my grad journey, I often wonder why after all these years, we are STILL primarily counting these racist and sexist philosophers as pretty much the only way we can understand philosophy.
“I have been the problem everyone seeks to eliminate…”
One of my classmates interjected that these enlightenment thinkers weren’t exactly the innovative and provocative thinkers we give them clout for, as they didn’t just come up with this racist categorization methodology out of thin air, they were reflecting the socioeconomic climate of the time- and attempting to explain it in ways that while seeming bold, was following what hegemony deemed as important. I was hooked on that thought for the duration of class.
“I am the history of the rejection of who I am.”
The entire time we were told to remember that we need to think contextually during the time period centering the enlightenment before we are ready to throw the whole thing out. But I think the disconnect is in the fact that most of us marginalized folks are still actively experiencing the fallout of this rhetoric we were being told to ‘objectively’ analyze. I mean, a lot of the prominent thinkers of the time (that we were told to read and think about) on the concept of Race and racial distinctions agreed that Black Africans and/or dark skinned people were simply not full people (or not human at all), and were related more closely to Baboons and such the like. Some of those who held alternative perspectives romanticized the ethnocentric eroticization of those non-whites. Those who fell from the glory of whiteness were experimented on like objects, and the primary fascination was surrounding how one became and/or was Black/dark skinned. All the while Whiteness was never questioned, whiteness just was. Sound vaguely familiar?
“I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of myself.”
My thought here is what would happen if more philosophy programs integrated multiple histories into the canon? Would there be more non-white non-male philosophers? Philosophy is supposed to be interdisciplinary at this point, yet we are to basically only focus on these dead white men whose writings were mostly ideal at best (even within the context of the time and place of said writings). I mean, who’s history is this? How can us marginalized students not feel silenced within the discipline when all we ‘objectively’ study are dead white racist sexist and privileged men? There were many moments in class that I could not focus because of these questions swimming in my head. To be fair, the readings that we were to read very generally were laying the foundation for the Appiah & Outlaw that we are to read for class this week. It will be interesting to see the flow of discussion this week, which of us will be fascinated, and by what.
And so, I leave you with this. I meditated with this after thinking through my class notes, and it definitely was healing:
Until Next Time,
Note: I have intentionally withheld the authors and titles of the readings from this last class, as I didn’t want to center things around each specific text, and wanted to focus more on the seemingly violent trends I’ve experienced within the discipline (that is what stuck out to me during our class discussion).