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philosophy and racism

For those of you interested in philosophy and my thinky-thoughts on it (which I get may not be everyone, so really, if it's not your thing don't feel obliged), I threw together a post at my non-fannish blog. The start:

A while ago I read Eugene Park’s HuffPo piece and Brian Leiter’s follow-up over at 3 AM asking the question, is philosophy racist, or perhaps more subtly, does it need to include more non-white thinkers in what we teach and research? I have Thoughts with a capital T there, but I’m still struggling to get them into a specific form that’s really worth sharing. (The answer, will most certainly look something like “Yes, but…”, as do most of my thoughts on philosophy. Go not to the Elves, as they say.) But in the mean time, I thought it might be interested to write a bit about a simpler question (which as it turns out isn’t so simple after all): what would it mean to include more voices of color? Is non-white really the standard? And what do we mean by “white,” even?

At which point I walked through the biographies of three of my favorite medieval philosophers (Augustine, Maimonides, and Anselm) and talked a bit about whether they should be considered white or at least part of the story white people today consider our history. You can read the whole thing here:


As some of you know I've been feeling pretty down lately. I still am, and I make no claims that this is as polished or as nuanced as I'd like. Or, you know, that the history is 100% true. This is just me trying to work some thoughts out and I'm going purely from memory. But I thought some people might find it interesting, so there you go.


Oct. 19th, 2014 04:39 am (UTC)
This reminds me of something I read in a news article about ISIS earlier this week: that ISIS was justifying its treatment of the Yazidi Christians by saying (in effect) "Look, even you Christiand called them pagans and infidels in your own historical texts going centuries back. And they're right (on the historical facts): most European and converted-by-Europeans Christians didn't consider Arabic Christians to be "like them." Their theology and practice doesn't look like ours. It has all these pagan elements and not the cool pagan stuff like Halloween and the yule log we borrowed from our European Christians but yucky pagan stuff.

(I'm kidding a bit here, but you get the point.)

I sometimes think something similar happens with race. "White" seems to mean "like those holding power in Europe and the places colonized by Europeans." It's why you get questions like whether Obama is really "black" enough to represent African-Americans, or people talking about George Zimmerman like he's white. It's why Jews are considered white these days where they just weren't a generation or two ago. (I mean, in the literal sense they're immigrants from Europe for the most part, but even there they faced social stigmas. You even see that today in some corners.)

That's why I find this topic so fascinating. Philosophy does have a problem being all about dead white men, but I don't think it's so simple as saying "round me up some thinkers born outside of Europe, or to people not descended from Europeans" - because we're talking about people from all different periods of history, and how you divy up the world and which parts are part of white peoples' history - well, that can be all over the map. (No pun intended.) (Okay, pun sort of intended.)

Thanks for reading - I liked reading your thoughts.
Oct. 19th, 2014 10:53 am (UTC)
Hmm, Yezidis may be monotheists, but they aren't Christians - they certainly don't consider themselves as such; although it's true they picked up bits of Christianity along the way.

Even if you consider the Ottoman Empire as the political heir of earlier rulers, Turks aren't Arabs by any definition (and calling a Turk an Arab - or vice versa - is a good way to insult one); nor is there a dynastic link between Arab rulers in Spain in Maimonides' time and the Ottoman rulers as far as I am aware.

I'm not going to touch the question of whether Jews or Hispanics are white according to American definitions - although of course a Jew's 'whiteness' probably depends on what the person making the argument needs him to be [/cynical mode off]



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