Inclusiveness...

Thanks to Rosa TerlazzoJustin Caouette, Megan Delahanty, Sam Brennan, Linus Ta-Lun Huang, Gemma Lucy Smart, Dave Chalmers & Kirsten Walsh for feedback and encouragement on this... 

There is a lot of discussion of these kinds of points on the web (and I won't compile a list here). For instance, Dave Chalmers' guidelines for philosophical discussion and Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkin's pledge. Most of the stuff on inclusivity in philosophy has focused on gender issues (and fair enough, they are glaring). There are good things on this at the APA Committee on the Status of Women and Feminist Philosophers
Kirsten Walsh has excellent advice: before posting anything on the internet you should stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself: "will this make me happy?" I'm not convinced I'm following her advice here, but what the hey.

I'm a confident, cis, hetero, non-disabled, English-speaking, white, healthy, middle-class, male philosopher (a cchhnewmmp?). So I'm one of *those* philosophers. I even have a beard. I also care deeply about philosophy's lack of inclusiveness: it's embarrassing; philosophy as a discipline suffers if its pool of potential awesomeness is restricted; people who could thrive philosophically miss out. However, working out how to help is hard, especially given that my capacity to be part of the problem is very real. I am one more 
cchhnewmmp, after all. Roughly, then, I'm trying to learn how to "be an ally" (for me this involves going beyond recognizing the problem and trying to affect positive change).

This really matters: philosophy becoming more inclusive does not only require action from underprivileged groups; if anything people like me have more responsibility to do something. After all, we get a bunch of advantages from the very thing that ought to be changed, right? And if our behaviors play a large role in creating an exclusionary atmosphere, perhaps, you know, an obvious step is changing our behaviors? Anyway, I've compiled what I take to be an incomplete, and probably highly idiosyncratic, bunch of thoughts about how to do this. I'm really interested in being educated: if people have other advice, or criticism or suggestions or whatever, I'm happy to update it (anonymously or otherwise). Oh, and obviously a lot of this will carry over to other people (even for nervous, trans, queer, colored [surely that’s not the right term? Is there an okay term for ‘non-white’? I guess there probably shouldn’t be?*], non-anglophone, physically or mentally unwell or disabled, lower-class female philosophers).

I should also point out that much of this advice isn’t necessarily about helping the under-privileged in philosophy per se, but could be seen as general thoughts about creating and supporting thriving philosophical communities. In that sense, then, we all have a lot to gain. I’m also focusing on rather localized behaviors, rather than anything more formal or organized - undoubtedly there are large-scale, systemic issues that we need to discuss as well. Let’s get on with this.

Privilege often leads to epistemic opacity. If you’re in a position of authority, it’s easy for you to just not know about problems. They’re not going to be salient to you, and chances are, no-one’s going to tell you. So,

(1) Get an outsider’s perspective. I typically feel pretty comfortable in philosophical contexts. But many do not. I remember in my early 20s asking my mother *that* question, you know, ‘why do women need their own clubs and spaces, and if they get it, why shouldn’t I?’ She just said something like ‘Adrian, every other space is your space’. And she was pretty much right. However, it was still difficult for me to get that somewhere that I felt mostly comfortable in, my territory I suppose, was actually very confronting and oppressive for other people. Keeping in mind that others have a different emotional perspective is important for checking your behavior.

(2) Pay attention. In talks, is it always the same few people asking questions? Are people being systematically excluded from social activities (or are the only social activities the type that will exclude some people, i.e., those that don’t drink or, for some reason, find trying to hold a conversation in a blaringly loud bar unpleasant, or have *other* demands on their time [you know, kids and stuff])? Is it only, say, the male philosophers who hang around the department?

(3) Ask. Are you acting in a way which is making people uncomfortable? Do people feel excluded? This doesn’t need to be overbearing or anything. Just occasionally seek reassurance.

(4) Be open to people coming to you. And be thankful for criticism. Rosa Terlazzo once took me aside at a graduate retreat and encouraged me to pull back a bit on the aggressive question-asking, because some of the newer students were really nervous and my attempts at ruthless, KO questions weren’t helping. Hearing that your behavior is less than ideal can sting a bit, and I may have responded a little defensively at the time (I don’t remember) but I am grateful to her for doing it. I didn’t realize that I was intimidating (what? Little me?).

In my experience, the process of becoming a philosopher often involves drawing on a bunch of models, more senior philosophers whose attitude, style, approach or whatever (even perhaps their philosophical views!), appeal to you. I take it this is one of the most obvious reasons for increasing the representation of minority groups, particularly in senior positions, at philosophy departments and in conferences. But it also matters for philosophers like me.

(5) Be a good model. Be aware that there are people who may be looking to your behavior as a guide for how they should act. So, try and reign in some of those more aggressive, chest-thumping behaviors, least you breed more of the same. Confidently and charismatically throwing your weight around the seminar room like it was your personal auditorium (particularly with a mind to belittling your “opponent”) is neither impressive, helpful nor cool (and be aware that it's pretty easy to do this without realizing it).

(6) Pick good models. Pay attention to the people who have a positive effect in creating inclusive, rich and enjoyable philosophical communities: how do they ask questions? How do they participate in departmental events? And so on.

Here are some more general thoughts:

(7) Where appropriate (I’m thinking about question time and reading groups here) structure things so as to encourage involvement. I’ve found the hand/finger rule really helps, perhaps collecting a bunch of questions beforehand for the group to discuss. This calls for chairs and people running reading groups (etc...) to play a much more active role. Part of your job is making sure that people get heard, and get a fair go. 

(8) (this is a hard one) Shut Up. Yes, you’re very clever and have some wonderful, constructive, interesting things to say. But so do other people. So pull back a bit. This even includes contexts where you’re arguing for, say, inclusivity in philosophy. Having authoritative philosophers speak in favor of inclusiveness is important, but so is ensuring that excluded groups get heard. Oh, and to stretch the meaning of shutting up somewhat, let other voices be heard in organizational contexts. If you’re loud, confident, and in authority, people will often not challenge decisions you’re making, and you will often not realize that you’ve steamrolled everyone.

(9) (this one might be harder) while you’re shut up, listen.

(10) If you can (and this one is really really hard) point out unhelpful behaviors to others. Take them aside, go get a coffee, or whatever, and try to explain what’s going on. This needn’t be particularly confrontational; after all we’re frequently ignorant of how our behaviors affect others. If I was making things uncomfortable for people, I’d be pretty upset if no one told me about it. This can involve pointing things out to people who are in a much more powerful position than you, and sometimes it might be worth seeking out someone who is more suited to the task.

(11) Don’t get bitter. If you get bitter you’re done for. I’m thinking here in particular about people early in their careers. My peers will occasionally express frustration at the idea that women or other underrepresented groups might get preferential treatment for jobs or other opportunities. Being a philosopher, and doing philosophy, is awesomeandamazingandfunandrewarding and so forth, but it’s also hard. It’s hard whether you’re a cchhnewmmp from Michigan or a sentient lobster from the drastically underfunded philosophy department of Undersea U. Usually, if you’re committed enough to be a philosopher, you’re probably not that used to rejection. But rejection is just part of philosophical life (of job applications, of papers, of your brilliant insights, and so forth). And so it’s easy to start feeling like a victim and resenting the positive discrimination that is surely needed. Sadly, this is a trap: you’re not going to feel any better, and you’re not going to help. Moreover, even if minorities receive positive discrimination, the effect is surely a leveling one, after all, they didn’t have all the same advantages you have.

(12) Be kind. Philosophers can be an unforgiving lot, and there’s a bunch of behaviors which signal ‘I’m a good philosopher’ which aren’t necessarily linked to good philosophical content, or potential. Questions and presentations from early-career philosophers or non-native English speakers will often not be all that well formed. But it’s important to not disregard someone or their work because they’re not confident (yet). Listen charitably to what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. Relatedly, kindness involves patience (I'm pretty bad at this sometimes...), non-native english speakers, for example, can sometimes have a very difficult time making themselves understood in philosophical discussion where points and arguments can fly at a blistering pace (I'm basically in awe of people who can do philosophy in English as non-native speakers - its such a demanding discipline, comprehension-wise). Its worth taking the time to clarify and understand what they're saying. This is as true in the pub as it is in the seminar room. Moreover, there’s more than one way to be a kick-ass philosopher, and we should be very wary of enforcing too narrow a conception of what counts as ‘kick-ass’.

(13) Recognize good behaviors. Positive reinforcement matters: knowing that you’re on the right track (and how you can still improve) is invaluable.  This can include dropping by someone’s office, or sending them an email, saying what you liked about their talk, or commending them on a good question. This also matters for people acting in ways which make philosophical communities better. It helps to know that people have noticed and appreciate the work you do to make for a good community. The inverse; recognizing your own mistakes and apologizing, can be very important. These kinds of actions make it clear that its okay to screw up, and that its okay to talk about these issues. Another specific change in philosophy talks is to start explicitly indicating when your question is a variation on someone else’s. Complaints about differential treatment of questions asked by men and women, even when they have the same content, are common. Acknowledge the other’s question by mentioning them. On this ‘credit where credit is due’ theme, improving citation practices in our papers, making sure that we acknowledge the work of minorities (and early career philosophers) is another practice that should be adopted. 

(14) There is no excuse for Hilary Putnam being the only “woman” on a syllabus.

Oh, and I almost forgot, (15) learn what mansplaining is and just try, try not to do it. The main way of avoiding mansplaining (and oh, are we philosophers masters of the form) is to check whether someone already knows something before going into a laborious explanation of it. Remember you’re having a conversation which is a two-way thing, right? Right.

Talking the talk is much easier than walking it, and simply recognizing the problem isn’t sufficient. I’m almost certainly going to screw up pretty often, but I hope people have the courage to call me on it, and that I can take the correctives with grace.


*The current preferred term is 'person of color' although I'm told 'non-white' is also appropriate. Also, its not really my job to decide whether or not there 'should be' such a term...