Nowadays, rarely a month goes by without the announcement of some diversity institute for underrepresented groups of undergraduates, graduate students, or untenured tenure-track faculty. These institutes, although they have direct effects on the relatively small numbers of underrepresented philosophy students and professional philosophers who attend them, seem to have indirect effects beyond the actual participants themselves, including the simple fact that their promotion is a frequent reminder that philosophy has a problem with underrepresentation of certain social groups in the first place (though I should note that disabled philosophers, especially disabled philosophers of disability, seldom seem to be included in the facilitation of these initiatives).
All of these initiatives are forward-directed, that is, they attempt to improve the situation of underrepresented groups in philosophy by taking the present as their starting point for a better future for philosophy. Although the legacy of homogeneity within the discipline and profession provides the rationale for these forward-directed efforts, the legacy provides only the rationale, that is, the past effects themselves of this legacy of homogeneity within the profession are universally ignored.
Yet, surely one of the most grievous and self-evident effects of this legacy of homogeneity is that, historically, philosophers who are members of underrepresented groups have not been hired into permanent positions. That conclusion seems so easy to derive from the recognition of the homogeneous composition of the profession that it seems almost inexplicable that this unconscionable state of affairs remains unaddressed. I said: "almost inexplicable." In fact, I want to suggest two reasons why philosophers seem unwilling to acknowledge that real change in the profession and discipline requires a form of backward-directed justice, in addition to the aforementioned forward-directed measures.
First, nondisabled white philosophers—especially, though not exclusively, nondisabled white men—remain reluctant to acknowledge that they have benefitted from this history of exclusion in the profession. Backward-directed measures and initiatives designed to redress past injustices within the profession—including initiatives to hire the philosophers who are the victims and survivors of this history—would require exactly that: would require that philosophers who have benefitted from the subordination of other philosophers genuinely acknowledge that they have benefitted.
Second, philosophy has a significant and, thus far, unacknowledged and unchallenged problem with ageism. Indeed, ageism is ubiquitous in philosophy. Search committees do not want to even look at the dossier of a philosopher who has “been out” for X number of years and is nevertheless not in a permanent position. The contestable rationale for this conviction is that philosophers who finished their degrees some time ago likely have not stayed abreast of the latest movements and trends in philosophy. With respect to underrepresented groups especially, however, this rationale is likely false and, in any event, a hiring decision based on this rationale should be empirically substantiated, rather than taken for granted as true and thereby assumed from the outset. I want to point out that one detrimental consequence of the ageist bias in philosophy is, therefore, that members of underrepresented groups who have been excluded from secure employment in the past are re-victimized, that is, continue to be victimized by this legacy in the present.
So long as philosophers do not reflect upon their ageist biases, they will continue to develop only forward-directed measures designed to address the problem of homogeneity and underrepresentation in philosophy, ignoring the need to develop backward-directed measures. My argument is that until, and unless, philosophers design backward-directed measures to redress past exclusionary practices in the profession, the accomplishment of any future just state of affairs in philosophy ought to be regarded as compromised, if not tarnished. In short, philosophy needs to make reparations.
My earlier post about the need for reconciliation and reparations in philosophy is here.
posted by Shelley