In late January of this year, I wrote a blog-post entitled “Throwing Stones at a Glass House,” in which I drew attention to an especially pernicious use of ableist language in philosophy, as well as to the fact that, of the dozens of articles that had appeared in “The Stone” column at the New York Times during the previous year, not one of them had focused on disability, no disabled philosopher had authored an entry in the column, and disability had been mentioned only ONCE in ONE article. In the “Throwing Stones” article, I wrote:
To many disabled philosophers, the absence of philosophical discussion about disability and ableism from the column, as well as their own exclusion from it, will be unsurprising. As I have documented in my articles “Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability” and “Disabling Philosophy, philosophical analysis of disability and disabled philosophers themselves are routinely left out of the work that most (nondisabled) philosophers produce, even when this work addresses concerns about underrepresentation and discrimination in philosophy or matters of social justice, equality, and oppression in the broader social milieu.
When I wrote that post, I assumed that one of the nondisabled philosophers who publishes in “The Stone” (or some other philosopher) would read what I had written in the post and take my case to the column's editor, rally behind me and other disabled philosophers, or speak out in some other way about the heretofore grievous omission. None of them did, though many of them continued to extol the virtues of “public philosophy.” Thus, I want to put a new spin on Sandra Harding’s famous questions in order to ask: Which Public? Whose Philosophy?
On February 10th, I wrote directly to the editor of “The Stone” and raised this issue with him myself, hoping to be told that the matter would be promptly rectified and that disability would henceforth be addressed in the column.
I waited for a response, and I waited, and then I waited some more.
On May 31st, I finally received an email from the column’s editor. Much to my dismay, he did not intend to correct the past omission of disability and disabled philosophers from “The Stone” by soliciting work on (say) the rampant unemployment of disabled people, the legitimization of discrimination against disabled people in education, housing, and the workplace, or the disproportionate numbers of disabled people incarcerated in prisons and nursing homes. On the contrary, the editor of “The Stone,” the hot-spot for the publication of “public” philosophy, had written to tell me something quite different. As he put it:
I am the editor of The Stone. I agree with you. In part due to my belief that there is not an appropriate platform for writers with disabilities, and writing about disability, I am planning a separate series devoted to it.
Notice that the editor deemed “The Stone” (a column of public philosophy written by philosophers) to be an inappropriate venue for the arguments and insights of disabled philosophers and for philosophy of disability. Indeed, notice that disabled people who write philosophy do not seem to qualify for the honorific “philosopher” at all, but rather are “writers with disabilities.” The proper place for the work of these “writers” is not a column devoted to (public) philosophy; on the contrary, the “appropriate platform” for these writers is something different, something “separate.” Let me point out that the suggestion that disabled people must be corralled and cordoned off in a “separate” domain invokes the segregation of disabled people in institutions, sheltered workshops, and “special education” classes, not to mention the forced sterilization of disabled people and other forms of eugenics designed to remove us from the populace.
The editor of “The Stone” wanted to encourage me to submit my writing to this other platform. Thus, he included in the email a draft of the Call for Submissions to the prospective “separate” (but equal?) column. Here is a portion of that call for submissions:
Sometime this year, the New York Times opinion section plans to run a weekly series on disability (number of weeks not yet determined). As the series editor, I am reaching out to people who may want to write for us. The following offers some basic information for contributors to the series.
This project will fall into the category of theme-based online series: here are some previous examples you can find on a quick search followed by the letters NYT, or by following the hyperlinks: Home Fires (writing by US veterans), The Stone (philosophers and other thinkers), Anxiety (from sufferers and scientists, etc), Menagerie (on human-animal relationships), etc.
The core of this project will be well-written, thoughtful personal essays or opinion pieces that illuminate a range of human experiences — the good, bad, beautiful or ugly, uplifting or dispiriting. Writers must either have first hand experience living with a disability, or else be a family member, friend or professional with close and credible experience with the circumstances and issues facing those with disabilities. We will primarily use the first-person essay form, but remain open to visual expression, audio, perhaps video or other narrative. I will consider all styles and approaches. No fiction and everything written must be true and verifiable.
Essays should challenge the common or mis- perceptions of the average "normally abled" person by chronicling first hand the experiences of those living with and facing a disability, but not by focusing on overt advocacy, except where natural and appropriate. I'd like to be able to run light pieces as well as heavy ones (as we would in any other series). I want to avoid "inspirational" stories or other cliched approaches that sometimes serve to further separate certain populations from the "mainstream." Pieces can be overtly about disability, but they don't have to be — meaning the actual disability can be very much in the background. An example: you may be telling a story about a wedding and describe what you need to do to go from one place to the other without actually having the piece be about your disability.
Less than half an hour after I received his email (that is, on the same day, May 31st), I wrote to the editor again, reiterating my concern about “The Stone,” pointing out to him that philosophy of disability is an emerging sub-field in the discipline that ought to be represented in “The Stone,” that there are urgent philosophical questions surrounding disability and the status of disabled people in society, that disabled philosophers are underrepresented in the discipline and profession, and that the general public should be informed about these issues and the viewpoints of disabled philosophers.
As of today, I have not received a response from him.
posted by Shelley