I concur with most of the views expressed by those who spoke at the “Why Isn’t My Professor Black?” event (“Shades of racism blight the academy”, News, 20 March).
One speaker is absolutely right about academia having a problem with black people in leading roles. Deliberate exclusion is used to limit the participation of black staff in decision-making. This was illustrated recently by an institution that decided to merge all its health profession schools into one. Two steering committees and a number of “work streams” were formed to oversee the process. Despite the relatively higher number of black staff and students in these schools, not one black staff member was deemed good or competent enough to join any of the committees or working groups. Such blatant abuse of authority aids and abets the myths that black academics are not visionaries or innovators, let alone leaders.
However, blame for the current state of affairs and the painstakingly slow progress does not rest with institutions alone because the apathy of black academics plays an instrumental role in perpetuating the myth.
I have always had a sadistic admiration for racists who proudly display their ultra-right-wing credentials as a badge of honour. I value their honesty, but I have no respect for the sanctimonious racists within our higher education system.
L. Roger Numas
Faculty of Health and Social Science
University of Brighton
I couldn’t agree more with Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (“Which subject is dead white – and dead wrong?”, Opinion, 20 March) that mainstream philosophy’s neglect (or is it disavowal?) of the issue of “race” is intimately connected with its tendency “to police, enforce and constrict the boundary around philosophy”. He is surely right, as well, to say that the consequence of this disciplinary narrowness is that philosophy “misses out” on the cross-disciplinary work that could teach it a thing or two. Philosophers interested in the study of sex and gender have been fighting this battle against disciplinary defensiveness for many years, and it is no coincidence that in the UK “analytic” tradition to which Coleman refers, it has often been the feminists already thinking about sex and gender who have been most willing to learn to think about race, too.
But Coleman’s point makes particular sense to many of us in the “continental” philosophical tradition, which would-be disciplinary enforcers have often wanted to exclude from the closed set of philosophy. For the willingness of continental philosophers to cross disciplinary boundaries and to reflect critically on the nature of the discipline of philosophy itself has perhaps helped some of us to accept the necessity of learning from other disciplines in order to teach and think philosophically about “race” and the legacy of racism in the history of philosophy. To this end, we are also more willing to put material that does not “look” like philosophy on our syllabuses and to publish work that does not “look” like philosophy to disciplinary diehards. Of course, it’s not enough, and our students often rightly press us to do more. But Coleman hits the nail right on the head with the point that a condition of possibility for “doing more” is that we reject the form of disciplinary policing that so restricts academic philosophy today.
Head of department of philosophy