Journal debates Black Lives Matters without black academics

Editors of The Journal of Political Philosophy apologise for 'oversight' in commissioning of 60-page symposium

May 30, 2017
Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC

A philosophy journal has apologised for having devoted more than 60 pages to a three-author “symposium” on the Black Lives Matter movement that did not feature any black academics.

The controversy about the June issue of The Journal of Political Philosophy has highlighted scholars’ concerns about the periodical’s record of publishing black scholars or articles related to race.

In one open letter that has been circulating, Christopher Lebron, assistant professor of African-American studies and philosophy at Yale University, writes that the Black Lives Matter movement is “calling for an end to the erasure of black lives and presence by systems of racist power anchored in a history of white supremacy”.

“Try to imagine my distaste when it was brought to my attention that your journal published a philosophical symposium on ‘Black Lives Matter’ with not one philosopher of colour represented, without one philosopher of colour to convey her or his contextualised sense of a movement that is urgently and justifiably about context,” Professor Lebron writes to the journal’s editors. “It certainly cannot be said there was no-one to ask. I should know. I just published a book on the philosophical foundations of Black Lives Matter.”

Professor Lebron goes on to claim that The Journal of Political Philosophy has “not published a single article on the philosophy of race”, nor “so far as I can tell, not one black philosopher has seen her or his work appear in the pages of your respected journal, on race or any other topic”.

Melvin L. Rogers, Scott Waugh chair in the division of the social sciences and associate professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, also wrote an open letter on the topic.

"It is profoundly troubling that a symposium named in honour of the movement effectively performs the invisibility and devaluation of black life via the exclusion of scholars of colour that the movement would otherwise challenge," Rogers writes. "This is especially upsetting because there are a number of political theorists and philosophers of colour positioned to easily say something meaningful about the movement and its connection to substantive normative issues."

The editors of the journal have responded with an apology.

"We, the editors, sincerely apologise for the oversight in not including a black author in a symposium explicitly entitled ‘Black Lives Matter’," the response says. “We accept the point eloquently and forcefully made by our colleagues that this is an especially grave oversight in light of the specific focus of Black Lives Matter on the extent to which African-Americans have been erased and marginalized from public life."

The editors pledged that they would: meet to discuss how the symposium was planned and to consider lessons learned from what happened; invite two black scholars to join the journal's editorial board; and work "harder to encourage work from philosophers and political theorists of colour as we have done with women and young scholars in the past, and we will revise our editorial guidelines to reflect this commitment”.

This is an edited version of a story which first appeared on Inside Higher Ed.

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