On the Ableist and Racist Legacies of Canadian Philosophy

Last weekend I contributed two comments to a post on the Daily Nous blog entitled “New Canada Research Chairs in Philosophy.” The comments comprise data compiled for a study underway at UBC to identify the reasons why so few disabled academics hold Canada Research Chairs, a study in which I have taken part. The data that I provided on Daily Nous demonstrates that disabled academics are grossly underrepresented in the CRC program, as they continue to be disadvantaged in every context of universities in Canada. The data also provided more support for arguments that I’ve made here and elsewhere according to which nondisabled white women philosophers (like nondisabled white men) are over-represented in Canadian philosophy.

One might think that some Canadian philosophers (or other Canadian academics who read Daily Nous) would have responded to my comments on Daily Nous with their own remarks of outrage at yet more evidence that disabled people are excluded from academic positions; or with other public displays of solidarity for disabled philosophers; or with commitments to instigate change at their own respective universities. One might have thought, furthermore, that some Canadian philosophers would approach me privately (or publicly) to learn more about the study, its findings, and strategies to push back against this manifestation of ableism within Canadian universities and Canadian philosophy departments more specifically.

None of these actions took place, however. The comments that I made on the post about new CRCs remain unremarked upon, as my work on the exclusion of disabled philosophers (especially disabled philosophers of disability) in Canada remains largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. What can we learn from this seeming indifference to the plight of disabled philosophers in the Canadian university?

My argument is that this unresponsiveness on the part of (nondisabled) Canadian philosophers—including nondisabled feminist philosophers in Canada—serves to reconstitute and reinforce a relatively recent configuration of the legacy of racism and colonialism in Canadian philosophy departments, namely, the resistance to claims according to which gender is not the most pronounced axis of oppression in philosophy in Canada (and elsewhere) and indeed even the outright refusal to countenance such claims. I want to point out, furthermore, that this unresponsiveness throws into relief one way in which the mutually constitutive and mutually supporting character of racism and ableism is reproduced in philosophy and the university more generally.

Although it may be somewhat easy to understand why nondisabled white women philosophers would disregard my claims according to which they are overrepresented in Canadian philosophy departments, one might doubt that nondisabled white men in Canadian philosophy would uphold gender as the most fundamental form of inequity in their sphere of academia. After all, claims about the fundamentally constitutive character of (binary) gender inequality in Canadian philosophy surely position (all) men as the beneficiaries of this form of oppression.

It is imperative to remember, however, that the construction of (nondisabled) white men as protectors of the well-being and interests of (nondisabled) white women has been integral to the historical constitution of whiteness and white supremacy in Canada and indeed North America. In other words, (nondisabled) white men in philosophy in Canada themselves benefit from claims according to which (nondisabled) white women philosophers continue to be inordinately disadvantaged in Canadian philosophy.

In short, so long as nondisabled white men in Canadian philosophy refuse to acknowledge the magnitude of the exclusion of disabled philosophers and, moreover, implicitly affirm the status of gender as the primary axis of oppression in Canadian philosophy, they reinforce and reinstate Canada’s legacies of racism and colonialism, as well as its hidden (and not so hidden) history of ableism.

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