Marginalized people are not your subject to write about, but your peers to engage with

A couple of weeks ago I attended a new book fair at my neighborhood and, unbeknownst to me, my colleague and friend Siobhan Guerrero-MacManus was scheduled to talk on a roundtable by people from the sexual-generic diversity. She was giving a very short time to talk, so she had to cover a lot of ground and make a lot of points very quickly. One of them stuck out to me specially. She stressed the importance of institutions like academia to attend to diversity, but not merely as subjects of study. She did not say as what instead, but it is not hard to see what she meant. Consider disability. Attending to disability not merely as subject of study requires, not organizing conferences and seminars on the ontology and epistemology of disability, but proper action to improve accessibility right now and a commitment to continue until it becomes effectively universal. Ramps, cushioned seats and doors with larger grips show more genuine commitment to diversity than another paper, book or Op Ed. Similar considerations apply to other marginalized groups.

A few days later, a graduate student from Germany took to twitter to ask for advice on her dissertation topic. She claimed to think that we should listen to and amplify the voices of the marginalized and thus asked for advice. I should have known better, but was still surprised to find that the advice people were giving was stuff like reading on topics like epistemic injustice and elite capture. Soon I realized that maybe I had misunderstood the original question and that what the student wanted to do in her dissertation was not to actually amplify the voices of the marginalized, but to write about amplifying the voices of the marginalized. At least that is how people who replied to her tweet seemed to me to have interpreted her. Yet, I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe people on philosophy twitter misinterpreted her question and she did not consider marginalization merely as a topic to discuss, but an actual negative condition of professional philosophy that needs to be urgently addressed. Thus, instead, I replied that it is not that hard to amplify the voice of the marginalized. Just pick any country in the global south where people write philosophy in any language in which you are sufficiently fluent. Pick any university there. Look at what people there are writing about (preferably if it is on any topic different from their own identities). Read their work and comment on it. Write your dissertation directly on what marginalized people have been saying and writing. That is what amplifying the voices of the marginalized in philosophy actually means, and this is what Guerrero-MacManus and others mean when we say that a commitment to diversity is not a commitment to a topic. As I mentioned on that twitter thread, marginalized people are not your subject to write about, but your peers to engage with!

One might think that my argument establishes a false dilemma or commits a so-called whataboutism. One might think that writing about marginalization, about race, disability, diversity, epistemic violence, elite capture, etc. also contribute to improving the situation of marginalized people. That might be true, indeed. After all, that is just what I am doing here: this is a blog post about marginalized voices and how to better amplify them. Thus, it would be hypocritical, to say the least, for me to claim that we ought not to do this. Yet it remains, at best, still an indirect way of improving the situation of marginalized philosophy. Furthermore, it would also be disingenuous for us to ignore the fact that this is mostly all that the philosophical community has done. A cursory view at journal indexes and conference programs would reveal a lot of talks and texts about marginalization yet very little actual marginalized voices being actually amplified

One might even reply that the recommendations that this student received on twitter were not just to read about epistemic injustice, but to read Miranda Fricke, not just to read about elite capture, but to read Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, etc. And Miranda Fricke is a woman, and women remain a marginalized group in philosophy, and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is a person of color and people of color remain a marginalized group in philosophy, etc. But it would be odd to claim that Dr. Fricke’s is a marginalized voice in philosophy. Her number of quotations is a good indicator that this is just not so. When we say that, for example, Latinxs, disabled people, or people or color, etc. are marginalized as a group in philosophy, we are not making a universal assertion, i.e., we do not mean that all all Latinx voices or that the voice of any person of color, etc. is marginalized. This is a central part of the very phenomenon of elite capture. Whichever person of color, woman, disabled philosopher, etc. that you might be able to mention off the top of your head right now is very likely not a marginalized voice in philosophy.

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