The “practical inertia” of racism in philosophy

“By practical inertia, we end up reproducing what our chauvinist and often racist intellectual ancestors passed on to us, even if we have no intention of being racist.

This is Alexus McLeod, professor of philosophy and Asian and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut, in an interview with The eye of the philosopher on the occasion of his appointment as editor-in-chief of The philosophical forum.

[Hulda Guzman, “‘come dance’ asked nature kindly”]

The first question concerns a global approach to philosophy. Here is part of Dr. McLeod’s response:

While philosophy occurs in some of the same patterns across the world and throughout history, no philosophical tradition is exactly the same, and in each we find unique ideas, questions, and views on the subject. world. Just as it would be futile to try to understand the nature of human language with an understanding of only one or two languages ​​in one region and ignoring everything else (something I have sometimes seen!), Or nature of religion by looking only at Protestant Christianity, it is futile to try to understand the nature of philosophy if one neglects the philosophy of most of the world …

We Western academy philosophers just don’t speak to the world for the most part outside of the European and Anglo-American world. Especially not the so-called “Global South”. And we don’t talk to them even when they are involved in the same projects! As I mentioned above, it turns out that many philosophers in China, India, Ghana, Peru and elsewhere work in the same philosophical tradition as many philosophers in the United States and the United Kingdom. . There are analytical philosophers and continental Western-style philosophers all over the world. It’s hard to find a philosophy department anywhere without at least one person working in those areas.

Yet there is little engagement between philosophers working in the English-speaking “West” and their counterparts in other parts of the world. And there are few good reasons for this. Even our general category of this “West” hides a problem. What nations do we include in the “English speaking world” to define the West? United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Watch the famous (or infamous?) Gourmet Philosophical Report. It classifies the programs of the “English-speaking world” in these regions only. But what about the Caribbean nations? Various nations across Africa? India? English is the primary and native language of many Caribbean countries, for example, and the official and most common language of many African countries. This is not the case for Quebec. Yet the latter is somehow included in the “English-speaking world”, while the former does not. And even in countries where English is not the official or most common language, the language is still not a barrier, as most people working on analytical philosophy outside of the United States can understand and work in English. It would be quite difficult, after all, to engage in a tradition whose major works could not be read because we did not understand the language in which they are written.

I suspect that the reason for the lack of global interaction is the same as the reason for the general lack of attention to global philosophical traditions outside the western categories of analytical and continental philosophy. Let me be blunt here: racism. Much (although sometimes it is) is not about the individual racism of philosophers, but rather the racism inherent in the conception of philosophy that we have inherited. Just as institutional racism exists in the structures of American society, so there is cultural chauvinism based on racism in the conception of the dominant philosophy in the West. By practical inertia, we end up reproducing what our chauvinist and often racist intellectual ancestors passed on to us, even if we do not intend to be racist. At some point we have to take into account that the philosophy in America (or that awkward ‘English speaking world’ that also has race built in) is as it is because those who passed it on to us were racists. , and engaged in an inherently racist project which explicitly excluded non-European people (and even certain categories of European people). We are never going to improve the philosophy until we tackle this racist past, understand how it clearly manifests in the present through our continuation of past patterns, and actively work to restructure the way we think about it. that is and does philosophy. .

The full interview is here.

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