‘what does this have to do with hegel? FUCKING NOTHING.’

i’ve been trying for weeks to figure out what about this post has been bothering me. it’s not as if i haven’t seen the literature on implicit bias and stereotype threat. and i’ve certainly seen many examples of blinkered philosophers claiming that, because philosophers trade in reason, it is essentially impossible for them to employ irrational biases when assessing candidates, students and colleagues. i am down with where this post ends up, and i suppose if it’s useful, the means to get there are all good. but i have a persistent itch in the back of my brain about it.

it seems to me that the findings of implicit bias studies basically replicate findings (if we can put it that way) that many feminist philosophers and critical philosophers of race arrived it, in one way or another, many years ago. now it’s certainly not necessary for every philosopher to be doing everything all of the time – keeping abreast of literatures outside their fields of expertise, reading difficult works by folks whose training departs significantly from their own. i’m a primary proponent of a different stokes approach to the discipline. as an xcphilosopher, how could i not be?

but many women in philosophy and most philosophers of color, many feminist philosophers/theorists and critical race philosophers/theorists have not been given the benefit of this particular doubt. we have had to take up the lion’s share of translation from one idiom to another, in order that we be heard, in order that we be understood, in order that we continue to be able to feed ourselves with this work, to such a degree that many of us have made translation the subject of our thinking itself.

my question is, i suppose: why does something like “science” seem to have the last word here? how does “more empirical evidence” ever settle anything – as if the meaning of “empirical evidence” is self-evident, as if the arts of interpretation are unnecessary, as if those arts are not shaped, are not framed, in advance, by power? which is, not for nothing, one of the primary lessons of the research in implicit biases.

empirical evidence is certainly helpful; if our job in part is to interpret the world, we must have a way of expressing what that world is made of. philosophers are not usually empirical social scientists, by any stretch; in my experience, the best social scientists are much more modest about their claims than philosophers, probably because they have a deeper, first-hand knowledge of the limitations of the claims they can make, and because they are still pondering how best to understand – how best to interpret – the data in front of them, how it expresses what the world is made of.

but on this particular question, the question of what alcoff called philosophy’s “demographic problem,” why is it that so many philosophers seem to trust the evidence of implicit bias studies, and not the evidence of luce irigaray? or carol pateman? or audre lorde? or genevieve lloyd? or iris young? or franz fanon? or de beauvoir? or gloria anzaldúa? or michele le doueff? or any number of folks who got there earlier, and/or said it better? these folks have much to offer in terms of providing rich interpretative frames through which to understand the findings of implicit bias studies, particularly as applied to the persistence of philosophy’s “demographic problem.”

i mean, don’t get me wrong – i’m psyched that research on stereotype threat and implicit bias is useful in this particular moment. but i have to wonder whether and to what degree the task of translation – and in this case, a task which seems inseparable from entertaining endless pop-scientific  claims about how innate sex differences explain why women can’t do metaphysics or whatever – has once again served to re-authorize the discourses that continue to marginalize us.

it doesn’t seem to me to be the case that all means are equally cool in serving the same ends, that all methods are interchangeable as tools. such an approach ignores how power has shaped these methods in advance, how power has constituted them, and how that power constitutes us when we employ them. this is not to say that we are simply products of the zombie masters of our fields and subfields. but neither does it mean that we are not zombies ourselves in ways we can neither entirely choose nor identify. i’m certainly in no way immune from this zombie curse: i am a philosopher after all. i guess what i’m thinking is that, like alcoff, i think that philosophy’s “demographic problem” is inseparable from philosophy’s “civil wars,” and that, without an attempt to account for the complex operations of power implicit in philosophical discourse, without grappling with the ways in which philosophy has been constituted by race, by gender & sex, by nationality, by sexuality, by ability, by class – any attempt at ‘pluralism’ will be at worst a recapitatulation of current conditions. feminist theorists and theorists of race, many of whom are not philosophers (or are not anymore, anyway) have crafted good tools for this task, with the knowledge that such tools can only be made from available materials; they use these tools to question why we don’t have better materials. they use them to give shape to a future in which we have better materials, and a wider variety folks crafting better and better tools.