Briana Tool from Times Higher Education recently published an article about the diversity problem in philosophy (aka the new f-word). According to Tool, philosophy does a poor job representing both women and BMEs (black and minority ethnic students). This infamous reputation has led to negative discussions in national media outlets and online blog sites.
Most educators believe the main problem is the result of a “pipeline leak.” with BMEs exiting the discipline at higher rates than their white, male counterparts. Tool believes the way to solve the problem is by being proactive in efforts “…to understand and address why traditionally under-represented groups account for a mere 12 per cent of philosophy majors.“ She believes that the number is small because BME groups are not exposed to philosophy prior to entering a college setting. These are some of Tool’s plans of actions:
1. Teacher certification programs to offer professional training sessions and certification courses in philosophy to pre-college teachers
2. Summer philosophy camps for BME
Tool has some valid points, but I do not believe this is the correct approach. As a black male who received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy, I think Tool is missing 2 key points that determine the drop off of BMEs.
First, philosophy is usually only taught at a college level. High schools and grammar schools rarely offer philosophical courses. In most instances, college is a students first philosophy experience regardless of race or gender.
Second, the field of philosophy is actually very diverse. There are many philosophical publications from minorities and non-Western groups published daily however, in most cases, if it is not Western philosophy Americans do not consider it "philosophy”. Ben-Ami Scharfstein, professor at Tel-Aviv University, said it best. “Western philosophers still tend to think that philosophy, in a sense that they can take with professional interest, does not exist in non-Western traditions.”
Tool and her counterparts fail to acknowledge the multiple genres of philosophy and thus limit themselves to one type. This is why they create the idea that philosophy is lacking diversity.
Yoruba philosophy, Angela Y. Davis, Chuang-tzu, and many more are the faces of diversity in philosophy. I would challenge people who say philosophy is not diverse to look beyond the Euro-centric ideas of Plato and Socrates. Professors should teach beyond them in order to relate more to BME groups. If done properly, these groups may consider majoring in philosophy in the near and long term.