Academic journal article Philosophy Today

(Dis)Engaging with Race Theory: Feminist Philosophy's Debate on "Transracialism" as a Case Study

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

(Dis)Engaging with Race Theory: Feminist Philosophy's Debate on "Transracialism" as a Case Study

Article excerpt

Rebecca Tuvel's article "In Defense of Transracialism" (Tuvel 2017) has been denounced for, among other things, "an insufficient engagement with the field of critical race theory" (Heyes 2017), while others, such as Sally Haslanger (2017) and Shannon Winnubst (2017), have argued that the controversy over this article is symptomatic of deeper and more systematic issues in feminist philosophy, such as "an arrogant disregard for the broad, wellestablished, interdisciplinary scholarly fields of both critical race theory and trans studies" (Winnubst 2017). In this article, I will consider the citation practices within Tuvel's, Heyes's, and Overall's related papers, looking at work on passing and multiracial identification that is left out and exploring how these omissions distort the discussion on "transracialism" in feminist philosophy. In the final section, I'll consider practices that can encourage deeper engagement in feminist philosophy.

Although my paper was ostensibly invited as a response to Rebecca Tuvel's "In Defense of Transracialism," I cannot consider Tuvel's engagement with race theory in isolation. I have chosen to consider her work alongside Overall's and Heyes's articles on transracialism because of the similarity of subject matter, which facilitates a deeper discussion of the salient work in race theory; because it is likely that Tuvel, as a junior scholar writing in response to respected senior academics like Heyes and Overall, took their citation practices as a model; and because of concerns raised by various commenters that Tuvel was unfairly targeted as a relatively vulnerable junior scholar, when more senior figures have made similar arguments and similar omissions. Most importantly, I fear that focusing on Tuvel's work in isolation will elide the more systematic issues in philosophy, since, on my assessment, other philosophy articles on the same topic fail just as egregiously to engage with race theory. In fact, these articles taken together provide a case study in how philosophical debates can develop in such a way as to structurally exclude relevant perspectives in race theory.

Although the criticisms of Tuvel's paper have focused on a failure to engage with "critical race theory" specifically, I have chosen not to limit my own assessment of salient work to the field of critical race theory. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a field that grows out of Critical Legal Studies (Delgado and Stafancic 2012: 4); its founders are legal scholars who are concerned with the social construction of race through the law (see López 1996; Harris 1993), the white supremacist basis of American law (Bell 1992),1 and the ways in which analyses based exclusively on categories like race or on gender fail to comprehend the intersections of these categories (Crenshaw 1991). For many Critical Race Theorists, the goals of CRT have evolved into identifying the ways in which multiple apparatuses, not only the law, construct and maintain white supremacy. Despite its expanding scope, CRT is not an umbrella term for all areas regarding race per se. Work that aims primarily to voice experiences with racialization, to report on historical data, or to identify statistical trends, does not readily meet this definition. Activist work, performance art and fiction lie as always at the uneasy borders of that which is construed as "theory," treated as often as resources for theorization than as theoretical texts in themselves. And since CRT is of relatively recent vintage, the term also excludes foundational texts that predate it. Some of the most incisive texts on passing, for example, were written in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, long before the advent of CRT.

I am not sure why "critical race theory" is cited to the exclusion of other salient areas of scholarship in critiques of Tuvel's work. Some people may use the term "critical race theory" loosely, as a catch-all for all theoretical work on race. Others perhaps feel that the work done under the umbrella of critical race theory is particularly relevant to the issue at hand. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.