British Philosophy of ‘Race’: Oxymoron or Opportunity?

A racialised silence has beset British philosophy.

In 2011, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (Michigan), Professor Sally Haslanger (MIT) and Professor Jennifer Saul (Sheffield) petitioned Wiley-Blackwell’s Philosophical Gourmet Report, to include the philosophy of ‘race’, in its ranking of postgraduate programmes in philosophy in the anglophone world:http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ philosophyofrace/. Their petition prevailed.

However, the resultant inclusion was a damning indictment of Britain’s failure to foster thephilosophy of ‘race’ in its departments of philosophy. No British department of philosophy is now recommended, by the Philosophical Gourmet Report, for postgraduate study in the philosophy of ‘race’: http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown34.asp. None is recommended,because only one of the many philosophers currently working in a British department of philosophy could reasonably be described as conducting research in the philosophy of ‘race’. It is not irrelevant that Dr Brian Klug (St Benet’s Hall, Oxford) was a postgraduate in the USA. Indeed, those who are postgraduates in Britain do not remain in Britain to conduct their research in the philosophy of ‘race’.

Kwame Anthony Appiah was a British philosopher; he trained at Clare College, Cambridge. Appiah is now a citizen of the USA and Princeton University’s Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values. Professor Appiah is the author of such books as In my father’s house: Africa in the philosophy of culture (1992), Color conscious: The political morality of race (1996), and The ethics of identity (2005). However, Professor Appiah began publishing articles in the philosophy of ‘race’ only after 1981, when he left Britain, to build his career in the USA.

Robert Bernasconi is a British philosopher; he trained at the University of Sussex. Bernasconi now Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. Professor Bernasconi is editor of such books as The idea of race (2000), Race (2001), Concepts of race in theeighteenth century (2001), American theories of polygenesis (2002), and Race and racism incontinental philosophy (2003). However, Professor Bernasconi began publishing articles in the philosophy of ‘race’ only after 1988, when he left Britain, to build his career in the USA.

Albert Atkin is a British philosopher; he trained at the University of Sheffield. Atkin is now Lecturer in Philosophy at Macquarie University. Dr Atkin is author of The philosophy of race (2012).However, Dr Atkin began publishing articles in the philosophy of ‘race’ only after 2007, when he left Britain, to build his career in Australia.

Why didn’t—or couldn’t—these philosophers trained in Britain conduct their research on thephilosophy of ‘race’ in Britain? What has been the effect, on the production and transmission of knowledge, of Britain’s failure to retain any philosophers of ‘race’? Does it make sense to think of adistinctly British contribution to the philosophy of ‘race’? How would Britain benefit, from makingsuch a contribution to the philosophy of ‘race’? What steps must Britain now take, to put herself in aposition to make a contribution to the philosophy of ‘race’, of racialisation, and of resistance to both?


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