On Intersectionality and the Whiteness of Feminist Philosophy
THE CENTER MUST NOT HOLD: WHITE WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS ON THE WHITENESS OF PHILOSOPHY, George Yancy, ed., Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010
21 Pages Posted: 17 May 2010
Date Written: May 17, 2010
In this paper I explore some possible reasons why white feminists philosophers have failed to engage the radical work being done by non-Western women, U.S. women of color and scholars of color outside of the discipline.
Feminism and academic philosophy have had lots to say to one another. Yet part of what marks feminist philosophy as philosophy is our engagement with the intellectual traditions of the white forefathers. I’m not uncomfortable with these projects: Aristotle, Foucault, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Quine, Austin, and countless others have provided us with some very powerful conceptual tools.. However, as Sandra Harding observes, conventional standards for what counts as “good science” (or in this case “good philosophy”) always bear the imprint of their creators. So, I think about whether the tools my discipline hands me ever serve as strategies for exclusion.
My conversation begins with intersectionality, which for feminists working outside of philosophy, is a predictable point of departure; but as a white feminist philosopher I have specific reasons for starting here. The fact that intersectionality is, at once, such a widely recognized strategy for making visible women of color’s issues and concerns in academic and policy discussions, and so neglected by philosophers is telling. I want to invite philosophers to think more seriously about intersectionality and other pluralist approaches as strategies for calling attention to whiteness of philosophy in general and feminist philosophy in particular. I want us to consider what feminist philosophy would be like if women of color’s writing, experiences, and communities drove philosophical inquiry.
Since most philosophers are unfamiliar with intersectional methodologies, I begin with a basic explanation of the foundational claims of this approach. Next, I explore some reasons why white feminists working in philosophy may be resistant to this method. I identify both disciplinary and personal reasons for this hesitancy and argue that intersectionality serves as a useful strategic tool for examining white authority in the emergent feminist canon. Finally, I explore the role intersectional thinking might play in creating a feminist critical race philosophy by outlining four projects that I think will challenge and enrich feminist work in the discipline.
Keywords: Intersectionality, Feminist Epistemology, Critical Race Theory, Whiteness
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation