One might argue that if we simply MUST take transgender Caitlin Jenner seriously, then by that logic we should take trans-racial Rachel Dolezal seriously as well. If gender can be fluid, then race can be fluid as well. To my mind, while gender has a biological, physical basis, race really is a cultural construct.One brave (or foolish) soul did just that. The results were utterly predictable.
The editors of an influential feminist philosophy journal have denounced an academic research paper that argues racial identity can be just as fluid as gender, castigating its Canadian author for causing "harm" and ignoring "violence upon actual persons."
Curiously, these editors run the journal that published the paper in the first place.
The "profound" and grovelling apology from associate editors of the journal Hypatia stops short of formal retraction. But it indicates the editors are appalled that Hypatia peer-reviewed, edited, and published the article, titled In Defense of Transracialism.
In it, Rebecca Tuvel, a Toronto-born, McGill educated assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, makes an argument by comparing two cultural phenomena: the ridicule and scorn directed at Rachel Dolezal for assuming a black racial identity despite being born white, and the praise and admiration directed at Caitlyn Jenner for assuming a female gender identity despite being born male.
To our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy,
We, the members of Hypatia's Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused. The sources of those harms are multiple, and include: descriptions of trans lives that perpetuate harmful assumptions and (not coincidentally) ignore important scholarship by trans philosophers; the practice of deadnaming, in which a trans person's name is accompanied by a reference to the name they were assigned at birth; the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways, thus neglecting to address and take seriously the ways in which those phenomena marginalize and commit acts of violence upon actual persons; and an insufficient engagement with the field of critical race theory. Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation. We recognize and mourn that these harms will disproportionately fall upon those members of our community who continue to experience marginalization and discrimination due to racism and cisnormativity.
It is our position that the harms that have ensued from the publication of this article could and should have been prevented by a more effective review process. We are deeply troubled by this and are taking this opportunity to seriously reconsider our review policies and practices. While nothing can change the fact that the article was published, we are dedicated to doing what we can to make things right. Clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process. In addition to the harms listed above imposed upon trans people and people of color, publishing the article risked exposing its author to heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable. A better review process would have both anticipated the criticisms that quickly followed the publication, and required that revisions be made to improve the argument in light of those criticisms.
We would also like to explain our review process. Manuscripts sent to Hypatia are sent out for peer review to two anonymous reviewers. The reviewers do not see the names of the author of the manuscript, and the identity of peer reviewers is not known to authors. The journal has had a long-standing policy of minimizing desk rejections due to its commitment to providing constructive feedback to feminist scholars. Revised manuscripts are also sent to the same readers for review. In the case where two peer readers disagree, a third anonymous reader may be found. Members of the Associate Editorial Board might be asked to provide another opinion and are expected to serve as readers on two articles each year. Some have wanted us to reveal the identities of the peer reviewers for this article. We cannot do this. We are a scholarly journal committed to an anonymous peer review process. We want readers to feel free to offer their honest feedback on manuscripts submitted to Hypatia. Anonymous peer review is important for the scholarly reputation of Hypatia; mistakes in particular instances should not compromise the commitment to anonymous peer review in scholarship.
In addition, to reconsidering our review policies, we are drafting a policy on name changes that will govern review of all work considered for publication in the journal from this point forward. We wish to express solidarity with our trans colleagues in our condemnation of deadnaming. It is unacceptable that this happened, and we are working to ensure that it never happens again. We also wish to express solidarity with our colleagues of color (understanding that gender and race are entangled categories) in our condemnation of scholarship about racial identity that fails to reflect substantive understanding of and engagement with critical philosophy of race. We are working to develop additional advisory guidelines to ensure that feminist theorists from groups underrepresented in our profession, including trans people and people of color, are integrated in the various editorial stages. This does not mean that we want to place future responsibility solely on transfeminists and feminists of color. We are committed to improving our review process and practice in order to make the best decision about publication and to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Hypatia is a journal committed to pluralist feminist inquiry and has been an important site for the publication of scholarship long-considered marginal in philosophy. Too many of us are still characterized as "not real" philosophers by non- and anti-feminist colleagues. As a feminist journal, Hypatia is committed to providing mentorship to all who submit articles by encouraging substantive feedback on essays submitted for consideration. Clearly there was a mistake along the line in the review process, and we are doing our best to figure out a way forward.
Several further types of responses have been suggested to us, including issuing a retraction and setting up a blog or website for further conversation about how to move forward and improve our process. We continue to consider those responses and all of their potential ramifications thoughtfully. We welcome more feedback and suggestions, as we intend to learn from this mistake and do our best to be accountable and worthy of the trust of all feminist scholars.
Finally, we want to recognize that following the publication of the article, there was a Facebook post from the Hypatia account that also caused harm, primarily by characterizing the outrage that met the article's publication as mere "dialogue" that the article was "sparking." We want to state clearly that we regret that the post was made.
We sincerely thank all who have expressed criticism of the article's publication and who have called on us to reply. Working through conflicts, owning mistakes, and finding a way forward is part of the crucial, difficult work that feminism does. As members of Hypatia's editorial board we are taking this opportunity to make Hypatia more deeply committed to the highest quality of feminist scholarship, pluralism, and respect. The words expressed here cannot change the harm caused by the fact of the article's publication, but we hope they convey the depth and sincerity of our commitment to make necessary changes to move forward and do better.
A Majority of the Hypatia's Board of Associated Editors
- "perpetuate harmful assumptions"
- "the practice of deadnaming," [gasp!]
- "dehistoricized and decontextualized ways"
- "commit acts of violence upon actual persons" [by writing a paper, to be clear]
- "insufficient engagement with the field of critical race theory"
- "associating trans people with racial appropriation" [oh noes!!!]
So, to sum up. You can appropriate an entire gender, but you must NEVER question the social construct that is race, and you must super-duper never cosplay as a black person. That is the biggest no-no ever! Oh, and writing something is an actual act of actual violence on actual persons.
P.S. Internet censors and Perpetually Outraged Persons please note, I'm not making fun of Caitlin Jenner or Rachel Dolezal. I am a conservative, and I believe it is a free country. They are free to do whatever the hell they want, as far as I'm concerned. They can culturally appropriate and gender-bend all frigging day long, as far as I am concerned.
I am making fun of "A Majority of the Hypatia's Board of Associated Editors" because y'all are a pack of hateful idiots.
P.P.S. I saw this first at SDA, as usual. Kate always gets there first.