Rhodes Prof Steps in Liberal Mire

A Rhodes College professor has gotten involved in a big mess over an article she wrote. Liberals are howling.

Steven Hayward at Powerlineblog discusses how academic political correctness is turning in on itself:

One recent smashup happened over in Oxford, where some officious unit of official sensitivity decreed that not making eye contact constituted an act of racism (“invisible man” and all that). Except that people from the autistic community spoke up, pointing out that people with autism often can’t make eye contact because of their condition. Whereupon the officious unit of official sensitivity at Oxford profusely apologized for its insensitivity, and withdrew the previous moral unction against eye-contact bigots.

But this is minor league stuff compared to the ruckus caused by l’affaire Tuvel. This refers to the case of Rebecca Tuvel, a youngish professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis (where I have visited), who recently committed the blunder of publishing “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.

“Two main features characterize my teaching. First, I lead heavily discussion-based courses. I view the philosophy classroom as a mutually enriching environment in which discussion is a primary means for developing and fostering ideas. Second, I seek to make philosophical problems relevant to students’ daily lives. In learning that philosophical questions bear on their lives, students are encouraged to question the prereflective judgments that guide their practices and thinking. If students develop reflective and inquiring dispositions toward the world at the end of my class, and if they can see how philosophy’s longstanding problems bear on their practices, then I believe they are better equipped to live thoughtful and deliberate lives.”

Here’s the abstract of the article:

Former NAACP chapter head Rachel Dolezal’s attempted transition from the white to the black race occasioned heated controversy. Her story gained notoriety at the same time that Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair, signaling a growing acceptance of transgender identity. Yet criticisms of Dolezal for misrepresenting her birth race indicate a widespread social perception that it is neither possible nor acceptable to change one’s race in the way it might be to change one’s sex. Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism. Although Dolezal herself may or may not represent a genuine case of a transracial person, her story and the public reaction to it serve helpful illustrative purposes.

Well, all hell broke loose over this article. Because the trans-community apparently doesn’t yet recognize trans-racialism, and Tuvel apparently never got the memo. The critics swarmed, issued a blistering open letter about how “harmful” the article is and demanding that Hypatia retract it—which Hypatia promptly did, issuing their own groveling apology that you have to read not to believe. The original link to Hypatia’s apology has gone dead (hopefully because they realize their mega-beclowning), but philosopher Brian Leiter captured it for us at his well-regarded Leiter Reports blog. Here’s just one excerpt:

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.

And it goes on this way for seven more lugubrious paragraphs. (But I did learn about “deadnaming” here, for which I am grateful. I’m going to start working on uses for it right away. Would “former Clinton campaign strategist” qualify as “deadnaming”?)

Of course the real reason the trans-community objects to the Tuvel hypothesis is that it threatens to expose the absurdity of the view that gender is purely subjective and has no connection to biology. Now, it is possible that Prof. Tuvel is engaged in an entire career-long emulation of the Sokal Hoax (refers to a professor who wanted to see if a journal would publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.) in which case she’s doing a great service and deserves to be advanced to full tenure right away. Or she may mean it. Either way she’s done a wonderful public service.

Intersections are just a bad idea for the left. They should stick to one-way streets. Those are hard enough for them to manage. Meanwhile, pass the popcorn.

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