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Thinking Problems

I do hold out hope, therefore, that we can forego our routine efforts to prove ourselves worthy of this profession, and seek instead for ways in which we can make the profession of philosophy worthy of us.

—Linda Martín Alcoff, “Why I Do Philosophy”

It’s all I have to bring today— This, and my heart beside— This, and my heart, and all the fields— And all the meadows wide— Be sure you count—should I forget Some one the sum could tell— This, and my heart, and all the Bees Which in the Clover dwell.

—Emily Dickinson, “It’s all I have to bring today”

I will begin my remarks by examining what it means to be a woman of color doing interdisciplinary research in philosophy. In addition, I will address Dr. Charles Mills’s statements regarding an epistemological field that encourages and sustains epistemologies of ignorance at the expense [End Page 189] of intellectual honesty and conceptual rigor.1 I will then make some open-ended comments and ask some open-ended questions. I hope that these comments and questions will be useful for generating discussion.

Bringing feminist, postcolonial, critical race, and queer theory into dialogue with philosophy is a difficult task. This difficulty emerges not simply because such bridge-building work between diverse conceptual systems is necessarily innovative rather than derivative of disciplinary and/or figure-based traditions and methodologies. As Charles Mills notes, the challenge involved in productively interrelating feminist, postcolonial, critical race, and queer theory is already immense because each of these bodies of theory is internally complicated and comprises fractious elements and predispositions. The challenge is compounded, though, by the fact that such work must be conducted from within a discipline that is “historically indifferent at best and outright hostile at worst” to non-Eurocentric conceptual and historical frameworks. Dr. Mills continues: “Because of the comparatively greater presence of (white) women in philosophy, feminism is the one that has made the greatest progress towards philosophical respectability, with numerous monographs, anthologies, book series, revisionist and recuperative historiographies, and (a crucial sign of acceptance) encyclopedias and guidebooks having been published in the area. But because of the unbalanced demography of the profession—98 percent white—this has largely been a white feminist philosophy, with the distinctive experience of women of color generally being marginalized or completely ignored.”2

Postcolonial theory has been successful in the radical academy since its putative beginning thirty-four years ago with the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978). Yet, as Mills notes, the credibility and legitimacy it has earned have been almost exclusively outside of philosophy in fields such as literary theory, cultural studies, ethnic studies, English, anthropology, and so on. Colonialism and neocolonialism being “(literally) world-shaping,” the ramifications of this history for the creation of modern polities with differential degrees of power and privilege are self-evident. Yet, remarkably, this reality has not been considered “an appropriate subject for philosophical investigation, even in political philosophy. (See, for an especially good, in the sense of bad, example, the work of John Rawls and his disciples).”3

As I have said elsewhere, Eurocentrism has led to the paucity of critical race analyses in postcolonial frameworks, especially because white and [End Page 190] South Asian scholars disproportionately represent postcolonial studies in the U.S. academy.4 Such neglect of critical race analysis as it intersects with postcolonialism is remarkable, Mills emphasizes, given the fact that most practitioners of postcolonial studies would concur that modern systems of colonialism brought “race into existence as a social reality in the first place.”5 As a result, despite their seemingly self-evident conceptual continuities, there is a tremendous dearth of collaborative, bridge-building dialogue between postcolonial and critical race theory. One would think that the complementary and mutually enhancing nature of these fields would be obvious. Instead, as Mills states, “postcolonial theorists marginalize race and tend to focus on the overseas European empires, not seeing the United States as itself a colonial power of an intra-continental (and, to a certain extent, extra-continental) kind; critical race theorists centralize race but focus almost exclusively on the United States rather than...