Invisible Minorities – A Start To A Series

There’s a certain pressure to being the first post on a blog such as this one, so here’s hoping I do it justice. While mulling over the variety of topics I could write on I was initially overwhelmed – how could I choose one group over another? I mention this because decisions sometimes come across as betraying subconscious priorities. For example, while I fully believe that disability deserves just as much attention as gender, if I choose to write on one before the other some readers may think I care more about the one. That’s a lot of pressure to choose ‘correctly’.

My decision was made for me through several recent events in my life. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I will describe the most recent as it directly pertains to this week’s topic. I was discussing minorities and philosophy with a few strangers, and things were going swell – until I was questioned about why I care so much, or why I choose to focus my personal research on minority experience. Things went well until I was questioned why I feel the need to speak for minorities. I was taken aback and didn’t immediately know how to respond. Full disclosure: I am not visibly a minority. But I am still a minority.

The conversation ended and I was complimented for being a model ally – never to understand the discrimination faced by any minority group, but who nevertheless uses their voice to help amplify others. This caught me in a liminal space: I’m stuck between being a minority and ‘not’ being a minority.

We need to re-examine how we define “minority”.

White, straight, cisgender, ablebodied, etc. men compose the majority of professionals working with philosophy in the Western world. And while some, including many in my life, would argue that’s just coincidental and that the profession is based solely on merit, we need to recognise that this just isn’t true. Those who are interested in practicing philosophy are frequently scared away as they simply can’t see themselves in the role because they’ve never encountered a role model who shares their minority characteristics. This is most obvious with the more visible minorities; less obvious is how this affects invisible minorities. How can a non-neurotypical student see themselves in a professorial role if there isn’t already some representation? What about a queer individual, how can they see themself working in philosophy if queer academics are always relegated out of the field or into an obscure niche?

There are a few problems in this lack of representation, two that I’ll name here are: (1) we can’t expect or require invisible minorities to disclose their status, and (2) the profession, and society in general, is not receptive to such admissions even if the minority individual were to disclose their status.

But, if individuals aren’t required to address their minority status, how can we consider their experiences to be comparable to visible minorities? In short, we can’t. There are fundamental differences between the experiences of all minority groups, so we’re not looking for comparison. A white-passing young professor may find it advantageous to remain silent while battling for tenure in a new department, and given the current make-up of professional philosophy who could blame them? Unfortunately, this passing leads to issues of representation which feed the cycle invisible minorities get trapped in.

If after this short post you’re left with more questions than answers then I was successful. I want this introduction to act as a primer to start my series on invisible minorities.

If you want to see more on this topic, tune back in on Thursdays – I’ll be continuing this series all September. Next week I plan on discussing the concepts of “passing” and “blending in” – abilities that invisible minorities have the so-called luxury of doing.

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Should you want to continue reading on this week’s topic, I’ve listed below a couple articles of interest. Alternatively, feel free to contact me for discussion: jwadden@ryerson.ca.

(1) In the closet: invisible diversity – Reema Patel
https://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2011/apr/14/in-the-closet-invisible-diversity

(2) An Invisible Minority – Scottie Thomaston
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scottie-thomaston/an-invisible-minority_b_1146199.html

(3) Deconstructing the Model Minority Myth and How It Contributes to the Invisible Minority Reality in Higher Education Research – Samuel D. Museus and Peter Kiang https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter_Kiang/publication/229797804_Deconstructing_the_model_minority_myth_and_how_it_contributes_to_the_invisible_minority_reality_in_higher_education_research/links/0deec51e1c1ad6de92000000.pdf

(4) My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse – Ellen Samuels
http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/36712397/Samuels__GLQ_2003.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1472758173&Signature=b2hMiaFdNDfItnfdixP5D3LElYE%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DMy_Body_My_Closet_Invisible_Disability_a.pdf