Invisible Minorities – Self-Identification

Yikes, I take one accidental hiatus and suddenly I’m posting on a bi-weekly basis. Anyway, this week’s topic is self-identity, which is an especially nuanced one for invisible minorities as we, by virtue of the category, don’t necessarily show our status. Self-identity of minorities is important for two reasons: (1) when an individual represses an element of themself, they necessarily lose knowledge/opportunity/ability, and (2) positive self-identity is connected to self-affirmation, both in the individual as well as in others who can use the individual as a positive role model. Unfortunately, the repression in the former is much easier to accept rather than reject, and this leads to significant lost knowledge in the social sphere.

Self-identity runs into a similar problem to the one I identified in my first post: namely, that we can’t expect or obligate individuals to disclose their status in a society that is hostile to those who deviate from an ‘accepted norm’. This means we run into another problem: how do our actions differ from the normative ‘ought’ of self-identification? Depending on the ethical tradition, we’re going to see several different answers to this problem. If our ethics dictates we seek to maximize the good in the world that may mean the dissonance in our self-identification is unethical. However, if our utilitarianism is more hedonistic then we may be doing the more ethical thing by hiding our identity (especially if it prevents others from self-identifying and thus being subjected to the pains of oppression). A deontic ethics that values duties and rules would prioritise the disclosure of our status as a duty towards other invisible minorities, whereas a virtue ethical approach may dictate either a continued hiding or a disclosure depending on what is judged to be more in line with moral character given the available context.

All of this to say: there is no clear correct, more ethical approach to what invisible minorities ought to do regarding their self-identification.

But if we have no clear directive, this may only exacerbate the debates invisible minorities find themselves caught in. If a queer student decides to move out of philosophy because they can’t see any role models in the discipline, this is obviously a disadvantage to our collective pursuit of knowledge – we are necessarily losing the key insights only this marginalised voice could provide. But if encouraging this student involves outing a faculty member who may now be at risk of epistemic injustice or harm within their department, can we really fault the professor for remaining quiet?

I’m going to leave this week’s discussion short in order to let questions percolate. Next week (I promise!) I will be discussing other-ascribed identity: those identifiers which other individuals assign to invisible minorities as a function of how well they ‘pass’. This week I have no further readings section – I unfortunately was unable to set aside time to do a literature search. If you’d like to further discuss anything, or suggest an article that I can update this post with, I can always be reached at jwadden@ryerson.ca.