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Philosophy Journal Publishes ‘Black Lives Matter’ Issue — Without Input of Black Philosophers

Editors at The Journal of Political Philosophy have apologized after dedicating more than 60 pages of its June issue to a three-author “symposium” on the Black Lives Matter movement that failed to include the voices and ideas of Black scholars.

The journal’s apology came a little too late, however.

The controversy has sparked intense backlash, shedding light on the journal’s poor record of publishing Black American scholars and scholarship on issues concerning race, Inside Higher Ed reported. The matter has since prompted two scholars of African-American studies to pen scathing letters criticizing the journal for excluding the ideas and experiences of Black people while covering a subject such as the movement for Black lives.

“The idea ‘Black lives matter’ is an ethical demand calling for an end to the erasure of Black lives and presence by systems of racist power anchored in a history of white supremacy,” wrote Christopher LeBron, assistant professor of African-American studies and philosophy at Yale University. “In our current moment, both the idea and the [BLM] movement are aligned against the notion that Black experiences are irrelevant and/or negligible for organizing our collective view of civil society.”

LeBron continued, “Try to imagine my distaste when it was brought to my attention that your journal published a philosophical symposium on ‘Black lives matter’ with not one philosopher of color represented — without one philosopher of color to convey her or his contextualized sense of a movement that is urgently and justifiably about context. It certainly can’t be said there was no one to ask.”

Taking his rebuke a step further, the Yale professor dug into the journal’s publication record and found that it had published an article on almost every subject EXCEPT the philosophy of race prior to the “Black Lives Matter” issue.

“One might (or might not) be surprised to learn that at four issues a year, making a total of nearly 20 issues (including a special issue titled “Philosophy, Politics, and Society”), the Journal of Political Philosophy has not published a single article on the philosophy of race,” LeBron wrote. “Maybe more damning, so far as I can tell, not one Black philosopher has seen her or his work appear in the pages of your respected journal, on race or any other topic.”

Melvin L. Rogers, associate professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Scott Waugh Chair in the Division of the Social Sciences also criticized the journal  for its lack of Black authors.

“My concern is especially directed at the Symposium on ‘Black Lives Matter,'” Rogers wrote. “I have now had a chance to read these essays and I am surprised and disappointed that the symposium does not include a philosopher of color working directly on themes related to this topic. I do not typically claim that persons of color have an intellectual monopoly on issues affecting their life chances, but given the meaning and purpose of the movement, it seems especially egregious that a person of color was not included.”

Rogers went on to call the matter “especially upsetting,” as there were likely a number of Black and/or nonwhite political theorists and philosophers who could’ve contributed meaningful input about the movement. He drove home his point by naming a number of qualified scholars, including Michelle Smith of Barnard College, Meena Krishnamurthy of the University of Michigan and Tommy Curry of Texas A&M, among others.

“It is profoundly troubling that a symposium named in honor of the movement effectively performs the invisibility and devaluation of Black life via the exclusion of scholars of color that the movement would otherwise challenge,” Rogers wrote. “I think the journal should quickly move to rectify the matter.”

The journal’s editors have since responded to both letters with an apology, saying they learned an “important” lesson and would do the utmost to avoid such an oversight in the future.

“We, the Editors, sincerely apologize for the oversight in not including a Black author in a Symposium explicitly entitled ‘Black Lives Matter’, editor Robert Goodin and his co-editors wrote in an open letter.

“We accept the point eloquently and forcefully made by our colleagues that this is an especially grave oversight in light of the specific focus of Black Lives Matter on the extent to which African-Americans have been erased and marginalized from public life.”

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