What does winning the Horban Award this year mean to you?
It's a huge honor. I actually met Peter Horban for coffee last year. I didn't personally know any philosophers who shared my Christian worldview who worked in a secular academic institution, so I emailed him asking to meet. As per his reputation as a deeply involved and generous teacher, he was happy to give me his time.
Why did you take the course for which the paper was written? Where/how does it fit in with your degree plans?
I took PHIL 203 as a lower level prerequisite for a Philosophy Major and because I heard good things about Dr. Jennifer Wang's teaching. As a philosopher, I was eager to dive into ethics at a higher level. When I saw that the "Metaphysics of Race" as a subtopic on the syllabus, I was genuinely surprised. It broadened my appreciation for the intersections between metaphysics and social philosophy and gave me the chance to write this fun paper!
Can you explain where your paper fits in with everyday life?
Why can’t Rachel Dolezal transition races? is the complex question which sparked my paper.
When considering the values of individual autonomy over identity and respecting marginalized groups, a tension arises between them with regards to her case. I set out to demonstrate why people like Dolezal identifying with a racial group that they do not belong to, particularly given the white-black racial dynamics at play, is inconsistent with the anti-racist goals of a social constructivist metaphysics of race as laid out by Charles Mills in his classic book Blackness Visible.
While I limit my commentary to Dolezal’s inconsistency with this metaphysical account, the implications of my paper apply to how any worldview which purports to be antiracist ought to respond to any similar case of alleged racial transition. This paper will hopefully challenge ruggedly individualistic accounts of identity, especially as it relates to social identity. Despite Dolezal’s sincerely held beliefs, the consequences of her social identification do not solely result in benefits to her, but also accrue harms to people who should not have their identity annexed by her.
What inspired the title of your paper?
I like pop culture reference titles because it’s a fun writing challenge; this one definitely had layers. Michael Jackson was surrounded by controversy [note paywall: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2016/02/02/to-understand-michael-jackson-and-his-skin-you-have-to-go-beyond-race/ ] about the color of his skin. I felt that parodying the lyric of Jackson’s hit song about racial harmony, “Black or White” would be a fun, pithy way to introduce themes of racial controversy and identity
Any other thoughts?
Having also taken Metaphysics and Ancient Chinese Ethics (PHIL 322) with Dr. Wang, my philosophy education is made better by having a professor of color. She is a quality professor, independent of race, but that doesn’t mean that being a professor of color is irrelevant.
Maybe it’s common for professors to include “race” as a subtopic in an introductory metaphysics class, though I highly doubt that.
Maybe if a white professor put this subtopic on the syllabus, I would have felt comfortable to write this same paper. It really depends, but I, like many people of color, often make decisions to not wade into controversial points on race if I’m faced with a white authority figure on whom I want to make a good impression.
I wonder how many fun, challenging and insightful papers about race have not been written by thinkers of color because the subtopic was left unexplored by professors who underrate its importance... or because the student didn’t want to gamble on offending their white professor… I wonder how much better off we all would be if these papers had been written.
Ensuring diversity in hiring isn’t just a woke talking point; it leads to more writing worth thinking about, and even giving awards to.