Saturday, 2 May 2015

why is my curriculum so male... and so white?

Philosophy has always been my favourite subject at school because the things we talk about in it are so interesting and relevant.

Philosophy is supposed to answer mankind's greatest questions, but I have only ever learnt a white man's answer to them.

My learning is filtered through the white male's privileged perspective. Of the 6 years I have been learning philosophy, I have never learnt about a female philosopher, let alone a philosopher of colour. Which is weird considering that the whole philosophy department at my school are women, but not surprising. My teachers, I guess, are simply teaching what the exam board gives them. Historically, philosophy has always been very white and very patriarchal and my curriculum is simply a reflection of that systematic racism and sexism. 

One of my philosophy teachers sent me this article from the Guardian about women in academia and how universities and institutions can be more inclusive within Philosophy. Dr Meena Dhanda's quote "The thorn of racism is so deep in the flesh of philosophy that it is no longer visible from the surface" was what made me start to think about how some of my favourite subjects are sadly so biased.

I knew that sexism and racism was ingrained into our education but it took philosophy for me to see it with my own eyes and to realise that it isn't just philosophy, it is academia as a whole. 

Recently, I went to a talk on feminism in art history and the speaker was pointing out how art has typically been ruled by artists like Da Vinci, Monet, Matisse.... and how the "the greats of art (history)" is synonymous with (white) men. The speaker then spoke highly about Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party", an iconic white feminist art piece that is supposed to commemorate important women from history (shown below). There are 39 place settings yet there is only 1 woman of colour featured...

When I went to the V&A, I took a picture of this piece of art:

It was a print created by an anonymous protest group called PESTS in 1980s New York. PESTS highlighted the issues that artists of color faced in the art world and 30 years later, not much has changed. POC artists esp WOC artists are significantly unrepresented in mainstream art galleries. The idea of tokenism as shown in the print is also relevant for Judy Chicago's piece "When you've seen one artist of color but think you've seen ten." However, I think that slowly artists of colour are redefining that narrative and an article posted two days ago on Dazed & Confused is proof of this.

My friend, a history and politics student, was just saying the other day how her history curriculum has always been so Eurocentric and when they do rarely learn about non-European countries, the narrative is always defined by colonialism and imperialism. 

I am ready, we are all ready, to champion female/BAME/POC philosophers, writers, artists and to celebrate more diverse perspectives and hear nuanced narratives. I'll leave you with this short film from UCLU, called "Why is my curriculum white?"

Let me know what you think in the comments!

instagram: @zszophia

UPDATE: Whilst researching Chinese inventions for my art project, I found out that a philosopher I have studied Leibnitz (who created Principle of Sufficient Reasoning) based some of his work + was inspired by Chinese thought on bureaucracy... I mean, hello?? Let's learn about the original Chinese buraucratic systems of government that so many Western thinkers admired (like Voltaire) instead of only learning about China on the basis of Western imperialism and war :(

2nd update: read this article on why we don't study African philosophy + what to do abt it even tho its written by a white woman- 


  1. this is fucking incredible and I agree with every single word

  2. Sophia I absolutely resonate with this post. And I feel like this is the first step the education system needs to ammend. Like I find it really irrelevant to be reading/studying works written by white men who most likely didn't care the least about POC or women. It's like can I have a more well rounded education than this please? Oh also this reminded me I'm apart of this really great group of people working on a social justice magazine for millenials and change called Spark, and WE WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO WRITE A PIECE ON THIS. It's especially great because the theme of our first issue is about education and we have a lot of great ideas flowing rn. If you're the least bit interested, please grace us with your presecense and email the cheesy mag email lol and hit us up!! Because we're low on staff but so far reading posts like this are like boosts!! and it'd be so awesome to have you!! yay!!

    casey :-)

  3. Omg, yes, yes, yes. Academia is only academia once it's been validated by white males. This makes me think about how, even when I'm studying Art History in Africa, and particularly South Africa (my home), it's marked by white, male artists who made the "native" and "primitive" cool, or white women who had to fight to highlight the "other", while really, really great work by Black artists, specifically Black women artists is often looked at very condescendingly as "township" art or an attempt at fixing the locals. You'd think that tokenism would apply far less in a country made up of something like 80% people of colour but alas.

    This was really well written btw.

  4. also i think i owe you a zine??

  5. this is so interesting :) i study philosophy and ethics and i'm also a history student too and everyone i am studying i white. the only time any POC are mentioned, is when they're talking about how mussolini introduced race laws against jews. it's unacceptable tbh and i really appreciate you writing this post!