IS SELF-IDENTIFICATION CRITERIAL OR MERELY EVIDENTIAL?

Here’s what I trust will be an instructive analogy. There are very few knock-down arguments in philosophy, but Plato’s Euthyphro is one of them. Does God make something good by approving of it, asks Socrates, or does He approve of it because it’s good? Clearly not the former, since if good just means that of which God approves, then God’s approving of the good amounts to the tautology of God approving of that which God approves. So what’s good must be ontologically prior to God approving it. Now here’s the analog:

Back in the days of affirmative action, a.k.a. quota hiring, I couldn’t have got away with calling myself a black disabled woman. But under the EDI programs currently being adopted pretty much right across the academic landscape, each of us wants to claim we have privileged access to our own identities, and so we can’t very well deny that privileged access to anyone else. So if I were applying for a job today, and I’m shortlisted and invited to campus for the interview, I can’t be found out because there’s no fact-of-the-matter to be found out. What it is to be black just is to so self-identify. Likewise with gender. Likewise with disability. And this, if left unrepaired, leaves any such preferential hiring initiative dead in the water.

Even worse, however, is the only viable alternative, namely race and/or gender and/or disability classification boards, which is how it was done in Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. You say you’re black, but you look pretty white to us. You say you’re trans, but we hear no swish in your speech. You say you’re disabled, but you seem to be walking just fine.

So the question remains unanswered. Is self-identification criterial or merely evidentiary? And what counts as evidence that you’re misreporting what you are? Or worse yet, that you are yourself mistaken about what you are?

I’ve taken to signing my intra-departmental missives as Pauline. I do so so that should we ever get a hire we can claim that three of the seven of us are already women, two of whom are already lesbian.



Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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4 replies

  1. Applications for those Canadian university Research Chairs in science and engineering that are restricted to Indigenous candidates must be accompanied by a letter from a First Nation attesting that the applicant is in their eyes really “one of us”. So no shaggy-dog stories about always having felt an intense kinship with Native ways of knowing or family legends of there being an Indigenous half-cousin in the picture, etc. etc.

    What The System has done is out-sourced the Race Classification Board to the First Nations, at least for appointments restricted to their members.

    Disability should be easy. Just tick the box and stare them down if they seem about to press you for details. As Pauline you can be a lesbian transgender woman, thus ticking three boxes. Race is trickier. That Dolezal woman pulled it off. The NAACP was furious but as Rebecca Tuvel explained, her detractors never really refuted her claim. They just ganged up on her. I can’t wait till reparations are paid. I’ll be right in there with both elbows.

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    • Leslie’s right that the indigeneity issue has been resolved, albeit via question-begging on what counts as a First Nation, via what’s sometimes called a Valuation Day. That is, you’re a member just in case you were so designated by the government on a certain day. But that leaves everything else – race, disability, gender, and so on – left in the conundrum I’ve outlined. Speaking of Tuvel, I was on a panel with her once, and Leslie’s right. Her detractors never directly addressed took her argument.

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  2. If I self-identify as black in a job interview and the interviewer says I am lying because I am actually white can I succeed in a claim of discrimination on the basis of colour because my self- identification was denied?

    Is self-identification determinative for some characteristics but not others? If so, how are the selections made as to which characteristics are determinative and which are not?

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