Guest post: Background on the schism

Originally a comment by Salalia on Leiter on Thought Crimes Watch.

It seems to me that this dispute can’t be understood without the background: Transgender issues have brought about something of a schism within academic feminism; the side that favors more extensively accommodating transgender politics within academic feminism has clearly “won” and has mostly succeeded in ostracizing and delegitimizing their (academic) opponents.

Tuvel and her critics are all on the same “side” on issues of gender (as far as I know neither side in the Hypatia dispute actually opposes transgenderism-within-feminism ideology). But her ideas (extrapolating “trans” concepts from gender to race) threatens to split the academic antiracism movement in the same way that transgender issues split feminism, except worse in that the “appropriation” narrative has much stronger resonance against transracialism than it did against transgenderism.

A civil war within the critical race theory movement over transracialism could have two outcomes, both of them extremely ugly from the perspective of Tuvel’s critics:

(a) Tuvel’s critics understand intuitively that their colleagues and students of color are disproportionately unwilling to accept transracial ideology into their movement. Allowing Tuvel’s ideas to be discussed in a non-dismissive way could get very messy, and could poison the entire field of critical race theory in the eyes of its natural constituency, students/faculty/activists of color.

(b) On the other hand, if the broader field came to accept transracialist ideas in the same way that transgender ideas won out inside academic feminism, Tuvel’s critics could find themselves ostracized from their movement in the same way that academic feminists who questioned the wholesale incorporation of transgenderism into feminism have been ostracized. For anyone working in a field where politics and ideology are absolute, the risk of that kind of ostracism is dreadful to contemplate.

By attacking Tuvel’s work so aggressively, her critics hope to stop this line of discussion early before it can cause this kind of split within the field of critical race theory. From that perspective, the more vicious and frightening and absolutist their public statements are, the better — they don’t just want to push back against Tuvel herself, they want to deter any other young faculty who might consider going in the same direction. “Nice pre-tenure record you’re building there, shame if anything happened to it.” I think we can all agree that what’s happening to Tuvel would make others shy away from publishing a similar argument.

But they can’t make that argument explicitly, so they attack Tuvel for being insufficiently supportive of transfolk, even though Tuvel in fact is supportive of transfolk. It gives them a way to suppress the dangerous ideas indirectly, while staying on the safe ground of gender ideology rather than race ideology.

That’s how it seems to me. Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher nor a critical race theorist.

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