After APA member George Yancy was bullied and harassed for a story he wrote on white privilege for The New York Times, the association released a statement supporting all members who are subject to hateful attacks.
The American Philosophical Association recognizes opinions and philosophies vary, but the APA and its members “must support those who take intellectual, ethical, and social risks in their work, including their public presentations,” the group said in a statement [PDF] regarding bullying and harassment last week.
Release of the statement comes after APA member George Yancy received “racist vitriol and threats of violence” following the publication of his opinion piece, “Dear White America,” in The New York Times last December. Members of the association and the public had asked APA to release a statement supporting Yancy.
In crafting that statement, it became clear to APA that it “needed to stand up not only for Dr. Yancy, but for all of our members who have been subject to hateful attacks for doing their jobs,” APA Executive Director Amy Ferrer told Associations Now.
We unequivocally condemn such behavior and stand in solidarity with our members who are subjected to this deplorable and discriminatory abuse.
“Bullying and harassment that target a person’s race, gender, class, sexual orientation or other status are especially abhorrent,” said the statement, which was drafted by APA’s Committees on Public Philosophy and Status of Black Philosophers and then approved by APA’s Board of Officers. “We unequivocally condemn such behavior and stand in solidarity with our members who are subjected to this deplorable and discriminatory abuse.”
By issuing the statement, Ferrer said the APA board is asking its members to hold themselves to high standards in discussions both online and offline, whether they are philosophical or not.
“Philosophers and philosophy as a discipline value lively debate, including strong criticism of ideas and assertions,” she said. “However, when those criticisms cross the line from criticism of ideas to criticism of individuals—especially criticism of individuals based on a particular identity or status—that undermines productive debate.”
While Ferrer knows that philosophers are more than capable of healthy debate and disagreement, she hopes the statement “will communicate to those who have been and may in the future be attacked for doing their work as philosophers—particularly those who are attacked based on their identities—that their professional association supports and stands with them.”
One APA member who supports APA’s statement is Yancy himself. The Emory University professor told Inside Higher Ed “that “APA wisely took this as an important opportunity to speak out against what was/is clearly unacceptable violent and racist discourse and to show support for members who engage in various forms of public philosophy, especially forms that challenge crucial issues of our contemporary moment.”
While APA received an overwhelming amount of positive comments, there are some who are concerned the statement has negative implications for free speech. “The statement fully respects those fundamental freedoms,” Ferrer said in response. “But freedom of speech does not extend to hate speech or threats of violence, to which some of our members—such as George Yancy—have recently been subjected in response to public essays on controversial topics.”
Even though Yancy believes it’s unlikely the statement will end online bullying or racist vitriol, he says APA’s decision to release one is important. “It is the principle of the statement, the ethics of the statement, the solidarity of the statement that counts,” he said. “There is so much more work that needs to be done as the APA rethinks its identity, but it is on the right track and I am thankful for that.”