How we talk about passing

Daniel Silvermint’s “On How We Talk About Passing” won the 2015 second place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “Silvermint’s piece, occasioned by last summer’s Rachel Dolezal incident, avoids the thorny issue of why, exactly, self-identification might be taken to be authoritative in the case of gender though not race, and asks us instead to hesitate and reconsider what we are doing when we rush to police the trespass of socially constructed categories that are tracked by highly unreliable markers. There is a valuable discussion here of the varieties of passing, though I found myself unsure as to whether to accept Silvermint’s suggestion that we apply the concept even to cases where there is neither misidentification nor intent. Can, for example, a white cisgender man, who, through privilege has had the luxury of never giving these matters a moment’s thought, really be said to be ‘passing’ as white and male? Silvermint comments that ‘a trans woman that passes isn’t a man pretending to be a woman – she is a woman’. I agree wholeheartedly with the main point there, but I’d be inclined to add that her being a woman means that she isn’t simply passing as a woman either. (Whether a trans person might be said to—or want to?—pass as cisgender is another matter.)”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.


Whom does philosophy speak for?

In “Whom Does Philosophy Speak For,” Seyla Benhabib and George Yancy consider that sometimes philosophy speaks for and about everyone and yet at other times seems not to. Unfortunately, “a dynamic of freedom for some and domination for others is present in much of Western philosophy.” This has a significant bearing on our understanding of democracy. Benhabib says, “Western philosophy, as distinguished from myth, literature, drama and many other forms of human expression, speaks in the name of the universal. Philosophy emerges when Socrates and Plato show how we have to free ourselves from the ‘idols of the city,’ and when the pre-Socratics ask about what constitutes matter and the universe, rejecting the answers provided by the Greek polytheistic myths.” And yet she also agrees when Yancy points out “that within the Western philosophical tradition, the mind, coded as white and male, is privileged over the body, coded as female or a signification of blackness, creating a false, disembodied practice.”