More Readers Weigh In on Hypatia Debate

To the Editor:

I loved Ms. Nora Berenstain’s mangling of the English language (“…egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence”) in her supposed refutation of the arguments she apparently disliked in “In Defense of Transracialism,” an article by Rebecca Tuvel in Hypatia (“A Journal Article Provoked a Schism in Philosophy. Now the Rifts Are Deepening,The Chronicle, May 6). However, I am not exactly clear on how a mere journal article commits “discursive transmisogynistic violence,” but then maybe the phrase comes from an as-yet unknown dialect? I always thought violence came from feminist-bashing males (usually referred with the initials MCP), but instead of singing “sticks and stones may break … etc., this critic says that names do hurt, even in a reasoned context. Indeed, “violence” in an (apparently) analytic argument aimed at more-or-less feminist-agreeable people is no doubt another turn of the identity-based screw (so to speak).

Well, moving on, I am sure that “egregious levels of liberal white ignorance” probably does not refer to anything good, but then Bill Buckley said all that a long time ago. It could be a problem as well for “egregious levels” of conservative Black, or Yellow, or Red ignorance as well, but since Ms. Berenstain didn’t mention those other identities, she may not think that such could happen to those folks either? However, I just do not yet know — since the phrase “liberal white ignorance” seems to get sung a lot in such academic melodies.

Hence the problems of publishing cultural ideas based only or primarily on identity. One can never be attitudinally pure enough for some, but too pure for others. Trying to figure out who’s being egregious today because of who was committing “discursive trans-whatever violence” yesterday is just too exhausting for this MCP. So I’ll just wait for the next round of refutations, counter-refutations, and contra-counter refutations before I look up more on “discursive transmisogynistic” anything, violent or gentle. Sooner or later, someone is bound to clear up such coterie language and thinking — maybe in the next issue of Hypatia?

John V. Knapp
Editor, Style
Northern Illinois U.
DeKalb, Ill.

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To the Editor:

I am writing to express my concern about one of the passages in your article. Specifically, I am concerned about the discussion of Ms. Botts’s alleged “refutation” of Ms. Tuvel’s paper. The authors of the article summarize Ms. Botts’s point as follows: “Ms. Botts argued, contra Ms. Tuvel, that race is a function of ancestry, while gender is not …. Ms. Tuvel’s fundamental misunderstanding of that point, alongside several other baseline conventions in philosophy of race, raise a question, Ms. Botts said: How was the article able to make it through peer review?”

If this is an accurate representation of Ms. Botts’s critique, then Ms. Botts is being exceedingly uncharitable. Ms. Tuvel devotes a considerable portion of her paper to discussion of the ostensible conceptual link between one’s race and one’s ancestry. The word “ancestry” shows up in the paper no fewer than 21 times. The suggestion that Ms. Tuvel has “fundamental[ly] misunder[stood]” this point strikes me as disingenuous.

Overall, I think that Ms. Tuvel wrote an excellent paper, and I was disappointed to see it misrepresented in this way.

Molly Gardner
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio

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To the Editor:

Your article omitted a crucial detail when describing the events of the Hypatia controversy. The Chronicle piece mentioned that “Hundreds of scholars signed their names to an open letter calling on the journal to retract the article,” and provided a hyperlink to the letter, hosted at Google Docs. The Chronicle article was published on May 6, but apparently on May 3 the list of signatories of the “open letter” was removed from the host website. As things stand now, the letter is anything but open. So long as the list of signatories of the letter remains secret and publicly unavailable, the letter cannot be characterized as “open.” There is a place in civic discourse for anonymous speech, and even for anonymous attack speech, but such speech should not be allowed to label itself the opposite of what it actually is.

Ilya Kapovich
Professor of Mathematics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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