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Journal Apologizes for Article Likening Transracialism to Being Transgender

Updated (5/1/2017, 5:41 p.m.) with online reaction to Ms. Tuvel’s response to the journal’s apology.

The feminist philosophy journal Hypatia has apologized for publishing an article comparing transracialism with being transgender.

In a post on the journal’s Facebook page on Monday, “a majority of the Hypatia’s Board of Associated Editors” signed a lengthy and “profound apology” in which they said that “clearly, the article should not have been published.”

The article, ”In Defense of Transracialism,” by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College, drew a significant backlash following its publication, in late March. The article discusses public perceptions of racial and gender transitions by comparing the former NAACP chapter head Rachel Dolezal’s desire to be seen as black with the celebrity Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition from male to female.

Since a backlash erupted on social media, more than 400 academics have signed an open letter to the editor of Hypatia calling for the article to be retracted. “Our concerns reach beyond mere scholarly disagreement; we can only conclude that there has been a failure in the review process, and one that painfully reflects a lack of engagement beyond white and cisgender privilege,” the letter says.

The journal’s Facebook apology responded to those concerns by saying that it would be looking closely at its editorial processes to make sure they are more inclusive of transfeminists and feminists of color, whom the journal said had been particularly harmed by the article. The journal also apologized for its initial response to the backlash, saying that an earlier Facebook post had “also caused harm, primarily by characterizing the outrage that met the article’s publication as mere ‘dialogue’ that the article was ‘sparking.’ We want to state clearly that we regret that the post was made.”

Ms. Tuvel, the article’s author, wrote in a statement to The Chronicle (quoted in full on the the Daily Nous) that she welcomed the opportunity to respond to the controversy that her article had caused. She said that she had written the article “from a place of support for those with non-normative identities, and frustration about the ways individuals who inhabit them are so often excoriated, body-shamed, and silenced.”

Ms. Tuvel added that she had received hate mail and had been strongly urged to retract the article. She also said that a few people had expressed support — talking about “bullying culture, call-out culture, virtue-signaling, a mob mentality, and academic freedom.”

“So little of what has been said, however, is based upon people actually reading what I wrote,” she continued. “There are theoretical and philosophical questions that I raise that merit our reflection. Not doing so can only reinforce gender and racial essentialism.”

She added: “Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they ‘dignify’ the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.”

After that post was published, several academics took issue online with Ms. Tuvel’s response to the journal’s apology. Here’s an example:

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