Black and Academic
Keisha Ray is an Assistant Professor in the department of philosophy at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. I hold a Ph.D. in Philosophy with a specialty in Bioethics from the University of Utah. My research mostly involves the ethics of biomedical enhancement and the social causes of racial disparities in health. I also teach undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy. I always knew that I wanted to be a professor but it was not until attending Baylor University as an undergraduate that I knew I wanted to be a philosophy professor. I was drawn to philosophy because there is no topic in the world that is off limits to philosophers. I always wanted a career that allowed for and encouraged my desire for freedom of thought. Philosophy gives me that freedom to think about, research, analyze, and write about my interests, with little restraint.
Although philosophy has changed my life for the better, the profession of philosophy has a lot of work to do to be more welcoming to people of color, specifically women of color. The climate in professional philosophy often discourages women of color from pursuing philosophy. For example, many times the fields of study within philosophy that are frequently populated with the few women philosophers of color there are, such as critical race theory, queer studies, or feminist theory are often deemed “not real philosophy.” The idea that some topics are not welcomed in the field of philosophy then becomes another way of saying that certain types of people are not welcomed in philosophy.
Philosophy, as a profession also has some work to do to encourage and support undergraduates of color who do choose to pursue a graduate education in philosophy as well as graduate students of color who choose to pursue a career as a professional philosopher. Although as both an undergraduate and a graduate student I encountered many faculty members who were not supportive, there were a few great faculty members who helped me navigate the profession. Not to discredit their much appreciated help, but they were not in a position to help me navigate the roadblocks and special circumstances I would encounter as a black woman attempting to become a professional philosopher and be a part of a world that seemed to actively try to keep me out.
Despite the roadblocks, to accomplish my goal I ultimately had to give myself and my career some self-care. Then, and now I rely on my family, friends, and colleagues, as sources of inspiration. I make my mental health and physical health a priority. I practice the art of saying “no” to requests, professional and personal, that overwhelm me. And I frequently remind myself to stay true to my philosophical interests and be the kind of philosopher and mentor that I needed as a philosophy student of color. This is the best recommendation that I can give to any woman of color who also wants to be a professional philosopher. Let your mind wander, research what interests you, find colleagues that respect your work, give back to the next generation, and be kind to yourself.