The Oakland Post

Philosopher explains how to combat oppression of identities

Rachel Basela, Contributor

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From a picturesque village on the outskirts of Gloucestershire, Great Britain to a kingdom in the heart of Asante, Ghana, Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up under the parental guidance of renowned scholars, politicians and authors, and this upbringing formulated what some may consider a rather complex identity.

Appiah, a New York Times columnist, and a professor of philosophy and law at New York University, visited Oakland University on Thursday, March 28 to speak to students, faculty and alumni of the philosophy department about his new book “The Lies That Bind” during the Richard J. Burke Lecture Series.

This has marked the 14th year of these lectures that were founded in 2005 by the late Richard Burke. As the first faculty member hired by the university in 1957, Burke was a professor of philosophy and is remembered as contributing to the “moral conscience of the university” in his obituary.

Paul Graves, a fellow philosophy professor at OU and close friend of Burke, described this contribution by stating: “There was nothing here when he started. [He] put together curricula, decided on policies.”

Graves detailed the life of Burke as being unique in the way he was an unconventional professor and always tried to cater to every student’s needs.

However, Burke’s benefaction to OU didn’t end where it started. Even after his passing, his legacy continued to educate students and faculty of the philosophy department through his lecture series. On Thursday, Burke’s name lived on through the words of Appiah in the presentation of the stories and considerations he shared.

In his most recent publication, Appiah examines the intersection between social conflicts and personal identity.

“I have lived in two places, in two races,” Appiah said.

Being a gay man and having come from dissimilar nationalities, he began to examine why identity is such an important topic in the modern world. With this thought in mind, Appiah spoke to Oakland in the hopes of enlightening the crowd with some insight on why we find identity to be vital to our personalities.

Appiah discussed how homophobia, and racism especially, has recently increased in America, and he talks about how students might be able to combat this discrimination.

“The central trick is not to allow other people to make you think badly of yourself,” Appiah said. “You can deal with people who disrespect you if you respect yourself. So, I think spending time and developing relationships that allow you to build your own self-respect is key to surviving. The reality, which is that there is still lots of homophobia and racism in this country, the real damage now comes from undermining people’s self-respect. Both as an ally and as a person subjected to discriminatory oppression, the thing to focus on is not allowing that to hit you, and for allies to treat you respectfully. If you see racist or homophobic acts, speak out. Say ‘That’s wrong. This is a community.’”

While Appiah spoke on issues and key points of creed, country, color, class and culture during his lecture, the main point he left for Oakland to ponder was how to be secure in your own identity, and how to be an ally to people whose identities are systematically torn down.

He left the audience with a quote he displayed on the screen.

“I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me,” wrote Terence, a Roman playwright, in the play “The Self-Tormentor.”

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Philosopher explains how to combat oppression of identities