The Personal Is The Philosophical

Lately, I’ve been mixing personal stories and experiences into my philosophical writing. That’s no accident. I finally feel, when doing this, authentic in my writing and thinking. (Instead of pretending I have thoughts, feelings and insights that come, dislocated, from nowhere.)

The personal has always been the philosophical for me. I know, I know. We shouldn’t say this in philosophy. We should be “objective,” aloof and disinterested.

That’s just not the case for me.

I’ll tell you the story of my senior thesis for my degree in philosophy. It happened one November day when I picked my daughter up from school. She was in kindergarten.

My daughter happens to be Choctaw. And, each November, in public schools, they have a tradition about learning about Native Americans, as well as Pilgrims.

I picked my daughter up from school and she told me flat out, “I don’t want to be Indian because Indians aren’t smart and never did anything good.” That’s exactly what she said. I’ll never forget.

“What,” I thought, “are they teaching my daughter about Native Americans?!”

Teachers have a certain authority to kids. You think what your teacher is telling you and insinuating is true. That’s pretty much why you are there.

But I knew otherwise. And I was pissed.

My daughter, beautiful and smart–with the sparkle in her eye–was telling me she was ashamed to be herself.

I wasn’t having it.

So I did the only thing I knew to do. This was about 2003 and I needed to complete a senior thesis. I picked an advisor, who happens to be the badass Susan Peppers-Bates, and went to town.

I emailed a fellow at another university who specialized in Native Studies, Steve Russell, and asked him for reading recommendations. He gave me a HUGE list of reading materials. I will always be so grateful to him for so, so much. I was a pretty ignorant white chick, after all, and he and I corresponded and he helped me out of the goodness of his heart.

I took that list of books and personally ordered every. single. one.

I devoured them.

Meanwhile, I told my daughter’s teacher that she was not going to participate in the Thanksgiving activities at school. I had my daughter sit out of Thanksgiving activities until she was older and they no longer did the Pilgrim and Indian thing.

I did many things related to the research for my thesis. I (we) traveled to Mississippi and re-traced the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. I got to meet Chiefs from Mississippi and Oklahoma. We went and did family-related things with my daughter’s Choctaw family. I went all out for my research.

I got an A+ for my research.

I then wrote my thesis. Maybe someday, I’ll post it online.

I argued that the United States is currently colonizing Native American Nations, that this is morally wrong, and that the solution is decolonization.

I defended my thesis, but, I admit, I broke down in tears when I was grilled by people. I felt awkward making these arguments in a western philosophy department–even though the arguments were probably good! I just didn’t fit the canon. So, after I defended my thesis, I went to the bathroom to cry.

At home, though, I was trying to learn the Choctaw language with my daughter and sing Choctaw songs. Even though she is not “full blood,” I wanted her to be proud of her entire self–including the Choctaw, especially since her kindergarten teacher had made her feel so bad about it.

So, for me, the personal has always been the philosophical. I’m just more open about it now.

Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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