In this interview, Anita Allen, Vice Provost for Faculty, Chair of the Provost’s Arts Advisory Council, and Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, talks about growing up in Fort Benning, the Vietnam war, Christianity, Sinatra, being protected from harsh truths, the Cuban Missile Crisis, unique challenges being a first-generation college student, New College, working with Bryan Norton and Brian Loar, exploring Europe, ballet, University of Michigan, inappropriate advances, Richard Brandt, Carnegie-Mellon, being told she was an affirmative action hire, the philosophy smoker, learning to teach, being admitted to Harvard Law, being a TA for Dworkin, Nozick, Sandel and Bok, turning down marriage proposals left and right, creating a field (the philosophy of privacy), struggling with medical issues, working for a law firm, advice to young scholars, her philosophical weaknesses, Sarah Silverman, Kevin Hart, and Steve Martin, election night 2008 versus election night 2016, what she would do if she were queen of the world, and black walnut ice cream...
So, what was your hometown like?
I don’t really have a hometown. My father was a career soldier and we lived in a number of places, mostly military bases in the United States, including Fort Worden, Washington and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I attended seven different schools. I lived at Fort Benning, Georgia for number of years. Maybe that’s my hometown. It’s where my parents are buried. I have affection for the place.
Can you describe Fort Benning a bit?
Located outside the sleepy town of Columbus, Georgia, Fort Benning was known as the "Home of the Infantry". It was a center for Airborne Training and an Officers Candidate Training School was housed there. We lived in several different houses on the base over the years, including one located on Dixie Road, just across from a firing range and just behind the main NCO Club. Fort Benning was a good base on which to live if you had to live on a military base during the Vietnam War and during the last gasps of Jim Crow laws, as I did. The base was safe and culturally diverse, with its own K-8 schools, library, movie theatres, swimming pools, bowling alley and a large Post Exchange and Commissary.
What were your parents like?
My parents were from Atlanta. Both social and outgoing, they had a strong relationship, which began when they were about fifteen years old. My mother gave birth to her first child when she was sixteen, then had five more. I was the second child. Neither of my parents finished high school as kids, but they eventually got their GEDs and a taste of community college. They were proud of the fact that their children all became self-supporting professionals.
Mama (we called her) was a full-time homemaker who served as head of household when the military required Daddy (we called him) to go abroad. She was very smart and attentive to rules and protocol. We were raised strictly and protectively. She excelled at cooking, sewing and hair-dressing. Sadly, she died of lung cancer at only 60.
Daddy entered the army as a teenager. His duties took him to Asia and Europe, and all over the United States. His first big job was in Korea in the early 1950s as part of “Operation Kapers.” This was a troupe of singers, musicians and comedians (he was all three). He served in Vietnam. He was part of a finance unit for an infantry division, I believe. He was a recruiter in the Midwest for a time, which required us to live at the Indiana Ammunition Plant. When he retired he worked for Beneficial making loans and collecting debts. He didn't travel much after military retirement; he felt he had seen the world. Daddy passed away unexpectedly at about age 72, following minor surgery.
My mother was a Baptist and my father was a Methodist. I regularly attended Protestant Christian Sunday School in multicultural, interdenominational military churches. I was religious as a child. I memorized chunks of the Bible. I believed in God. I wanted to be like Jesus. (“You must be perfect, even as your Lord in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48) Reading theology and philosophy as a teenager, and thinking hard about the literal plausibility of core Christian teachings changed me. I am still a cultural Christian. I celebrate Christmas and Easter, and am a member of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian church.
So you don’t believe in god?
I definitely believe in the majesty of existence and in a paramount mandate to be and do good. My most spiritual moments are the times I spend alone out of doors, close to nature in my garden. I serve on the boards of nonprofits aimed at improving minds, bodies and promoting civil rights and liberties. I could probably squeak through the doors of heaven.
As a little kid, what did you do for fun?
As a little kid I played with my siblings, neighborhood kids and my mother. I enjoyed competitive board games, dolls, skating, biking, badminton, bowling, jumping rope, and jacks. I liked to sing in choirs. My family played a lot of cards, mostly gin rummy, bid whist, and canasta. In the area of solo fun, I liked to read and hang out in libraries. I enjoyed memorizing things—Bible verses, the periodic table, the bones of the body. I liked to run, jump, dance and tumble. I excelled in track and field in middle school—too bad Title IX wasn’t around yet to create more opportunities. I was a pom-pom girl in a marching band in high school.
Sounds fun. What do your siblings do?
One is a lawyer, another an engineer, a third made a career of the Air Force, retiring as a paralegal with the Pentagon. A fourth works at the Centers for Disease Control, and the fifth was a civil servant with the Department of the Army before her retirement. Three of my siblings have children, two have grandchildren.
What music did you listen to?
Growing up, I listened to soul, gospel, pop, jazz, blues, country, folk and Broadway musicals. The first record I purchased with my own money was Frank Sinatra singing "Something Stupid." As a teenager I listened mostly to soul/R&B and light jazz. My music collection is eclectic. I enjoy listening to the 3,000 songs on my 2002 iPod classic. The music is all over the map. When it comes to pop and contemporary, I am drawn to moody, female, guitar- playing singer-songwriters. In the classical music realm, I like existential piano—Satie, Chopin. I love the fact that it’s now so easy to access music, any music, anytime.
When did you start thinking about what you wanted to do for a living?
People used to ask children “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It came right after, “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” I think that’s why I started plotting out my future when I was about 7. Because of multiple memorable visits to the doctor, I developed an interest in health care and wanted to be a nurse or physician. (Compared to my other siblings, I was sickly. Specifically, I was underweight, anemic, subject to infection and a worrier prone to what I later understood were complex migraines with aura.) But I also wanted to be a teacher, a theologian, a poet and novelist. My father wanted me to be an army doctor and that was my intent when I went to college. I had enjoyed chemistry and anatomy in high school. I thought I would study at Walter Reed.
Given the fact your folks didn't go to college, was this a stretch? Did you consider doing anything else?
My parents convinced me that higher education would ensure my success, and that I could go to college. Mama liked to brag to people-- in my presence--that I had a high IQ and was “college material”. Moreover, my parents were superb at creating the illusion that everything was just fine. They tried to keep us innocent and boasted some success. I was in about second grade in Hawaii before I heard the word “Negro” at home or in school; or learned that, although brown in color, I was considered inferior and "black". My older sister was in high school before she knew about sexual intercourse. Until I went to college, I thought rape was the act of Roman soldiers snatching Sabine women and carrying them off on horses. Mama actually convinced me at age 16 that photographs of Daddy in battle gear with a rifle in Vietnam were just him play acting--he was not in danger. (Earlier she had tried to downplay the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I heard the television news and was terrified enough to hide in the closet.)
My mother encouraged me to earn money cleaning houses and babysitting (for $.50 an hour). She knew that if I didn't become a doctor or a teacher, I would make a fine maid. Yet I convinced myself that being especially good and smart would empower and propel me. Barriers for women and blacks were implicit and real. However, since I entered college in 1970, at the start of the affirmative action era, these barriers arose infrequently to the level of explicit, insurmountable career prohibitions.
Looking back, it's amazing that I believed I could be whatever I wanted to be. I should note that there were tangible disadvantages to being a first-generation college student. Once a middle school teacher suggested I attend a private boarding school for gifted children. My mother was furious at the implication she was not competent to raise me. When the time came, my parents could not help me prepare for the SAT or select colleges to which to apply. Nor could they afford to pay. They had to borrow $500 from the bank to help finance my freshman year. After that, I was completely dependent upon scholarships and what I could earn through part-time jobs.
Wow. Was college what you anticipated? Did it change your views on race?
I skipped a year of high school, and went to college at 17. I attended an "experimental" private liberal arts college in Sarasota. It was called New College and proclaimed that "the best education came from the active confrontation of first class minds." I expected a pure intellectual paradise-- a world in which everyone was interested in serious conversation about the ideas in canonical great books. I got something more complicated: the politics of War, Race, Gender, and the Environment infusing everything.
My views about race have not changed much over the years. I have reacted in different ways to the roles race plays in the world around me. I abhor race-based discrimination, which can make me very sad and very angry. Sometimes I am so proud of black peoples’ achievements in arts and culture I could pop. I can’t put into words how glad I felt the day in the early 1990’s when I walked through an exhibition by philosopher and artist Adrian Piper at the Whitney Museum in New York; or a few years ago when I experienced Jacob Lawrence’s complete Migration series at MOMA, or earlier this year when I toured the new Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Favorite classes? Inspirational teachers? When did you decide to major in philosophy?
Although I was supposed to prepare for medical school, I gravitated toward the humanities right away in College, lured by English, French and German literature, by philosophy and by foreign languages, especially Latin, Greek, German and Italian. I felt overwhelmed at first, but eventually found my stride. I read The Great Books. I studied Latin intensely. My mentors were B. Gresham Riley, who taught American pragmatism and showed me how to be a better learner; Bryan Norton, who taught analytic philosophy; and Doug Berggren, who taught Continental philosophy. Norton introduced me to Rudolf Carnap, about whom he had written a dissertation. I read Quine and “The Linguistic Turn” literature. I was interested enough to write an undergrad thesis on Carnap and the rejection of metaphysics. I badly wanted a PhD. Norton helped me get into Michigan's excellent philosophy department, and a 4-year Ford Fellowship for my doctoral studies. I am still friends with Norton and Riley. These are special men. One year New College invited Norton and me to give the Commencement address.
Did you party?
I did not party. I didn't have much free time. Plus, I did not drink, eat very much or use drugs. I had to work several part-time jobs as an undergrad, and needed to study hard to do well. I am an introvert and I do not need a lot of social interaction in order to be happy. For fun, I enjoyed dancing, running, reading and writing poetry.
I spent about a third of my college years in Europe. That was fun. I studied in Italy and Germany. Favorite memories in Europe include a month I spent in Perugia. I abandoned my American friends after meeting some local people who got me involved in a children’s singing contest for which I served as a hostess. I befriended a sports journalist named Roberto Regna with whom I explored Umbria. I also very much enjoyed a month I spent in Köln, where (long before our marriage) my husband and I shared a room in the home of a German couple.
Did you dig grad school?
I loved Ann Arbor. I was 21 when I arrived at graduate school at the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor came close to being the precise intellectual paradise I was looking for when I went to college, only better. No pop culture or conspicuous consumption, but a fair number of other people who looked like me pursuing doctorates. Did I have any bad experiences as a graduate student? Yes, of course. The climate for women in philosophy was horrible. The climate for race could be awful, too. There were three black men in my graduate program but no black, Latino, Native American or Asian women other than me.
I was led to explore radical left-wing politics (Pan-Africanism), though I emerged the liberal feminist Democrat I am still today. I became a leader among philosophy grad students, and was elected graduate student representative to the faculty. I did quite well academically, holding my own in the face of prejudice, rampant sexual misconduct and a year of bad health. My strongest interests were in epistemology, metaphysics, metaethics and the emerging field of contemporary applied ethics. I should mention that my interest in dance deepened during my graduate student years. I took as many ballet and modern dance classes on and off campus as I could. I was not a strong dancer --chiefly because I do not have a good memory for choreography and was subject to extreme stage fright. But at one point I considered giving up philosophy and pursuing some sort of dance-related career. Graduate school thus engaged my mind and my body.
Still friends with anybody from back then?
I made enduring close friends during my four years at The University of Michigan. I finally had a community of African American friends, many in the arts. A number of these folks are still friends. My first husband was a visual artist, whom I first met in Ann Arbor when he was a BFA student. My good friends in the philosophy department included then junior faculty Louis Loeb and Brian Loar. Those friendships endured, as did my friendship with Ann Minckler Gualtieri, who earned both a Ph.D in Philosophy and an MBA from Michigan. Sadly, Brian Loar has passed away. I spoke at his memorial at Rutgers, where, incidentally, several of my Michigan teachers wound up, along with Brian—Al Goldman, Holly Smith and Steve Stitch. As a grad student I befriended Harold Hodes, now at Cornell, during his year as a fellow at Michigan. Classmate Tom Ricketts was very supportive of me and we later were colleagues at Penn. Holly Smith, then known as Holly Goldman, the only woman on the faculty, was supportive and a good role model. She and my friend Brian Loar were both passed over for tenure, which was short-sited and disillusioning.
Who did you work with on the dissertation?
My dissertation chair was Richard Brandt. Ethics star William Frankena would have been great, but he retired. What a superb ethics teacher he was! He had gotten me interested in metaethics, and in care as a motivation for ethical living. I asked Holly Smith, for whom I had served as a TA, to supervise a metaethics/moral epistemology dissertation, but she turned me down since she was preparing to leave the department. As a third choice, I then asked a member of the department with whom I had not worked up to that point to advise me. He agreed, but planted an unwelcomed kiss at the end of our first meeting and so I “fired” him. Brandt was my fourth choice.
Horrible. What was Brandt like?
“The Grey Blade” (students nicknamed him) was an interesting man, and we eventually became friends. He was gruff, vain, and modern. Brandt was a utilitarian who lived a version of his philosophy. By reference to costs and benefits, he discussed with me personal decisions like whether to pick up his grandchildren at the airport and whether to ask out a woman half his age.
To his credit, Brandt made sure I read the right things. He was fond of saying that he had never seen a more improved dissertation as between my first draft (influenced by the kisser who had poorly mentored me) and the second draft (totally reshaped and directed by Brandt himself).
When did you go on the job market? What was it like?
I went on the philosophy job market in 1977-78. My dissertation was not far along, but my Ford Fellowship was ending and I needed to support myself. I was lucky to be hired by Carnegie Mellon University. I efficiently finished my dissertation while an instructor there in 1979-1980. My thesis was a colorless work of necessity rather than passion. I wrote about Locke’s and Hobbes” theories of parental authority and applications to education. How I got the job at Carnegie Mellon is quite a story. Imagine being 24, having a history of excelling academically since kindergarten against the odds in numerous settings and then having someone tell you to your face that you are an "affirmative action" candidate of limited “candle power”! I made the best of things.
Care to elaborate?
Not here. I have forgiven the bad actors at Carnegie Mellon. But as a result of my experience I would encourage everyone to get their job offers in writing as soon as they are extended, as I wisely had. I am happy to see that the American Philosophical Association has done away with “smokers”, and no longer condones interviews in hotel bedrooms.
Did you feel prepared to teach?
No. But I taught ethics, logic, and political philosophy. I was 25 and looked 16. I was too informal, non-authoritative. And I lacked an overall framework for what I was teaching. No theories of my own. I think grad students and Assistant Professors get more guidance these days than we got in my day. As a young philosopher I approached teaching as a relationship between me, ideas, and the chalkboard, or my voluminous notes, and outlines. It took me many years, but I have turned into a strong teacher of both law and ethics. Today I see my job as connecting with the intellects and values of the students by challenging and exciting them, as I try to model a fair, rigorous, and inquiring mind. It's not in the end about what the teacher knows but what she can motivate others to learn.
So, why did you decide to go to law school?
I concluded after I had completed my dissertation and taught a political philosophy class that I needed a broader education than philosophy had provided. At CMU, I felt a lack of intellectual passion and personal direction. I did not trust my colleagues at CMU to mentor me, recognize my value, and help me find my voice. I decided to go to law school. I easily got into all of the top law schools, and chose Harvard. Richard Brandt wasn't thrilled about the idea of his mentee running off to law school. However, once I got into Harvard Law, he and all of my philosophy friends and colleagues grew to be supportive. My father did not think I was suited for the law, but he eventually got on board. I received a lot of marriage proposals, suddenly, too!
There was another reason I had decided to go to law school. Survival. I believed a law degree would made me less likely to someday face the trauma of a negative tenure decision. As it happens, of the first four African American women to get their PhD’s in philosophy in the United States (counting myself as number 3 or 4 since Adrian Piper and I left grad school the same year), three were denied tenure. Joyce Mitchell Cook (by Howard University), Laverne Shelton (by Rutgers), and Adrian Piper (by Michigan) were all denied tenure in philosophy despite excellent backgrounds and training at Yale, Wisconsin and Harvard, respectively. Piper brilliantly bounced back and remained in academia until her retirement. The others took different directions. We all have to find our unique paths to flourishing.
What was the flood of proposals all about, you think?
Crazy, right? Of a total of five proposals, three came from philosophers. My best guess is that the proposals were about status, money and male liberation. It was the 1980s. Marriage is an economic and an affectional relationship. In the 1980s a middle-class male in America could finally aspire to a wife with as much or more income earning potential as he, her husband. The proposals may also have been a product of the increase in status that came in those days with admission to Harvard Law. The “Harvard mystique” implied I was exceptional. The most surprising of the proposals was from a philosopher I barely knew, who stressed that we would make a “power couple” in philosophy. That was not a goal of mine. In the end, I rejected all my new suitors and chose to marry a penniless artist who had proposed marriage long before Harvard was in the picture. Soon after that brief marriage failed, I married my best friend, a philosophy-trained lawyer, to who I have remained married for 32 years.
Nice! Was philosophy of privacy a big thing when you started working on it?
I created the philosophy of privacy as a subfield of our discipline. I became fascinated by sociologist Alan Westin’s Privacy and Freedom, published in 1964; a group of about ten papers on privacy written by analytic philosophers in the 1970s, including several originally appearing in Philosophy and Public Affairs; the large and diverse feminist literature of the 1960’s through the 1980s critiquing the public-private distinction; and, one of my biggest influences, a 1980 Yale Law Review article by Israeli legal philosopher Ruth Gavison. In response, in 1988 I published Uneasy Access: Privacy for Women in a Free Society, the first book-length study of privacy by an academic philosopher. My first two chapters review and assess theories about the meaning and value of privacy; the remaining chapters examine specific areas of public policy. I published other books on privacy in 2003 and 2011. The 2003 book, Privacy Isn’t Everything struggles with the fact that accountability is an important feature of moral life that is often in conflict with privacy values. The 2011 book, Unpopular Privacy: What Must We Hide, deals with the moral implications of communications technology. I have argued from liberal and feminism-influenced perspectives that privacy ought to remain a paramount value even in a world of sharing and voluntary disclosure, and notwithstanding feminist concerns about “the home” and “choice” rhetoric. I have written about privacy and genetics, race, the internet, gay and lesbian identity, and human reproduction. I developed some of the very earliest courses on privacy law. To this day my massive privacy law textbook Privacy Law and Society is the most comprehensive available. The 2016 edition took on the amazing Marc Rotenberg, founder and Executive Director of the Washington based Electronic Privacy Information Center, as a co-author.
Could you explain how you got into the philosophy of privacy stuff a bit more?
I was a TA in medical humanities in grad school at Michigan. There were privacy and private choice conceptual issues in the books, films and case studies I taught there. My interest in the concept of privacy grew through reading Supreme Court cases regarding boundaries of government intervention in family life for my dissertation. I was especially struck by Wisconsin v. Yoder. Yoder was an Amish man who didn't send his son to school after the 8th grade. State law required additional schooling, so Yoder was prosecuted for violating the law. The case established that religious freedom and parental autonomy (“family privacy” in effect) could outweigh the state's interest in requiring secondary education. The case brought into question concerns about how best to protect – and legally balance--social values, choice, identity and parent/child relationships. When I was asked to write a paper on the implications for women’s rights of children’s rights for an anthology edited by philosopher Carol Gould at the same time I was taking a course on Education Law from Martha Minow, my brain exploded—privacy became the thing I was most interested in writing about. I finally felt passionate enough about a set of ideas to devise what was at the time a unique research agenda. I found my voice in law school. “Leaving” philosophy had been the right thing to do in order to find it again, in a new way.
What was the atmosphere in law school like?
Harvard turned out to be an amazing experience. I spent my three years at Harvard working as a teaching assistant for Michael Sandel, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, Sissela Bok, and Charles Fried. I needed money to pay for law school, so used my Ph.D. in Philosophy as the basis of a special request to teach more sections than typical students were allowed. Sissela Bok, who had written about secrecy, encouraged my work on privacy. Sandel and Dworkin inspired me to think hard about liberalism and its critique. Law school was like being in grad school again, but with a more dynamic set of teachers. The lectures I attended were superb and the students I taught often astonishingly bright.
Ironically, the worst part of law school was the intellectual climate of the law school itself. I resisted it. I was not moved to engage the critical legal studies versus liberal law debates, the race debates or the feminist debates there. I think my training in analytic philosophy made me perceive a lack of subtlety in legal discourse. I wanted to make distinctions no one else cared about. A bigger problem was that because of my demanding TA jobs and a bad marriage, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Half way through my first year of law school, a complex migraine syndrome with aura and petite mal seizures flared. The problem lasted for more than three years. Embarrassed to admit I was ill to anyone but my neurologists, I stumbled through some of my classes and exams, unable to see, speak, write or think clearly. I sometimes wonder why the law school never inquired about the basis of my wildly inconsistent performances.
Wow! What did you do out of law school?
Through summer jobs at top corporate law firms, I became interested in banking law, antitrust law, and corporate litigation. (There was no privacy law bar at the time.) So, out of law school I went to work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The place was known for its brilliant eccentrics and brutal work ethic. I worked for two partners, one of whom has become quite famous, David Boies. The managing partner who hired me said I was the most poised and articulate person he had ever interviewed, but that I had the worst transcript he had ever seen. I had bombed a couple of classes—the migraine/seizure thing—he wasn’t used to seeing that.
Right. How did you get back into academia?
Coming out of law school, I was well-credentialed and interviewed well, so I had my pick of high-paying corporate law firm jobs. I chose one of the most challenging—Cravath. There were no African American partners at Cravath. No woman had made partner in more than a decade. It was going to be an uphill battle. And then there was my health.
My health made Wall Street a mixed fit. I liked the prestige and the sophistication of the legal work. But I needed 8 hours of sleep and down time, two opportunities that just didn’t exist for junior associates in the litigation group. In addition, I was under contract to write a philosophy book. Yet I had no free time for philosophy-- I “belonged” to the partnership.
You asked me if I believe in god. Here is a miracle. Just days after I got engaged to my husband who was practicing law in Pittsburgh and was not keen on moving to New York, I got a phone call from the University of Pittsburgh Law School about a tenure track job. I accepted a campus interview and got offered the job. This coincidence enabled me to gracefully exit Wall Street and recover my health. I created a lifestyle of calm routine in Pittsburgh. It was lovely. I recovered and have remained quite well for the most part. The medications are much better today than they were thirty years ago—I have found an anticonvulsant that I love and I take it daily.
So you see, I never completely left academia. I just took myself out of the clutches of a philosophy program that wished I weren’t there. I went to law school, passed two bar exams, and practiced law a year on Wall Street. I was at Pitt from 1985 to 1987, when I moved to Georgetown Law Center. My tenure in 1990 at Georgetown was mostly based on work in the sub-discipline of privacy of privacy which I pioneered. I have been a tenured full professor of law and a professor of philosophy at Penn since 1998. I received my endowed chair in 2004. I have taught a lot of philosophy courses over my 32-year career “outside” of philosophy, and worked with many philosophers. I would not have been so bold and creative a philosopher had I remained in the philosophy program at Carnegie Mellon. I am committed to helping to improve the discipline. In 2017, I was elected Vice President and President Elect of the APA Eastern Division.
Yeah, everything worked out! Advice to young scholars?
Work on problems that really interest you. Cross train. Be competent in multiple disciplines and methods. Don't be afraid to start draft/writing before you know all that there is to know. Publish well. Use social media cautiously. Don't think you will be an exception to standard rules because of your race or color. A woman does not get tenure because she been a hard-working institutional citizen rather than research productive. Don't try to please everyone. Make professional friends widely. Go to everything. Develop resilience. Learn to negotiate and to talk about money and goals without embarrassment.
Great advice. How has philosophy changed since you started?
Since I was a student, philosophy has dramatically changed -- new areas include public philosophy; practical and applied ethics; bioethics; artificial intelligence and computing; critical race philosophy; feminism; philosophies of pedagogy. A more inclusive professoriate is needed and is emerging. There is a Collegium of Black Women Philosophers, reflecting the growing diversity of the field.
What are your philosophical weaknesses?
My weakness as a philosopher is a lack of interest in the narrow debates in mainstream philosophy of law and ethical theory that swirl around important texts. For example, I loved reading and teaching H.L.A. Hart but I was not that interested in the journal literature parsing his work. I enjoyed reading Rawls, but not the secondary Rawls literature. Why am I like this?
In his 2012 book, America the Philosophical, Carlin Romano offers a comprehensive history of the discipline that includes women and minority philosophers. There are three or four pages devoted to me. Reading Romano’s book, one sees that I share with many other women and scholars of color a feeling that there are other and bigger fish that need to get fried than the ones cooking in some of the mainstream literatures. Not prioritizing being “one of the boys” immersed in the secondary and tertiary literatures of legal philosophy and ethics has been a way for me to find and keep my own voice. You could say that my “weakness” has fueled my strengths.
Understandable. What are you reading and listening to nowadays?
I read the new books by lawyers and philosophers about privacy, data protection and technology. I recently read one by Leslie Francis and John Francis, one by Gary Marx and one by Khiara Bridges. Just read a book by Gary Kasparov about losing a chess game to a computer and what that meant, writ large.
In this 200th anniversary year, I am reencountering Jane Austen on my iPad. I just purchased a small portable cassette player so that I can listen to the shoeboxes of music on tape I raised my now-adult kids on. Raffi. Taj Mahal. Simon and Garfunkel. The Lion King. The Supremes. John Denver. Shaggy.
Favorite comedian or comedians?
My father was a stand-up comic in Korea. The comics my parents loved were Dick Gregory and Moms Mabley, so I heard their albums repeatedly. I had a fan-crush on Steve Martin for a while; he was a philosophy major and looks like a professor. Kevin Hart is often funny. Something about the absurd ways he uses his body. Sarah Silverman’s dead pan fake innocence can make me laugh. But I don’t like raw sexual humor or jokes that assume everyone is a closet racist.
I owe a lot to the emergence of standup comedy on cable TV. In the 1990’s when I was trying to figure out how to become more effective in the classroom, I started watching Comedy Central comics--men and women who could say the most outrageous things, while keeping audiences attentive and on their side. The most helpful thing I learned was how to look people in the eye and remain honest.
Great choices one and all! I think philosophers and standups are very similar, deep down. Anyway, where were you on election night?
November 2008, election night-- I was in Alaska en route to Taipei. I was happy and shocked. November 2016, election night, I was at home in bed, terrified and shocked.
Queen of the world, what’s your first move?
As Queen of the world my first move is to secure global health, end hunger, effect peace, and on day four, free all oppressed and enslaved peoples.
Ambitious! Last meal?
My last meal would be a pan-fried trout, a huge portion of pfifferlinge mushrooms, and a bowl of black walnut ice cream.
And, if you could ask an omniscient being one question, what would it be?
What were the origins of existence; what is the fate of humankind?
That’s two, but I’ll allow it. Thanks Anita!