Tina Fernandes Botts and colleagues have recently posted a fascinating analysis of the shockingly low numbers of black- or African-American- identified philosophers in the United States. According to their data, 1.3% of U.S. philosophers self-identify as black (compared to 13% in the general U.S. population).
Now I was all set today to work up some speculations on why philosophy is so different from the other humanities and social sciences in this regard (a favorite hypothesis: a disciplinary addiction to the cult of genius plus a high degree of implicit bias in anointing geniuses). Then I went to the Survey of Earned Doctorates to look up some of the raw data. There, I found that the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is not so unusual among the humanities, if one digs down into the subfield data.
Since I suspect some other philosophers might also be surprised to discover this, I thought I'd aggregate the three most recent years' data by humanities subfield (U.S. citizens and permanent residents only), considering only subfields with consistent SED classifications across the period and excluding general and catch-all categories.
Starting with philosophy we see:
These data thus stand in sharp contrast to the gender data, where philosophy is unusual among the humanities in remaining overwhelmingly male. Philosophy is joined by French, German, and Italian literature, English literature, classics, European history, archaeology, and music theory in being mostly non-Hispanic white folks.
Now in a way it's not too surprising that the study of German and Greek literature, European history, etc., should tend to disproportionately attract white folks. After all, the average white person probably identifies with such literatures and histories as part of her own ethnic or cultural heritage more than does the average non-white person. Perhaps, then, the best explanation of the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is similar: Despite aspiring to be a broad, topically-driven inquiry into fundamental questions about truth, knowledge, beauty, and morality, perhaps philosophy as currently practiced in the U.S. is experienced by students as something closer to the study of a piece of ethnically European cultural history.
Also see:Why Don't We* Know Our Chinese Philosophy? Citation of Women and Ethnic Minorities in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and SEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers.