Nathan Howard ’25
On Nov. 17, 2022, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture hosted philosopher Olúfemi Táíwò, who gave a lecture titled “Being in the Room Privilege: Elite Capture and Epistemic Deference” in Rehm Library. Olúfemi Táíwò is an assistant professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and his published writings predominantly analyze important social issues including identity politics, reparations, and climate change. His books include “Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else),” published in Haymarket Books in 2022 and “Reconsidering Reparations, Philosophy of Race,” published in Oxford University Press in 2022. In addition to his recent books, Professor Táíwò has also written articles through a variety of publications including New York Magazine, The Guardian, The Boston Review, The New Republic, and The Nation.
The arguments discussed throughout Professor Táíwò’s lecture coordinated with the philosophical themes present in his book “Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics.” Most specifically, according to Professor Táíwò, the concept of identity politics “is the victim of elite capture—deployed by political, social, and economic elites in the service of their own interests, rather than in the service of the vulnerable people they often claim to represent.” Professor Táíwò explains elite capture as being a tool used by those who are socially advantaged to “hijack” political projects for their own benefit and gain, specifically writing in his publications that “Elite capture accounts for many of the common objections leveled against identity politics: that it requires uncritical support for political figures without regard to their politics, or that it reflects social preoccupations that are ‘really for rich white people.’”
At the beginning of his lecture, Professor Táíwò provided the following questions he sets out to answer throughout his discussion regarding academic and activist circles: “What is it that I think we’re getting right in these organizing spaces and these conversations about what justice is, what are we getting wrong, and how can we do a better job?” To address these questions, Professor Táíwò first explained how repeated calls to “listen to the most affected” and “center the most marginalized” are prevalent throughout a majority of academic and activist circles. However, these calls for action do not reflect or produce the realities necessary for meaningful change to occur in regards to racial and social justice. Professor Táíwò specifically explains how he often hears very little in regards to “the 1.6 billion people who live in inadequate housing, or slum conditions, the 100 million who are homeless, the full third of the human population who does not have reliable drinking water, the intersections of food-energy-water insecurity problems and climate crisis that have already displaced 8.5 million people in South Asia alone, and the 37 million people displaced by US wars since 9/11” being discussed in academic and activist circles. In regards to alternative organizing spaces for these discussions, Professor Táíwò proposed one centered around constructive epistemology, where it would be “structurally focused on a worldmaking project,” while also containing a practical focus and an ability to redistribute power from both within and across organizing spaces.
At the conclusion of his lecture, Professor Táíwò thanked the faculty, staff, and students who attended his lecture and held a question-and-answer session in regards to the topics that were discussed throughout.