Philosophy is supposedly universal, but nearly all of the accepted western philosophical canon has been created by affluent white European men. Are there (canonical) philosophers who have directly interrogated how their own position in society (in relation to race, gender and privilege) affects the way they think and the conclusions they reach? If so, who are they, and what conclusions have they reached?
Among recognized philosophers who have specifically addressed issues of race and gender in relationship to exclusion from the accepted intellectual canon, two of the best-known, best respected and most influential are (Afro-Caribbean) Marxist Franz Fanon, and feminist existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. Both of them took some inspiration from Hegel's concept of The Other as a necessary counterpart to the normalized self, a philosophical concept that has become foundational to theories of the systemic exclusion of minority voices from intellectual conversations.
For a very different reaction to some of the same basic issues, John Rawls' influential Justice as Fairness introduced the concept of a "veil of ignorance." The idea is that we should constitute society as we would choose if we had no idea which person we would be in that society. Behind the veil, you don't want anyone to be too poor, or too hopeless and you want everyone to have a fair shot, because once you leave the veil, you might well find yourself as one of the people on the bottom of your new system, not the top.
In today's globalized society, which necessitates a certain level of comfort with diversity, there is no dearth of thinkers to address the subject. There have also been moves towards integrating Asian figures such as Lao Tzu and Confucius into the canon, as well as greater visibility around the fact that there are traditional members of the Western canon, like Saint Augustine, who were not actually white Europeans, and that Islamic philosophers like Averroes were instrumental in keeping the tradition of Greco-Roman philosophy alive during the European Middle Ages. It's additionally well worth noting that the current conception of a single unified "white European race" considerably postdates most of the canon. Accordingly, a cause of greater concern for many than the historical paucity of non-white-male figures in the philosophical canon is the fact that disparities continue into the present day. The reasons behind this remain obscure and controversial, as do the proposed solutions.
In its current form (9/22), you make a big assumption that seems deeply inaccurate when you state
It seems unlikely that only affluent white men have anything interesting or useful to say about life. I don't know anyone who ascribes to that position. The argument is about whether all things that are "interesting or useful to say about life" are per ipse philosophy OR whether philosophy refers to a particular tradition that descends from Plato and considers these questions. And then whether similar traditions elsewhere should be included by extension or not.
Stated another way, no one faults biology for not being physics, and several people who oppose including other traditions in the definition of philosophy do so not because they think such things are uninteresting but because they don't think interesting = philosophy. (This seems to be for instance the position maintained by both Leiter and Tampio in their dissents from the need to include everything and anything interesting in philosophy).
Or to give a second analogy, is learning Danish philosophy? I find learning Danish to be very interesting and raise questions about how life works, but I don't for a second imagine that it should be a required part of any program.
There's been quite a lot of discussion about how white, dead, and male the canon is. But when I say discussion I mean I've seen it the most not as philosophical treatise but as question concerning the profession (i.e. teaching in universities, publishing in journals) than in actual books and publications..
Several recent discussions at the dailynous: http://dailynous.com/2016/03/10/teaching-and-the-philosophical-canon/
An argument about how/whether Chinese philosophy fits in the canon. I'm familiar with HUANG Yong having written a piece for the APA newsletter. Bryan van Norden and Jay L Garfield wrote something in the NY Times. Tampio (who I'd never heard of when I was at Fordham) defends the current balance in terms of teaching. Some responses: Brian Leiter Brian Leiter again. Twitter world: https://storify.com/BryanVanNorden/getting-started
It comes up very frequently on the warp weft way blog.
But in general it comes up from the side of people do areas of philosophy that feel excluded.
(I think there's similar stuff in African / African American philosophy, etc., but since I don't work in those areas I don't run into it -- (this in turn happens because there's a difference between getting/holding a job in philosophy and "doing philosophy." The former necessitates brand maintenance and publishing in sufficiently prestigious journals and presses; the latter does not. ))
I'll repeat because maybe it's not clear enough. I publish in Chinese and comparative philosophy inter alia, but I can at least see what is being debated.
There is a substantial amount of material about creating knowledge in general in some recent writing with philosophical content. Creating knowledge requires generating variations on current knowledge and then selecting among them. The selection can take the form of adopting ideas. But you can also select ideas by refusing to provide material support to people advocating such ideas.
So the best way to ensure that disadvantaged people can affect philosophy is to allow them to critically discuss any idea they like, and to deny material support to people whose ideas they disagree with. Denying material support to academic philosophers is not really an option at the moment since they are funded by tax money. Universities get grants, many of them from the government, and put some of that money toward philosophy. You can't refuse to pay the taxes for this activity without being fined, going to prison and that sort of thing. So one way to make it possible for disadvantaged people to affect the philosophy is done would be to abolish all government funding of universities.
This is part of the more general insight that poor people benefit from free markets, not from government control of the economy. See "Capitalism" by George Reisman for more explanation.
Since philosophers are not advocating this, they have not done everything possible to allow disadvantaged people to correct them.