In 2007, the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers (see number 5) had their first meeting to gather together Black women in the field.
There still remains an uphill battle in recognition of female philosophers and philosophers of colour. There is a tiny percentage of Black philosophers, and the number of women within that minority is even smaller.
Below is a list of ten Black female philosophers we should all be paying (over)due attention to:
1 – Angela Davis (born 1944)
“Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo – obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other.” – in An Autobiography (1974)
Angela Davis is an American philosopher and political activist who writes and lectures on issues surrounding rights of women, race, class, and the state of the criminal justice system in America.
Below is a video of Davis included as part of a Black Leaders Discussion panel:
2 – Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie (1940-2019)
Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie was a Nigerian feminist, poet, critic, and editor whose work focused mainly on the oppression of African women.
She was in the leadership of feminist and gender studies in Africa, writing for numerous academic and general publications.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to find any clips of Ogundipe speaking online, but here is a link to an article that goes more in-depth into her life and works.
3 – Hortense Spillers (born 1942)
Hortense Spillers is an American literary critic, Black Feminist scholar and the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor at Vanderbilt University. Her work focuses on Black feminism and African-American literature. She draws particular focus on the matriarchal family structure in Black communities.
She is best known for her essays on African-American literature, collected in Black, White, and In Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (2003) and Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text (1991).
There are a lot of Spillers’ lectures on YouTube, including the following, where she discusses “the aftermath of the notion of partus sequitur ventrem—the “American ‘innovation’ that proclaimed that the child born of an enslaved mother would also be enslaved.”
4 – Gloria Jean Watkins a.k.a. bell hooks (born 1952)
“When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.” – bell hooks in conversation with John Perry Barlow
bell hooks is an American feminist who writes on the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender.
She has published over 30 books as well as a number of scholarly articles, appeared in documentary films, and given public lectures.
In 2014, she founded the bell hooks Institute at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.
In the following video, hooks makes a compelling argument for the transformative power of cultural criticism.
5 – Dr. Kathryn Gines (born 1978)
Dr. Kathryn Gines is an American philosopher working at Pennsylvania State University. A great proportion of her work centres on increasing diversity within Philosophy, acknowledging the Black female identity in relation to overcoming oppression.
She is the founder of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers, an organisation created to make Black women visible in the field of philosophy and to permit greater networking and mentoring opportunities for these women.
In this video, Gines puts forward her views on intersectionality in light of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex:
6 – Lory Janelle Dance
Lory Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
One of her most recent publications include “Performativity Pressures at Urban Schools in Sweden and New York,” published in Ethnography and Education in 2014.
In the video below, Dance “explores ongoing struggles related to issues such as colonisation, gender inequality and racism. The symposium was held at the Attenborough Arts Centre on 5 June 2017 and sought to create time and space to (re)connect and unite struggles and activists.”
7 – Lisa Delpit (born 1952)
Lisa D. Delpit is an American educationalist, acclaimed researcher, and an award-winning author. She seeks to explore how issues around cultural inequities affect students of colour.
In this video, Delpit discusses those issues, including opportunities of culturally-responsive education.
8 – Joyce Mitchell Cook (1933-2014)
Cook was the first Black woman in the United States to be awarded a PhD in philosophy in 1965 at Yale. She was a managing editor of the Review of Metaphysics, has taught at Howard and worked in the White House as a writer and editor for Jimmy Carter. Her area of interest is ethics and social and political philosophy and she was working on a manuscript on the concept of the black experience.
Here is a link to a paper written by George Yancy on the life and works of Cook, entitled, ‘Joyce Mitchell Cook: Autobiographical and Philosophical Fragments’
9 – Dr. Anita Allen
Allen is the first African-American woman to have both a JD and a PhD in philosophy, specialising in political and legal philosophy. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
“Allen’s situated voice is consistent with those resounding black women’s voices throughout American history that have refused to be silent in the face of hypocrisy and dehumanisation. Her experience speaks to the mendacity of those philosophers who deem themselves godlike and beyond the body; it functions as a caution to anyone under the illusion that the professional field of philosophy is one where pure reason reigns, sexism and racism have no place, and where persons of colour are treated with utmost respect.” (Yancy, 2008)
Here is Dr. Allen discussing the right to privacy:
10 – Jaqueline Scott
Earning a PhD in philosophy from Stanford, Scott’s interests include Nietzsche, race theory, African American philosophy and Chinese philosophy. Currently, she is working on Nietzsche and African American thought and a book that is tentatively called, Nietzsche’s Worthy Opponents, Socrates, Wagner, the Ascetic Priest, and Women.
Here is a link to her paper, Racial Nihilism as Racial Courage: The Potential for Healthier Racial Identities.
Who are your favourite Black female philosophers?