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Philosophy

The IU Bloomington Libraries' Philosophy collection supports research and teaching in all branches of philosophy.

Introduction

Philosophy has long centered the perspective and contributions of white male thinkers, especially from Europe and the U.S. In recognition of Black History Month, we have compiled a guide highlighting just a few of the influential Black thinkers in order to expand the horizons of philosophy as it is currently understood and learn about the history and achievements of Black and African philosophers. Their works span the areas of Black feminism, colonial studies, and critical race theory, among others, and challenge us to think outside of dominant viewpoints. These thinkers represent only a handful of the many important Black philosophers of history and today, and we hope you'll continue to learn and explore beyond the scholars and lineages of thought we've highlighted here. 

Click through the tabs below to read about each area and thinker.

Further Reading & Exploration
Africana Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
African American Philosophy: A General Outline (Oxford Handbooks Online)
"The Reality of Black Philosophy" (The Black Scholar)

Next Steps
As with many of these national commemorations, one month is never enough time to fully honor and celebrate the history and culture of marginalized communities, let alone heal the legacies (and ongoing reality) of harm they've experienced. We recognize that there is much more to be done, that racism and anti-blackness can't be eliminated simply through the creation of resource guides, and that the work of realizing justice won't soon be over. But nevertheless, we keep trying, contributing how we can and building upon the efforts of those who came before us, and we continue to learn from and with one another.

If you'd like to engage more deeply with Black History Month, the IU Libraries Arts & Humanities department has created a number of interrelated resources and features to provide more holistic coverage of this remembering. You'll find those, below:

And for all things Black culture, you can never go wrong with the resources, services, and collections of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Library.

Additionally, throughout the '21 spring semester, our department is hosting an ongoing Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge. This program encourage participants to engage with items from our collections that will facilitate and deepen their awareness of a variety of social justice issues, and features a number of titles relevant to Black History Month. If you'd like to join us, take a look at the Challenge Guide.

Black Thinkers Across Time

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797) was a writer whose autobiography illustrated the horrors of slavery. Born in the Kingdom of Benin, Equiano was taken to America as a slave but managed to purchase his freedom in 1766. He moved to London and became involved in the abolitionist movement.

Further Resources

Selected Works


Alain Locke

Alain Locke (1885-1954), sometimes called the “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance, was a philosopher known for his theory of the New Negro built on the concept of race-building. He was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar. He is often included on lists of the most important or influential African-Americans.

Further Resources

Selected Works


Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah (1954-) is a scholar whose wide-ranging interests include political theory, philosophy of language, and African intellectual history. He is currently a professor at New York University. He has written about growing up as a gay man in Ghana and has also published several novels.

Further Resources

Selected Works


Tommie Shelby

Tommie Shelby (1967-) is a professor of philosophy and African-American studies at Harvard University. He is known for his work in Africana philosophy, Marxist theory, and the philosophy of social science.

Further Resources

Selected Works

Anna J. Cooper

Anna J. Cooper (1858-1964), often called the “Mother of Black Feminism,” was an early contributor to the field of sociology and a prominent Black liberation activist. Born enslaved, she was a bright student who fought for the right to take courses only allowed to men at Oberlin College, and was one of the first Black women to receive a Master’s degree, in 1888. She was a founder of the Colored Women’s League in Washington DC, and lived until the age of 105.

Further Reading

  • Anna Cooper (National Parks Service - Exploring the Meaning of Black Womanhood Series: Hidden Figures in NPS Places)
  • Anna Julia Cooper (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Selected Works


Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a poet and civil rights activist who fought against issues of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her poetry explores the Black female identity. Though Lorde was not an academic philosopher, her ideas such as the “theory of difference” and the presence of racism within feminism precipitated the theory of intersectionality and have been remarkably influential in the feminist discourse.

Further Reading

Selected Works


Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith (1946-) is a feminist activist. Along with her twin sister Beverly, also a feminist activist, she founded the Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization (NFBO) in 1975, which then became the independent Combahee River Collective. Significantly, the collective recognized lesbianism as a legitimate identity. Smith coined the now widely-used term “identity politics.” Though she is not an academic philosopher, Smith’s ideas have been influential in the fields of Black feminism and LGBT activism. She also popularized many female authors of color through her publication press, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Further Reading

Selected Works


Angela Davis

Angela Davis (1944-) is a political activist and philosopher. Davis rose to prominence in the 1960s due to her participation in second-wave feminism and the campaign against the Vietnam War. An adherent of Marxism, Davis was a member of the American Communist Party from 1969-1991 and was twice that party’s candidate for Vice President. Davis was arrested in 1970 for capital felonies and served over a year in jail before being acquitted of all charges. In 1991 she founded the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). In 1997 she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization dedicated to abolishing the prison-industrial complex. She has taught at several institutions including San Francisco State University, University of California Los Angeles, and University of California Santa Cruz. She has authored over ten books about feminism, race, class, and the prison system.

Further Reading

Selected Works


Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins (1948-) is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland who studies issues of feminism and gender. She has built extensively on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality.

Further Reading

Selected Works


bell hooks

bell hooks (1952-) is an influential feminist and social activist. The themes of her works include the impact of sexism and racism on Black women, the concept of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, and the strength of healthy communities. A “radical feminist,” hooks has advocated for a complete transformation of the patriarchal system.

Further Reading

Selected Works

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1959-) is a widely recognized expert on critical race theory. She is responsible for developing the theory of intersectionality, a concept that has entered the cultural consciousness. The executive director of the African American Policy Forum, she is a lawyer as well as a professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School.

Further Reading

Selected Works


George Yancy

George Yancy (1961-) is a professor of philosophy at Emory University, known for his work in critical whiteness studies. He has written many books and articles, as well as many influential essays in the New York Times’ “The Stone” philosophy column. In 2015, he came to national attention with his controversial article “Dear White America” published in “The Stone.”

Further Reading

Selected Works

Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher whose works are important to the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. He was a member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria, which led to his exile from that country; he has influenced many national-liberation movements around the world.

Further Reading

Selected Works


Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe (1957-) is a Cameroonian philosopher who studies African history and postcolonial theory. He is responsible for the theory of necropolitics, the idea that social and political power is used to decide how some people live and some people die.

Further Reading

Selected Works

Sophie Oluwole

Sophie Bosede Oluwole (1935-2018) was an adherent of Yoruba philosophy, the school of thought of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. She was the first woman in Nigeria to hold a doctorate degree.

Further Reading

Selected Works