I want to lead with honesty and say that as brief as this list is, it was terribly difficult to put together. There isn’t a healthy documented list of Black philosophers, let alone Black women philosophers. The small group, that we know of, are made up of popular, heavy-weight, names we always hear circulating around Black History Month like, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks. I intentionally sought after the unknown philosophers, wanting to give others we don’t often hear about an opportunity to shine while also giving those bored with the repetitive lists an opportunity to be reengaged in absorbing Black excellence and becoming activated.
While the aforesaid women deserve to be heralded for more reason than one, I also was looking for Black women who specialized in ethics and covered topics outside of race and gender, I particularly was interested in covering them if they’ve had personally developed ideas that grew legs and added to the rolling scrolls of notable philosophical work.
Additionally, I do understand that desiring a non-Black philosophy from a Black philosopher woman is a privileged desire. I am fortunate to be in a time where I have the ability to crave something other than race conversations as a Black woman.
Fundamentally, Black women fought long and hard to be a part of the conversation, while the number of Black women philosophers is low, it took such a long time to be even vaguely included that it is of no curiosity to me why the women who come in want to speak on exactly what kept them out. Also, Black philosophers are typically hired to speak on Black philosophy, and there is such a huge lack of coverage in that area, that we usually don’t have to be begged to discuss it, we are more than happy to tell our own story, this is a circular scenario.
I would love for there to be a full enhancement of the academic study of philosophy, one that is more all encompassing, one that covers more than the same Greek figures that even the pedestrian learner knows, and a curriculum that supplements historical content with the contemporary.
Without further ado, here are the three Black Women Philosophers that you should know.
Joyce Mitchell Cook
The first African American woman to receive a PhD in Philosophy in the United States and the first female teacher assistant allowed at Yale University. It is speculated that she was the first Black Woman to get a Philosophy degree in the world. She also served on the Jimmy Carter administration as a speech writer and correspondence editor.
Cook’s primary interest was in Value Theory. Value Theory examines how, why, and what degree humans value things, and what it is that we value, this is also known as ethics or axiology.
She is a super-star thinker with an Ivy League education, she is the first Black woman to be elected president of The American Philosophical Association Eastern Division. Allen is an expert on privacy law, bioethics, and contemporary values. In 2010 she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the study of bio-ethical issues.
Allen’s most notable idea is her philosophy of privacy which is now a philosophical discipline. She focuses on the meaning and value of privacy as a concept and public policy responses to privacy law.
She has an extensive academic career at the most prestigious universities; Moody-Adams was the first female and first Black dean of Columbia College. This brilliant-brained woman has made it her lifes work to show the importance of philosophy and how it forms the quality of our lives. Her specializations are in moral and political philosophy, applied ethics, and social sciences.
I look forward to covering her ideas more in the future as ethics and morality is a playground I like to throw sand in, be sure to subscribe for that.
Honorable Mention: Kathryn Sophie Belle who founded The Collegium of Black Women Philosophers, an organization based at Pennsylvania State, created to increase visibility of Black Women in the field while offering resources.
Please check out some of their books on Amazon, I will be doing the same and coming back to report.
Happy Black History Month folks!