In March 2015, I wrote an article for the Guardian titled “Philosophy has to be about more than white men” in which I argued that the white-western-male bias in philosophical studies in the UK was detrimental to the study of philosophy, which should investigate all human experience. “We should not dismiss white, western, or male thinking…,” I wrote:
…simply on the premises that it is white, western, or male. The pursuit of knowledge should strive to transcend culture and ethnicity – an Indian philosopher is not necessarily better suited to explain the world to an Indian student simply because they share the same nationality. But that is not the point. The point is that to imagine that only white men engage in the pursuit of knowledge – as the current syllabi imply – is ludicrous. One man’s “cogito” is another’s “white mask”, if I may be existentialistic. What is referred to as “philosophy” in British universities is actually “white western male philosophy”.
As I was writing the article, the #RhodesMustFall campaign launched, although I wasn’t aware of it then. My article was instead connected to the likeminded #WhyIsMyCurriculumWhite student campaign, launched by British scholar and activist, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, whom I interviewed for the piece.
2015 was also the year that the New York Times published a series by philosopher George Yancy looking at philosophers on race, and the Atlantic covered the absence of women in the canon. Clearly, there was something in the air.
A couple of months after my article was published, I lost my mother and could not follow up on the plans I had to develop the theme. But my forthcoming book Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Interpretation takes up the discussion about the need to look at the ideas-world differently, in my case with an Africa-centred and black feminist perspective.
I am sharing all this because from next month, I will be hosting a new philosophy book club at the enchanting bookshop, Waterstones on Gower street. Like the Guardian article, and my forthcoming book, and this blog, the book club stems from what I believe is an urgent need to encourage critical thinking in our anti-intellectual times, and to explore critical ideas in invigoratingly global-minded, feminist and decolonised ways.
The MsAfropolitan Philosophy Book Club, as the book club is titled, is where we will discuss philosophical books from all over the world by people of diverse backgrounds. Bearing in mind the frustrating limitations to accessing a great number of books – out of print or outrageously expensive – that I’d otherwise include, we are nevertheless spoilt for choice. The books we’ll read are less about philosophy as an academic subject, but rather the books are selected with the mindset that philosophy is about investigating all human experience.
Each month will centre on a different theme, the first being misogyny in Kate Manne’s Down Girl, then identity in Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identities and then decolonisation in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s classic, Decolonising the Mind. Later themes to be announced include love, power and anger.
The conversations will be fun, light-hearted and informal, in other words, nothing like a serious seminar on philosophy! 🙂
Meetings will be the third Tuesday of every month and tickets are £8/6 (students/Waterstones cardholders) and include a glass of wine or soft drink. Book ahead as places are limited.
Tuesday 23rd April,Down Girl by Kate Manne http://bit.ly/2XUA2kQ
Tuesday 21st May,Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider http://bit.ly/2F1Guxs
Tuesday 18th June, Decolonising the Mind by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o http://bit.ly/2F9askE
- Michael A. Peters on my Guardian piece and the campaign it highlighted, “Why is My Curriculum White?”
- Dag Herbjørnrud’s deservedly viral article, “The African Enlightenment”, in AEON.
- Also by Dag, also in AEON, “First women of philosophy“.
- Peter Adamson’s fantastic podcast on “Africana Philosophy” co-edited by Chike Jeffers.
- & keep an eye out for Rebecca Buxton’s and Lisa Whitting’s “The Philosophy Queens”, in which I have contributed a chapter on the late Sophie Oluwole.
Image is Woman Reading by Emmanuel Garant