What Counts as a Collective Gift? Culture and Value in Du Bois' The Gift of Black Folk
Chike Jeffers (Dalhousie University)

November 13, 2019, 2:30pm - 4:30pm
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Washburn University

Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center, Convocation Hall
1700 SW College Ave
Topeka 66614
United States


Washburn University

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In his famous 1897 essay, "The Conservation of Races," Du Bois advocates that African Americans hold on to their distinctiveness as members of the black race because this enables them to participate in a cosmopolitan process of cultural exchange in which different races collectively advance human civilization by means of different contributions. Contemporary philosophers like Kwame Anthony Appiah and Tommie Shelby have criticized the position that Du Bois expresses in that essay as a problematic form of racial essentialism. I will investigate in my paper how Du Bois' 1924 book The Gift of Black Folk escapes or fails to escape that criticism. It is easy to worry that the diversity characterizing what Du Bois is willing to treat as a black contribution to the development of America in this book pushes us from the problem of essentialism to the other extreme: a lack of any conceptual constraints whatsoever on what can count as a black gift. I will argue that recognizing the cultivation of historical memory as a form of cultural activity is key to understanding the concept's unity. 


Chike Jeffers is an Associate Professor in Philosophy, with cross-appointments in Canadian Studies and International Development Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where he is a scholar of Africana philosophy, philosophy of race, social and political philosophy, and ethics. His work examines the history of philosophy in Africa and the African diaspora as well as contemporary concerns about the nature of race and the relationship between race and culture. His edited book, Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy, was published by State University of New York Press in 2013. Just this year, he has published along with Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, and Quayshawn Spencer a book called What is Race? Four Philosophical Views, with Oxford University Press. He is currently working on the first book-length philosophical introduction to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, and that book is under contract with Routledge, as it will appear in their prestigious Routledge Philosophers series. Finally, along with Peter Adamson, he is the co-writer of the History of Africana Philosophy podcast series, part of the popular History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (available online at  www.historyofphilosophy.net).

Additional Information:

  • Dr. Jeffers' books, Listening to Ourselves and What is Race? will be available for purchase at the lecture.
  • A reception and book signing will follow the lecture.

About the Russell Jacobs Lecture in Philosophy:

The purpose of the Russell Jacobs Lecture in Philosophy is to bring outstanding philosophers and discussion of their work to Washburn University. The Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies gratefully acknowledges the generous gift that established the lecture series from Washburn emeritus professor of philosophy, longtime colleague, and former department chair Russell Jacobs. The lectures are free and open to the public.

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