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Black scholars have made an enormous impact on students and society as a whole. We set out to highlight some of the many prominent Black scholars today.
Many people are trying to learn more about social equality and racial injustice. Here, we highlight the work of some living Black scholars who have made it their life’s work.
Their work represents a variety of academic disciplines, which we’ve narrowed down to five categories:
Of course, these are just a few of the many Black scholars who could have made our list. We encourage readers to do more research on their own to find others who have made similar impacts in humanities, social sciences, and other fields.
The following list is alphabetical by surname.
20 Notable Black Scholars
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Philosophy | Critical Theory | Africana Studies
Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London in 1954 to a Ghanaian father and an English mother. The family returned to Ghana when Anthony was very young; thus, he grew up speaking Asante (a form of Twi) as well as English.
Appiah returned to England for his higher education, earning both his bachelor’s degree (first-class) and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University. At Cambridge, Appiah wrote his dissertation on the philosophy of language under the supervision of Hugh Mellor. His first two books were devoted to this field.
After publishing an introductory general philosophy text, Appiah switched gears in 1992 with his next book, “In My Father’s House.”
Part memoir and part philosophical reflection, this widely reviewed and admired paper examined what it meant to Appiah to be an African intellectual in today’s world. It was his first foray into the territory of African history and cultural identity.
In addition to the 35-odd academic books he has authored, co-authored, or edited, Appiah is the author or co-author of hundreds of journals, magazines, newspaper articles, and book chapters aimed at both the academic world and popular audiences. He has also lectured around the world and published three novels and a volume of poetry.
Today, he is a professor of philosophy and law at New York University. Appiah is married to New Yorker editorial director Henry Finder.
Our article “The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers” also features Appiah.
Selected Books | Find Books by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Mary Frances Berry
History | Jurisprudence | Africana Studies
Mary Frances Berry was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1938. She attended segregated public schools in her hometown, then studied at Fisk University for a time before transferring to Howard University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1961.
She earned her Ph.D. in American constitutional history from the University of Michigan in 1965, and also obtained a J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1970.
Berry became the first Black woman to lead a major research university in the United States when she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1976.
During the late 1970s, Berry took a leave of absence to serve as an assistant secretary for education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She returned to academics in 1980.
Berry’s interests changed over time. Her early work focused on the relationship between African Americans and U.S. judicial, political, and military institutions throughout American history. She later devoted increasing attention to issues relating to gender equality, in addition to racial equality.
Berry participated in international campaigns for human rights and social justice. She co-founded the Free South Africa Movement in 1984, which eventually led to her arrest during demonstrations aimed at exerting pressure on the U.S. government to apply sanctions on South Africa to free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid.
Berry also served as the chairwoman on the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1993-2004. Berry has received more than 30 honorary degrees, as well as numerous other honors and awards.
She is currently the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.
Selected Books | Find Books by Mary Frances Berry
Stephen L. Carter
Jurisprudence | Cultural Criticism
Carter earned his J.D. in 1979 from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. After law school, he clerked for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall during the 1980-1981 session.
Carter has taught at Yale Law School since 1982. He is currently the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. His areas of expertise include contracts, evidence, intellectual property, professional ethics, ethics in literature, law and the ethics of war, and law and religion.
In addition to numerous scholarly articles published in journals like the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law and Policy Review, Carter gained recognition beyond the academic world through his writings for popular audiences.
Carter wrote a memoir and meditation on the role that affirmative action played in his own life, “Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby,” which was published in 1991. He has since released seven other nonfiction works.
His books have dealt with the intolerance of religious belief in public life (“The Culture of Disbelief”), the federal judicial appointment process (“The Confirmation Mess”), the loss of civility from our social and political life (“Civility”), and the ethics of war (“The Violence of Peace”).
Selected Books | Find Books by Stephen L. Carter
Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1975. His father, Paul Coates, who was a former Black Panther, owned the Black Book bookstore in Baltimore and ran the Black Classic Press publishing operation out of his home.
After graduating from high school, Coates attended Howard University for several years, but left before taking a degree to pursue a career in journalism.
He was appointed Martin Luther King, Jr., Visiting Scholar at MIT in 2012 and Journalist in Residence at City University of New York (CUNY) in 2014. Coates is currently Distinguished Writer in Residence with the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.
Coates has worked as a reporter for the Washington City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, the Village Voice, and Time. He joined The Atlantic in 2008, and later became senior editor and wrote a regular column on their blog.
He also became a frequent contributor to op-eds and more extended essays for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Monthly, and many other mainstream media outlets.
Coates is best known for his 2015 memoir, “Between the World and Me.” In this best-selling and highly praised book, Coates described growing up in Baltimore in the shadow of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. It reflects on the many ways in which life for African Americans has and has not changed since those fraught times.
In addition to the three books of literary nonfiction, Coates has also published comic books and video game texts. Most recently, he published a novel.
Selected Books | Find Books by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood (Spiegel & Grau, 2008)
- Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (OneWorld, 2017)
Patricia Hill Collins
Sociology | Critical Theory | Africana Studies
Patricia Hill Collins was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1948. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969 from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in social sciences education in 1970 from Harvard University.
Collins taught in the public schools of the Roxbury section of Boston from 1970-1976. Then, she was appointed director of the Africana Center at Tufts University, a post she held until 1980.
In 1984, she earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis. Collins is currently Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland College Park.
Collins’ published work has focused on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender. Her writing and analysis made her a pioneer in critical race theory, which assesses how society and culture impact the categorizations of race, law, and power. In 1990, she released her landmark book, “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.”
The book focuses on the social, psychological, and political issues surrounding the disempowerment of Black women, including perspectives of revolutionary Marxist and feminist theory (drawing on the work of Angela Davis), fiction (Alice Walker), and poetry (Audre Lorde).
Collins’ other works have broached public education (“Another Kind of Public Education”) and the role of intellectuals in articulating social and political possibilities (“On Intellectual Activism”).
Collins also emphasizes the linguistic dimension of social constructions. From “On Intellectual Activism”: “Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.”
Collins has been published in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Qualitative Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, American Sociological Review, Signs, Sociological Theory, Social Problems, and Black Scholar.
Collins served as the President of the American Sociological Association from 2008-2009 and has received numerous grants, awards, honorary degrees, and board memberships. She regularly gives lectures and keynote addresses.
Selected Books | Find Books by Patricia Hill Collins
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw
Jurisprudence | Critical Theory
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1959 and is best known as one of the founders of critical race theory. She received her bachelor’s degree in government and Africana studies in 1981 from Cornell University.
Crenshaw earned a juris doctorate in 1984 from Harvard Law School, followed by a master of laws (LLM) in 1985 from the University of Wisconsin Law School. At Harvard, she organized the Critical Race Theory Workshop, which originated the term.
After clerking for Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Shirley Abrahamson, she joined the faculty of the UCLA Law School in 1986, where she lectured on critical race theory, civil rights, and constitutional law.
Crenshaw became world-famous in 1989 for creating the concept of intersectionality in a paper for the University of Chicago Law Forum. She explained that people belonging to two or more oppressed categories often encounter overlapping and independent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
Crenshaw’s goal is to change that dynamic. Her work, which received international acclaim, even influenced the equality clause in the Constitution of South Africa in 1996.
In addition to her teaching and writing, Crenshaw has been active in politics. For example, she was a member of the legal team representing Anita Hill during the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Crenshaw is also the co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on scholarly research on race, gender inequality, and discrimination in public policy discourse in the media and government.
Crenshaw has been awarded several visiting fellowships and lectureships and is a regular commentator on NPR’s The Tavis Smiley Show. She is currently a professor of law at UCLA Law School and Columbia Law School.
Selected Books | Find Books by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw
Philosophy | Critical Theory
Angela Davis is a political activist, philosopher, academic, and author who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944. After spending a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, she earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in French Brandeis University in 1965.
While at Brandeis, Davis came into contact with the émigré German Marxist philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. Following two years of graduate work at the University of Frankfurt, she entered the doctoral program in philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.
Davis received her master’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, San Diego, in 1968. She passed the qualifying exams for her Ph.D. that same year. She began writing her dissertation under the supervision of Herbert Marcuse.
In 1969, the University of California, Los Angeles, fired her as an assistant professor of philosophy for being a member of the Community Party USA. Then, in 1970, she was accused of being an accomplice in a violent takeover at the Marin County Courthouse in San Rafael, California, though she was found innocent.
As a philosopher and critical theorist, Davis has consistently applied Marxist analysis to the oppression of people of color and women by imperialist-capitalist society. She has continued to be politically committed, frequently lending her support to those unjustly accused or condemned.
In more recent years, she has turned her attention to the injustice of what she calls the “prison-industrial complex.” She has stated that she sees radical prison reform as the great abolition movement of the 21st century. To this end, Davis co-founded the national grassroots prison-abolition organization Critical Resistance.
Davis has authored, co-authored, or edited 10 books. She has lectured widely at universities around the world, covering philosophical topics and political issues of the day. Davis holds several honorary doctorates and has been the subject of numerous films and academic studies by other authors.
Davis has taught philosophy, Africana studies, and feminist studies at several universities over the years, including UCLA, San Francisco State University, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University. She is currently Distinguished Professor Emerita, with a joint appointment in the History of Consciousness Department and the Feminist Studies Department, at the University of California Santa Cruz.
Selected Books | Find Books by Angela Davis
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Literary Theory | Africana Studies
Gates is a literary critic, teacher, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who was born in Keyser, West Virginia, in 1950. He is currently the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
Gates took his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in history in 1973 from Yale University. He obtained his Ph.D. in English language and literature in 1979 from Cambridge University.
Gates earned a reputation as a literary theorist with his 1988 treatise “The Signifying Monkey,” which analyzes the interplay between texts of prominent African-American writers and the influences of historical and cultural contexts.
Gates defends the right of white scholars to work within Africana studies disciplines. He also argues that the Black literary canon should not be theorized in isolation from European literature any more than European literature should be sealed off from African and African American influences.
Beginning with his 1994 memoir, “Colored People,” Gates has attempted to bring his own experiences as a Black man in America to speak on a variety of issues. His bibliography includes books on 18th-century Black woman poet Phillis Wheatley, African-American history and folklore, and the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. He has also brought genealogy to a broad audience through his books, lectures, and an award-winning television series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.
Gates’ writing, interviews, and television programs have made him one of the most recognizable faces of Africana studies in the country. In addition to receiving numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, he sits on the editorial boards of several dozen scholarly journals.
Selected Books | Find Books by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
History | Critical Theory
DeGruy earned her education at Portland State University (PSU). She first earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1986, followed by master’s degrees in social work and clinical psychology in 1988 and 1995, respectively.
She completed her Ph.D. in social work and social research in 2001, then became an assistant professor at PSU’s School of Social Work, where she remained for the next 20 years.
In addition to being an academic, DeGruy has more than 30 years of experience as a social worker. She leads workshops and training regarding intergenerational/historical trauma, mental health, social justice, improvement strategies, and evidence-based model development.
In 2005, she authored “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing,” which addresses the lasting impacts of trauma on African descendants in the United States. She also discusses the functional and dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors that have persisted through multiple generations due to generational trauma.
DeGruy has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, as well as developed evidence-based models for working with children, youth, and adults of color and their communities.
- Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing” (Uptone Press, 2005)
History | Jurisprudence
Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor, was born in Livingston, Texas, in 1958. She received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1981 and her JD from Harvard Law School in 1984, where she worked on the Harvard Law Review.
She is a professor at Harvard Law School, Harvard University, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. After spending time in private legal practice, Gordon-Reed returned to academia and taught at New York Law School and Rutgers.
In 2010, she returned to Harvard with a joint appointment in history and law. In 2014, she was appointed Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford.
Gordon-Reed is best known for her groundbreaking research into the Hemings family, who were slaves owned by President Thomas Jefferson and lived on his Virginia plantation. In many research articles and three best-selling books, she advanced new arguments that Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings was the mother of as many as six of his children. After initial skepticism by historians, Gordon-Reed’s work on the complicated relationship between Jefferson and Hemings is now widely accepted by the academic historical community.
In addition to her work on Jefferson and the Hemingses, she has published widely on other topics of early American history, including a book on Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States. She also assisted the prominent civil rights activist Vernon Jordan in writing his memoir.
In 2009, Gordon-Reed received the Pulitzer Prize for History and the National Book Award for nonfiction for her book, “The Hemingses of Monticello.”
Gordon-Reed is the recipient of several honorary degrees, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010. She received the National Humanities Medal — the nation’s highest award in the humanities — in a ceremony at the White House.
Selected Books | Find Books by Annette Gordon-Reed
Angela P. Harris
Critical Theory | Jurisprudence
Angela P. Harris, a legal scholar, was born in 1961. She received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1981 from the University of Michigan and her master’s in sociology in 1983 from the University of Chicago.
She earned her juris doctorate in 1986 from the University of Chicago Law School. After taking her law degree, she clerked for Judge Joel Flaum of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and then worked as an associate for Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.
Returning to academia in 1988, she joined the faculty of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. She served as the Boochever and Bird Endowed Chair for the Study of Law at the University of California Davis School of Law from 2011-2017. Her expertise included critical race theory, feminist legal theory, and criminal law.
Harris — a former research affiliate with UC-Davis’s Center for Poverty Research — is the author of several influential articles and essays in critical legal theory, feminist legal theory, and critical race theory. One of her more commonly known contributions was adding critical race theory to the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Harris has published articles in peer-reviewed journals — including Fordham Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and California Law Review — and authored, co-authored, and edited numerous books.
Harris has also helped to organize or participate in many colloquia, seminars, and workshops on feminist legal theory and critical race theory. In 2003, she received Berkeley Law School’s coveted Rutter Award for Distinction in Teaching.
Selected Books | Find Books by Angela P. Harris
Biblical Philology | Africana Studies
Ephraim Isaac was born in Ethiopia in 1936 to a Yemeni Jewish father and an Ethiopian mother. He was raised in Ethiopia but came to the United States for his higher education. He is currently director of the Institute of Semitic Studies in Princeton, New Jersey.
Isaac received his bachelor of divinity from Harvard Divinity School in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. He subsequently taught at Harvard, as well as several other universities, including Bard College, Howard University Divinity School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Princeton University.
Isaac is a polymath who is proficient in 17 ancient and modern languages, including some in Europe, the Near East, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on Ge’ez, the ancestral form of the South Semitic languages (including Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre) spoken in present-day Ethiopia.
Isaac has published translations of the Hebrew Bible into Ge’ez, including editions and translations of two works that are wholly extant only in Ge’ez: the “Book of Enoch” and the “History of Joseph.”
Isaac has also been a leader of Africana studies in the United States. He founded the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at Harvard University in 1969 and taught many courses in African history and philosophy.
Isaac is well known as an activist working for peace in the Middle East, including in his native land of Ethiopia. He is a longtime associate of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, as well as a member of the Committee, a group of respected Ethiopian elders. They work for reconciliation among the various ethnic groups within Ethiopia and between Ethiopia and its neighbors. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Afroasiatic Studies — a post he has held since 1985.
Selected Books | Find Books by Ephraim Isaac
Edmond J. Keller
Edmond J. Keller was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1942. He received his bachelor’s degree in government in 1969 from Louisiana State University in New Orleans. His master’s degree in political science came from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, followed by a Ph.D. in political science from the same school in 1974.
Keller is an Africanist scholar, and served as chair of the Department of Political Science, director of the Globalization Research Center – Africa, and director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) until his retirement in 2013.
He is currently distinguished professor emeritus of the Department of Political Science at UCLA. He has also taught at Indiana University, Dartmouth College, the University of Wisconsin, Xavier University (New Orleans), and the University of California Santa Barbara.
Keller specializes in comparative politics with a focus on Africa. He has been a visiting research scholar at the Institute for Development Studies and the Bureau of Educational Research in Nairobi, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Africa Institute of South Africa, and the Institute for International Studies at University of California, Berkeley.
Keller has done public policy work with the United Nations and consulted onh African development, regional security issues, public policy, and the process of political transitions in Africa. In 1990, Keller gave testimony before the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Hunger and Foreign Affairs on the politics of war, drought, and famine in Ethiopia.
Keller has authored or co-authored several books and more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. In 2008, Keller received the Distinguished Africanist Award from the African Studies Association.
Selected Books | Find Books by Edmond J Keller
Randall L. Kennedy
Jurisprudence | Cultural Criticism
Kennedy received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1977 from Princeton University. Appointed a Rhodes Scholar, he studied history at Oxford University for two academic years (1977-1979). He earned his juris doctorate in 1982 from Yale Law School.
Kennedy clerked for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit during the 1982-83 term and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall from 1983-84.
Kennedy has taught courses on contracts, freedom of expression, race relations law, civil rights legislation, and the Supreme Court. His published work — most of which addresses the intersection of racial discrimination and the law — is noted for dispassionate arguments and the effort to balance opposing points of view.
Kennedy is known for being unafraid to tackle contested issues, such as racism, interracial marriages, and adoptions. His views are widely acclaimed but often draw controversy.
Kennedy has written many articles for both peer-reviewed journals and publications, including The Atlantic, Harper’s, and the American Prospect. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Association.
Selected Books | Find Books by Randall L. Kennedy
John H. McWhorter
Linguistics | Cultural Criticism
John H. McWhorter, a linguist and academic, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1965. He attended Friends Select School in the city, but skipped the 11th and 12th grades for early admission to Simon’s Rock College in Massachusetts.
He received his bachelor’s degree in French from Rutgers University, followed by a master’s degree in American studies from New York University. In 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford University.
McWhorter taught linguistics at Cornell University and at University of California, Berkeley. He later became an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the Center for American Studies at Columbia University in New York City.
McWhorter has lectured on many other subjects, including American studies, philosophy, and music history, but most of his academic work involves linguistics — primarily the study of creole languages. Creoles are the result of two different languages quickly mixing into a new one.
McWhorter has argued against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which claims that language influences how humans perceive the world. He also contends that everyday constructions, such as “like” and “totally,” should not be perceived as degraded renditions of English.
McWhorter entered more controversial territory by discussing Black self-sabotage in his 2000 book, “Losing the Race,” and by advancing a moderately conservative viewpoint on such sensitive topics as racial profiling, affirmative action, the reparations movement, and the corruption of certain older Civil Rights-era activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in his book “Authentically Black.”
McWhorter is the author of more than a dozen books, and he has been published in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. He also makes frequent appearances on radio and television talk shows.
Selected Books | Find Books by John H. McWhorter
Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe
Economics | Literary Theory | Cultural Criticism
Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe was born in New York City in 1966. She is an economist and the founder and president of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race (WISER), a nonprofit research organization.
Sharpe earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1988 from North Carolina Wesleyan University. She holds three master’s degrees: applied mathematics from Clark Atlanta University (1992); operations research from Stanford University (1994); and economics from Claremont Graduate University. She received her Ph.D. in economics and mathematics from Claremont in 1998.
Sharpe has taught at many colleges and universities, including Barnard College, Bucknell University, and Columbia University. She served as Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Business and Economics at Bennett College from 2009-2012.
She is the co-founder of the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics (DITE), where she served as associate director from 2008-2014. She was also an Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance fellow at the University of Houston Law Center from 2008-2009.
Sharpe’s work as an economist lies primarily at the intersection between labor economics and feminist economics. She has paid specific attention to the academic labor market as it relates to African American women and to Black women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Sharp has also reflected on poverty around the world. She co-authored a study on the wage differential between urban and rural-urban migrant laborers in China, as well as an article on global poverty for an encyclopedia on gender and sexuality studies.
Her nonprofit organization, WISER, is one of the first to focus solely on the social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of women of color.
Selected Books | Find Books by Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe
- Black Female Undergraduates on Campus: Successes and Challenges (Emerald Group Publishing, 2012)
- Black Women in the US Economy: The Hardest Working Woman (Routledge, 2018)
Claude M. Steele
Steele earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1967 from Hiram College. He received his master’s degree and his Ph.D. in psychology from Ohio State State University in 1969 and 1971, respectively.
Steele has taught psychology for nearly 40 years at various institutions, including the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University. He also served as provost of Columbia University from 2009-2011 and as executive vice chancellor and provost of University of California, Berkeley, from 2014-2016.
Steele’s early work as a social psychologist centered around the study of addiction, especially alcohol abuse. He is best known for his groundbreaking work on stereotype threat, a concept he originated in a much-cited 1995 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Stereotype threat (also known as stereotype vulnerability) is anxiety triggered by specific situations where a person fears confirming a negative stereotype attached to the ethnic, religious, racial, gender, or other social groups to which they belong. The concept, Steele said, often applies to a Black person who experiences anxiety about failure in academics out of fear of confirming others’ stereotypes.
The psychology community widely accepts his ideas, which have become prominent in the analysis of race and social psychology.
Steele is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the American Philosophical Society.
- Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (W.W. Norton, 2010)
Beverley Daniel Tatum
Tatum earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1975 from Wesleyan University. She received her master’s degree in 1976 and her Ph.D. in 1984, both in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan. She later earned a master’s degree in religious studies from Hartford Seminary.
Tatum taught Black studies and psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara; Westfield State College; and Mount Holyoke College. Mount Holyoke eventually appointed her as chair of the psychology department, dean of the college, vice president for Student Affairs, and acting president.
Tatum served as president of Spelman College — the oldest historically Black women’s college in the country — from 2002-2015. In 2017, she was named the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.
Tatum has retired from her post as president emerita at Spelman College and is now focusing on her work as an author and lecturer.
Tatum’s career as a clinical psychologist is mostly devoted to racism and how it impacts people’s self-understanding. She has been at the forefront of arguing that racial differences are something young children notice on their own and that it is better to discuss them openly and honestly than to pretend they do not exist.
She has taught a course entitled “The Psychology of Racism” for nearly two decades. Her lessons from the course influenced her 1997 book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
Tatum has also been influential in applying William E. Cross, Jr.’s racial identity development theory for interpreting the process by which racial self-consciousness forms in young people over time.
Tatum has published three books, as well as many articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. She has served on the boards of numerous public and governmental organizations. In 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) gave Tatum its Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology.
Selected Books | Find Books by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community (Praeger, 1987; revised edition, 2000)
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race (Basic Books, 1997; revised edition, 2017)
- Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation (Basic Books, 2007)
Philosophy | Religion | Critical Theory
West received his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University in 1973. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1980 from Princeton University.
He subsequently taught at several institutions, including Yale University, Union Theological Seminary, the University of Paris, Harvard University, and Princeton University. West has had two careers: one as a conventional philosophy professor and another as one of the most visible African American public intellectuals in the country.
Early in his career, West studied and criticized both American pragmatist and French-inspired postmodernist strains of thought. West leans toward a radical, Marxist-inspired critique of racism within the broader context of capitalist imperialism. He has published several books of analytical philosophy, covering topics such as revolutionary Christianity and Marxist ethics.
In the early 1990s, West began to practice radical prophecy. He sought a more committed style of philosophical engagement, often extending his radical critique of American society and politics to the Democratic Party itself, including former President Barack Obama.
West’s willingness to voice his opinions has won him a broad and devoted following far beyond the confines of academic philosophy, but his views have drawn controversy. His increasingly committed prophetic stance has led to personal disputes, including a highly publicized conflict with Harvard University in 2005.
West has made appearances on radio and television. For several years, he co-hosted a talk show with Tavis Smiley called Smiley & West. He is also the author of many books, essays, and op-eds. In 1993, he won the National Book Award for Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times.
West is currently professor emeritus at Princeton University and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University, with a joint appointment at Harvard Divinity School and in the Department of African American Studies.
Our article, “The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers,” features West.
Selected Books | Find Books by Cornel West
William J. Wilson
Wilson received his bachelor’s degree in sociology and history from Wilberforce University in 1958. He earned his master’s degree, also in sociology and history, from Bowling Green State University in 1961, and his Ph.D. in sociology and anthropology from Washington State University in 1966.
Wilson taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst until the early 1970s. He joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1972, where he eventually attained the title of Lucy Flower University Professor and became the director of the university’s Center for the Study of Urban Inequality.
In 1996, Wilson was appointed Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University. He was also named director of the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard. He has been Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor in the department of sociology at Harvard since 1998.
In his work as a sociologist, Wilson has primarily addressed the problem of poverty and inequality of opportunity among African Americans despite 50 years of government programs. Wilson argues that structural and cultural factors contribute to the issue, rather than systemic, socioeconomic, and political factors.
Wilson’s efforts to end over-simplified, polarized, and politicized thinking about the issue carry over to his writing. He is the author, co-author, or editor of more than a dozen books and approximately 175 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in professional journals and edited volumes.
Wilson has lectured at more than 400 colleges and universities around the world. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Philosophical Society, and the British Academy.
In 1987, Wilson was appointed a MacArthur Fellow, and in 1998, he received the National Medal of Science.
Selected Books | Find Books by William J. Wilson