Visiting Scholar Talk: K. Bailey Thomas, "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Defense of Black Studies"

Wednesday, May 8, 5:30 - 6:30 PM
W.E.B. Du Bois Library, Room 2220

W. E. B. Du Bois stands as a seminal figure whose intellectual legacy is indispensable to the foundation and fortification of Black Studies within the United States. In the face of contemporary challenges to this crucial discipline, including targeted anti-CRT legislation, Du Bois’s contributions resonate more profoundly than ever. This talk elucidates Du Bois’s pivotal role by exploring three key facets of his work.

Firstly, Du Bois’s incisive examination of Reconstruction and critique of historical narratives forms a cornerstone of Black Studies. By scrutinizing textbooks’ treatment of Black American contributions, Du Bois laid the groundwork for a critical reassessment of U.S. history. Secondly, Du Bois fearlessly confronted white supremacy and its enablers, advocating for an unapologetic dismantling of systemic racism. His insistence on challenging entrenched power structures remains a guiding principle for the defense of Black Studies in the face of contemporary attacks. Lastly, Du Bois’s profound insights into the transformative power of education for Black individuals illuminate the essence of Black Studies. His vision extends beyond mere academic pursuit, emphasizing education as a tool for liberation and empowerment.

In synthesizing these elements, this talk underscores Du Bois’s enduring relevance in shaping not only the discourse of Black Studies but also its vital defense against ideological assaults on its legitimacy.

K. Bailey Thomas is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at Dartmouth College and an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Louisville. During their residence at the W. E. B. Du Bois Center, they conducted research on a long-term project focusing on central arguments made by Du Bois in Black Reconstruction (1935). This project aims to address the importance of this seminal text through arguing for its relevancy in three areas: advancing current understandings of “racial capital” with regards to the afterlives of slavery in the United States, the need to re-situate predominant understanding of Du Bois’ critiques against Marxism and its application to race, and Du Bois’ foreshadowing of a current white supremacist ideology that has persisted into the current era. Much of this research will appear in a forthcoming edited volume of essays that will be published through UMass Press.

Outside of Bailey’s work on Du Bois, they also research topics at the intersection of social epistemology and African American and Black Studies, such as intellectual genealogies, radicalized knowledge and ethics of care. Their research specializations are in African American and Black American philosophy, social epistemology, social and political philosophy, Black American feminist theory, and critical philosophy of race.

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Contact: Adam Holmes

holmes@umass.edu