When considering the impact that Kenneth Stikkers, a professor of philosophy and affiliated faculty in Africana and Multicultural Studies has on former students, understanding Stikkers’ selection for a prestigious mentorship award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association is easy.
In nominating Stikkers for the Stuart Hall Outstanding Mentor Award, Tommy Curry, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, wrote Stikkers’ “friendship and mentorship were not the typical white savior narrative many philosophers pride themselves on in philosophy.” It was rooted “in his belief that Black philosophy was a serious academic and disciplinary endeavor that required the best minds and talented young Black people to develop the field in the future.”
Adding that generations of young philosophers are “indebted” to Stikkers’ work and changing “the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in reality,” Curry wrote that Stikkers “challenged American philosophers to think about the consequences that racism and Blackness have not only for Black people’s lives, but white people’s stake in democracy and ‘doing philosophy.’”
Darian Spearman, now a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Connecticut, notes he didn’t have a sense that philosophy was for him until he took Stikkers’ class on critical race theory and being introduced to “Black Skin, White Masks” by Frantz Fanon.
“For the first time I felt I was reading someone who was speaking directly to my experience,” Spearman wrote to the committee. “I experienced firsthand that my experiences as a Black man were worthy of the deepest philosophical scrutiny. It was from that moment onward that I could see myself as a philosopher. … I know for a fact that his support has laid the foundations for many new philosophers to come who will be working to shift the geography of reason.”
Get to know KENNETH STIKKERS
Name: Kenneth Stikkers
Department/title: Philosophy, professor, Africana and Multicultural Studies, affiliated faculty; Center for Dewey Studies, interim director.
Years at SIU Carbondale: 24½
Give us the elevator pitch for your job.
I don’t think of what I do as a “job” — something one does in order to make a living. I can retire at any time now and hence don’t need to work, but I don’t know of anything that I’d enjoy better (although there are days when …).
What is your favorite part of your job?
Working with students.
Why did you choose SIU?
I was recruited to chair the Department of Philosophy in 1997 and accepted the offer because there wasn’t any better place for my main research interests, American and contemporary continental philosophy — the two main strengths of the philosophy program. Also, my wife and I are native Illinoisans. We were living in Seattle and looking for opportunities to move back closer to family, especially with aging parents.
What does earning the Stuart Hall Mentorship Award mean for you?
I can’t think of a greater honor for myself. The Caribbean Philosophical Association is a distinguished, international philosophical association that supports students and scholars of color. It represents the very best of philosophical pluralism and promotes open dialogue across cultures and philosophical traditions. Second, Stuart Hall was the founder of cultural studies, and I have always considered myself an interdisciplinary scholar of culture. Third, I will be sharing the stage with Angela Davis, whom I have long admired as a philosopher-activist.
Fourth and most importantly, the award comes from my students, and I had no idea that I have had such an impact on them, as their letters, supporting my nomination for the award, testify. Reading those letters brings me to tears, and I’m sure that I’ll be quite tearful when I receive the award. I’d long thought that my students had given me far more than I had ever given them, and so it’s very gratifying to know that I have returned the favor, at least to some degree.
Moreover, I will be retiring within the next few years, and so this is not merely an award: It is the validation of the path that I chose to take in life.
How is the significance of including Black philosophy changing and what sparked your interest and research in that field?
Philosophy is not just one academic discipline alongside others and something that interests some people but not others. Sooner or later, life makes philosophers of us all. At various points in our lives, we all are forced to face philosophy’s perennial questions. What is the meaning of my life? Does my existence really matter? What does it mean that I came into being without my consent and am destined to die? How ought I live? What kind of person do I want to become? What is freedom, and what does it mean to be free? What is love? What is justice? Am I a good person?
I thus understand philosophy as the conversation of humanity, whereby we collectively try to make sense of this merry-go-round on which we find ourselves, through the asking and discussion of such questions. Every group of people has its own wisdom, hard-earned through its struggles, sufferings and joys, and thus has a contribution to make to that conversation. For too long, though, the philosophical profession in the West has considered only the wisdom of the West to be legitimate and of value. Thankfully that condition is now changing, albeit slowly, and the Caribbean Philosophical Association has been a major force behind that change.
Socrates famously defined “wisdom,” of which philosophy is its love, as awareness of one’s own ignorance: Only through such awareness are we able to open ourselves to what is real and true. Stepping outside of one’s own group can make one profoundly aware of one’s ignorance because quickly challenged are a whole number of assumptions that we have made, simply by being part of that group. Thus, the inclusion of Africana wisdom — but also Asian, Latin American, Indigenous wisdom — at that table of humanity is necessary to advance philosophy’s end.
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