Josephine Boyd Bradley, Clark Atlanta University
Unlike other academic disciplines offered by colleges and universities, Black Studies evolved out of the struggles of Black students during the 1960s. When it initiated the first Black Studies department on a four-year college campus in 1968, San Francisco State University did so in response to the drive for more racial equity in educational knowledge bases. It was a call for a response to the Westernization of education in the United States and the driving need for another voice, another lens through which the world could be viewed. Black Studies has been emerging since that time and seeking its rightful place in the academy. It has become the dinosaur of intellectual integrity that will not go away. Black Studies is continuously demanding its rightful place as an acceptable discipline within the academy.
Hence, for many in academe, Black Studies evolved as and continues to represent an answer to campus unrest and a solution to a problem that would not go away. Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas overthrowing the ideology of separate but equal as well as earlier Supreme Court decisions that stated that racial disparities had no place in graduate school education opened up the doors for Black students to earnestly seek undergraduate education that included them from the perspective of their sociocultural background—the African and African American experiences. The call for Black Studies demanded social change and social justice. Thus, Black Studies emerged without a model to emulate or courses offered and recognized for their intellectual and academic standards as known and revered by the academic community. The lack of knowledge as to how such an area of study should be developed resulted in the creation of Black Studies as interdisciplinary in philosophy and approach. It appears that it is this approach, which has become the role model, in its efforts to “keep peace,” has resulted in problems such as marginalization and piecemeal curriculum offerings. After thirty-one years, Black Studies should be a well-defined academic discipline within collegiate institutions. However, not unlike many disciplines it has spawned, Black Studies is still emerging. Important challenges still remain.
Present challenges focus on such concerns as whether or not Black Studies is a viable area of study that therefore should be maintained by colleges and universities. Controversy is still alive around the validity of the discipline, the usefulness of the discipline as a preparatory major for students seeking careers in law, business, medicine, and other types of employment, the concern over whether or not the information being imparted as Black Studies meets the standards given to academic disciplines, the credibility of the credentials of scholars teaching in the field, and the value and viability of the discipline for colleges and universities today.
Thus, the future directions new scholarship in the field should take provide the greatest challenge to the discipline since its inception in 1968. The new scholarship needs to include a number of precursory acts: a common nomenclature that provides the framework for a common theoretical perspective or perspectives that ultimately guide the administrative structure, the mission and vision for the discipline, the curriculum offered, and the faculty recruitment and retention criteria. Therefore, the new scholarship in the field should be based on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender. This approach to the new scholarship can, according to Inez Reed, provide an opportunity for scholarly revision of historical and cultural myths related to people of African descent throughout the Diaspora. Intersectionality of race, class, and gender necessitate an understanding of their interrelationship as well as their effect upon each other. This approach removes, it seems, the notion that Blacks can be viewed independent of each. In other words, intersectionality removes the assumption that one is either Black or male, or Black or female, and acknowledges that one is both Black and male or Black and female. Further, this removes the notion that all experiences are male/white or white/female. It is just this notion that contributed to the struggle for Black Studies as a separate entity and area of study.
The new scholarship is about the intellectual and academic integrity of the need for all students, not just Blacks, to understand that African American/Black history is American history. This inclusion would lead to more research being initiated by Black Americans about Black Americans in the Americas and throughout the Diaspora. People of African descent have given away the documentation of their history to the other. The new scholarship requires a reconnect with the history as fact and not as a romantic ideology whose time has arrived. This agenda calls for the legitimization of Black Studies by college/university administrators, faculty, and students. This approach necessitates a call for the revision of Black Studies based on traditions and scholarship defined by those in the field of Black Studies. Further, it mandates a revisiting of the American societal traditions that reinforce sexism, racism, and classism.
While multiculturalism and ethnic studies are the driving forces of today, Black Studies cannot allow itself to be consumed under these dimensions and thereby lose its impact on the study of race as it exists within our society. The subject area has to include a thorough investigation of race and ethnicity. This suggested area of scholarship is not about race hating, but about the challenges related to the meaning of race within the American society. The new scholarship demands that perhaps the discussion begins with such a definition of racial formation as offered by Michael Omi and Howard Winant and move toward a definition that places Blacks elsewhere than as outsider. Omi and Winant define racial formation as “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed and destroyed … race is a matter of both social structure and cultural representation.” Black Studies in the new scholarship must include a more thorough presentation of race as a factor in other inequities such as class and gender.
Moreover, the new scholarship should include the study of Black women in the Americas, on the Continent, and throughout the Diaspora. James Turner, Delores Aldridge, Maulana Karenga, and others call for Black Studies to aggressively include gender and women’s histories in any revisions undertaken by the discipline. The inclusion and recognition of Black women as advocates and contributors to the revolution for Black Studies are long overdue. The inclusion of Black women, not as objects, but as equal partners in the building of or revision of Black life, requires academic reform by Black men, white men, white women, and Black women. It further requires that Black women permit their voices to be heard—to represent a new lens through which to understand Black life and traditions. Black Studies, from its inception to the present, has emerged as male dominated even though Black women were initially involved in the struggle for inclusion of Black Studies on college campuses. The intent of the new scholarship is not to create a divide between Black men and Black women, but rather to enhance the learning opportunities for those engaged in Black Studies. To minimize either group, that is, Black men or Black women, is a destructive act. Both must be included in the curriculum. The new scholarship must offer essential strategies for the inclusion of women in the discourse, to teach varied course offerings and not just Women’s Studies and to solicit their input in the revamping/redesign of the discipline.
It is to be noted that “Throughout history, Black/Africana Studies has opened doors for Black men and women to create a new relationship and scholarship.” Laverne Gyant adds, “a relationship that has cross disciplines, a relationship that has made it possible for the field to grow in areas of theory, leadership, and policy. … They see their teaching and leadership in Black/Africana Studies as contributing to and expanding the history and culture of people of African descent.” Another challenge confronting women and the new scholarship is related to Delores Aldridge’s ideas about the integration of African women into Africana Studies. Aldridge notes that is a need for the “continued involvement of Africana women with womanist perspectives in leadership positions in the professional bodies for Africana Studies so that programs and policies reflect their perspectives. … Increased attention to developing new and restructuring old curricula to reflect a balance that is inclusive of Africana women.” The new scholarship will require that gender differences are placed aside in order to ensure the continuation of Black Studies as an academic discipline.
Class becomes an issue because of the disparities confronting Black Americans growing out of race and gender issues. Class differences need to be included in the new scholarship that will address the pertinent needs of Blacks and provide some strategies for helping students understand the dynamics of economics and its impact on Black Americans. Class differences have impacted the Black community and courses on Black cconomics in relationship to the dominant group can enhance the quality of life for Black Americans as a group and as a community. Class is also a marker in terms of how Blacks are viewed on college campuses. So, views impact how administrations, white faculty, and some Black faculty relate to Black Studies as an academic discipline. Thus, the new scholarship can help dismantle the master’s house.
In conclusion, the new scholarship in the field of Black/Africana Studies will need to embrace the notion of intersectionality, specifically race, class, and gender. This approach does not eliminate the need for continuous or new scholarship in the areas of internationalism and environmental justice. The new scholarship demands that Black scholars cannot afford to address the challenges of interdisciplinarity and its impact on the continuation of Black Studies. Black Studies scholars are now in a position to design the model for departments on college campuses.
- Michael Omi and Howard Winant, “Racial formation,” in Lisa Heldke and Peg O’Connor, Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003), 117. ↵
- J. Cole and M.M. Gordon, “Black women as colleagues in Black studies,” New England Journal of Black Studies, 1981, 3–8. ↵
- Laverne Gyant, “The Missing Link: Women in Black/Africana Studies,” in Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies, ed. Delores Aldridge and Carlene Young (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2000), 181. ↵
- Gyant, “The Missing Link,” 200. ↵