WHAT DIRECTION SHOULD NEW SCHOLARSHIP IN THE FIELD TAKE?
Lee D. Baker (Duke University): It is my honor and distinct pleasure to sit around this table with such wonderful heroes and sheroes of mine, and I’m humbled at the opportunity. I would like to rephrase this because I don’t think I have the ability to say which way it should go; this is one way it could go in terms of new directions in Africana Studies.
I gave this essay a lot of thought. More importantly, knowing all the esteemed scholars around the table, I was wondering what hasn’t been done before; what is the direction that is new? While I was thinking this, the marches were going on; I was teaching about integration; I read essays my students wrote. I was stunned by Black male students who wrote essays about “They’re taking our jobs.” And I heard them in terms of their own experience in trying to find employment; not by Duke students, as much as their cousins and brothers. They really felt that this was an issue.
So I kept thinking that maybe this is a direction. And it came to me—it was framed for me, I should say—as I was driving home from Superior Court in Raleigh after I was pulled over for going too slow. So I had to go to court. And driving back from court in Raleigh, back home to Durham, I stumbled on this anecdote.
Second only to Texas, North Carolina has more miles of state-maintained highways than any other state in the union. Each mile is well maintained. In springtime, mid-April, I was driving west on I-40 between Raleigh and Durham; it was bright, sunny—one of those clear 69-degree days. Various workers were out along the highway picking up litter, doing construction, and planting wildflowers. As traffic slowed to a narrow strip near Research Triangle Park, I noticed two crews, each crew comprised of about a dozen men. They were opposite each other on different sides of the highway, their Day-Glo vests paling in comparison to the pockets of brilliant violet and red buds amongst the equally bright white of the dogwood flowers that enhanced that beautiful day.
One crew was all Black; the other was all Latino and had North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDT) emblazoned across their vests in reflective lettering. The other crew had “Inmate” stamped across their chests. Chances are members of the Latino crew were immigrant day laborers that a contractor picked up that morning from the throng of young men who mill around the local home improvement store. And if that was the case, not one of those hard-working men on either side of that highway had legal rights afforded to employees in the state of North Carolina. Each man was being sorely underpaid and exploited. Innocent or guilty, documented or undocumented, each man labored under a pall of criminality of one sort or another, their status as immigrant or convict virtually forcing them to make the North Carolina highways beautiful.
In some way this tale of two crews has helped me frame the integration debate that has been royally prompting protests en masse and forcing everyone throughout the Americas to fully take on the entangled issues that impede comprehensive immigration reform. Perhaps it is current partisan politics that prompted me to think this could be a new direction in Africana Studies, but I think we do need to have a Black Studies or Africana Studies approach to this issue, that is an important issue throughout the Americas, and help to reframe the issue.
From my perspective it really seems that issues are framed in a sort of lose-lose way of understanding them. It’s framed on the one hand by what I like to call the neoliberal liberals who see efficient markets driving undocumented workers or efficient labor into the hog processing plants of North Carolina, into the crop fields of the San Joaquin Valley, and into the manicured gardens of the Hamptons. And there’s the view that says they’re doing the work that no one else wants to do, so give them a chance. But I just don’t trust them because it smacks of the old days where the happy Negro was described by the benevolent slaver; arguing that you should be happy to be here. In many respects this is an institutionalization of, not second-class citizenship, but second-class non-citizens; and that’s not an option. The other side of the debate is to batten down the hatches, put up the border walls, make them illegal; in both ways, I think Africana Studies can weigh in and help to reframe the issue.
2050 is the year everyone from demographers to advertising executives are saying that white people will once again be a minority in what is now the United States. But I think we can look at other areas within the African Diaspora to suggest that probably won’t be the case, whether it’s Trinidad, Brazil, South Africa, or even Florida. In terms of thinking through the way race and processes of racialization have occurred where Whites become a minority, there’s always a sort of upper class and appropriation of model minorities into a way that maintains the exclusion of Black and brown people—often even moreso.
There’s some new research coming out on this. And I think people in Africana Studies should be attuned to this where there are advertisers and marketers splitting the Latino market. There are euphemisms that are used: English-oriented and Spanish-preferred. Many researchers are saying these are classed and raced signifiers, who suggest that we’re seeing, in the post-Mariel boatlift Cubans in Florida, that particular model of bringing in Latinos as not quite white, but intended to emerge later as part of the white power structure, that is going to be articulated from Texas to California and, for that matter, in any locale where a buffer race will be needed. And we’ve seen this throughout the diaspora.
What they call the “Spanish-preferred” are also in a sense a model minority; darker, less class mobile, but closely tied to their own indigenous culture. This one so-called model minority is also seen as preferred workers in many respects. This research is not just in anthropology, but also in demography and other population studies. I think it is important for Africana Studies to weigh in on this issue and think it through. Now, you put this up against the rates of incarceration and all these books saying that’s one more case of Black pathology. But regardless, I think it’s an issue in terms of employment.
So this whole concept of risk is important because employers risk committing a crime by hiring an undocumented worker because they don’t want to risk someone who they think might commit a crime.
Kimberle W. Crenshaw (UCLA): I am delighted to be here, especially given the fact that those of us in professional schools aren’t often part of these conversations, even though we desperately want to be. So I want to thank the organizers for providing access to this.
I’ve been sitting on a story for twenty years that I’ve been dying to tell an audience that I thought would particularly appreciate it. I’m going to tell that story as a way of prefacing my remarks about the relationship between Critical Race Theory and Black Studies; what Black Studies might give to Critical Race Theory; and what Critical Race Theory might give back to Black Studies.
More years ago than I would like to say, when I was a senior graduating from Africana Studies at Cornell, I had the occasion to be introduced to one of our senior civil rights leaders, executive director of one of the major organizations. He was a close family friend of an MA student who was a friend of mine in the department. His mother decided to build up this introduction by saying that I was about to go into Harvard Law School. He wasn’t impressed at all by that, and I think he didn’t think it was true, and he interrogated me as to whether I had really been accepted. Then he asked me what my preparation was; what I had taken in undergrad.
I was [over] eighteen years old talking to a major civil rights leader and I’m thinking he’s going to be impressed by what I’m telling him: “I’ve been studying our people!” I told him that I was a major in Africana Studies and government. He lit into me like nobody’s business from beginning to end; the whole story about why did your parents pay this money and waste these dollars, you’re not going to be prepared, and predicted that I wouldn’t graduate, that I wasn’t going to last through the first year.
That story gives me a lot of pleasure twenty years later since I’ve been teaching in law schools, for a lot of reasons. The most important one to me is that it reflected how the civil rights community—and I’m not saying the entire civil rights community, but some part of the civil rights community—in some ways colluded in certain ideologies that have now come to roost right now, in particular the ideologies that are frowned upon in the last century’s epistemologies, elevated the notion of color blindness, lifted up the idea that an institution can really be thought to be race free because there’s no “White Only” sign on the door. These are all the ways that I would contend that civil rights leadership dropped the ball. And as a consequence of that, we are in a position now where color blindness is one of the most significant threats; not only to Black Studies, to Black epistemology [and] Black subjectivity, but to Black communities as a whole.
So part of what I wanted to say today is there’s a very close relationship, the genealogy between Black Studies and its struggle to come into existence is not only parallel, it prefaced, encouraged, and produced Critical Race Theory into law. Once that was produced, much of what Critical Race Theory is all about right now is revealing the ideological constructs for Black erasure, both material erasure in institutions of higher education and more importantly, the erasure of the language of race; the inability to even talk about race. This is where I think we had an opportunity where Black Studies can uniquely speak to the contradictions that are constituted by this ideological investment in color blindness.
Other things that I talk about in the paper is that the struggle that occurred at Harvard Law School around the question of both the inclusion of Black-focused curriculum development, and the struggle over African American and other people of color, gave to those of us who were coming out of Black Studies programs, coming out of anti-apartheid struggles on campuses, coming out of various other traditions of struggle, gave to us the natural next step of where to take struggle. So we were in these law schools, in these institutions, where the idea was that once we have integrated, we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to teach any courses having to do with you; we don’t have to recruit anybody.
I went there to study with Derrick Bell. He was in many ways the embodiment of Black Studies in law school. I don’t know how many of you have seen his book Race and American Law, but there’s a lithograph of John Conyers and Condi Smith and that’s exactly what we want to say. It’s hard to describe how marginal and how out of the mainstream that approach was.
For us, it was perfectly consistent with Black Studies; the idea that you would focus not on abstract ideas of racial justice, but look and see how law actually constitutes Black life; how law constrains Black people; how sometimes law can be used as discourses of resistance. His measure of the effect in this focus on racial justice was about how it … played out in real Black people’s lives. That position was hotly contested at the time: so contested that, when he left the administration, he had no intention to teach his courses ever again.
That raised another motive for us. We come from Black Studies. We’re not used to the administration telling us something and accepting it. So we went and contested it. And the dean really framed for us what would be the debate for the next two decades. The first thing he said was, “What’s so special about a course on constitutional law and minority issues that you can’t get by taking legal aid and common law and history?” We [had] heard that in Black Studies before. And, “Why do you need a Black person to teach it? How come you wouldn’t be more willing to accept an excellent white professor over a mediocre Black one?” Those were the terms of the debate.
So the law school went ahead and hired a well-known white civil rights lawyer. We boycotted that attempt to do so. And in the media, along with the civil rights organizations we were denounced for engaging in reverse discrimination; Black nationalism run amok; everything you could think of was thrown at us, when in fact, we were really contesting the terms of institutional engagement that excluded Black people.
The reason why I tell you that story is that the continuation of the color-blind ideology has completely and totally shaped the contemporary debate about Blackness. I come from California, where I think we’re on the cutting edge of a lot of things. Where we’re on the cutting edge now is the use of color blindness to exclude us from universities.
So as a consequence, for example, my law school, after Prop 209 went into effect, one year graduated forty-two African American students; the very next year it matriculated two. So not only is color blindness attempting to erase from the university, the next step was to talk about whether ethnic studies programs ran counter to the spirit of 209. So there’s discussion about that. The next step was to eliminate the ability to collect racial data. So the end run around all this Black stuff was to take the data away from them and rip out their tongues so they wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Fortunately, that was repudiated, but not based on what it did to us, but [on] the fact that it would have some collateral damage against white people.
What I think all this means now is that Black Studies has an opportunity to fill in and help resist the effort for color blindness to basically erase racial discourse entirely. There are a couple of suggestions that I would have to say. Number one, Black Studies needs to be far more engaged in public policy debates. What’s happening in prisons; what’s happening in health care; what’s happening in neighborhoods; all of these things color blindness is agnostic about. We all know why there are so many Black people in prison, why so many people have poor health care, [and] why there are so many Blacks in failing schools. But Black Studies knows we can put together genealogies of oppression to make it clear that this [is] completely and totally connected to ongoing patterns of racial subordination. We need to address that.
The other thing I think we need to address is other ways that Blackness now is being challenged; people have mentioned some of them. One is this Black-White paradigm idea; the idea that for other groups to be talked about, basically Black people have to be marginalized. We can expand the discourse on race without marginalizing Black people or making it seem like “been there, done that.”
The north-south/south-south issues in the global arena; there is a tendency now to think that Black people in the first world are somehow privileged over all other people in the world so that even elites in the South have primary status of discussions of racial oppression than Black people in the North. That’s a significant problem that I think we should engage in. The multiracial movement has to be engaged in particular ways. And this postmodern idea that because race is a social construction, there’s no there, there. So why should we talk about race anymore? I think we have some contributions we can make to that.
The last thing I’ll say in terms of institutional suggestion, because of law’s centrality to Black people and Black people’s centrality to law, there’s a natural convergence in research possibilities that need to be explored. So we have a program that provides a concentration in law, an MA/JD program, and I think it can be a useful model that we can talk about with law schools and other professional groups on campus.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): So policy comes up again. Now, Dr. Asante, I’m sure is going to bring it all together.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I was at UCLA when there was about six or seven percent African American student population in the late ’60s; now it has declined.
Let me say thanks also to Marilyn, to Ford and to all of you. I’m delighted to be here. I want to take a couple of minutes to say that my project has been, for the last forty years … just about forty years. … I started editing the Journal of Black Studies in 1969; the first issue came out in 1970. My project has been to try to figure out how to ensure the institutionalization of Black Studies, and that has been my own personal goal for the field. Whatever I’ve tried to do, I’ve tried to do it in that vein.
The Journal of Black Studies is still alive. It comes out six times a year; has 3,500 readers all over the world. I didn’t know, until I heard Charles Jones, how many women have written for the Journal. But I’m sure it is continuing to be the same quality journal as it always was. Terry Kershaw was once the associate editor.
In terms of African American Studies, I have had the conception of the field as moving always in a disciplinary way toward a disciplined idea. Nate Norman, who’s the chair of our department, is here, and knows that we have now had over one hundred PhD students in African American Studies since the creation of the first PhD program in 1987. I mentioned earlier when Alison was here that, not just me, but our president of the university and the research people came forward and asked them to fund our PhD program; but they refused to do it on the basis that we were too ideological and too Afrocentric. That is the context of that.
We have now had over one hundred PhD students. They are all over the world. We graduated the first white student to get a PhD; we graduated the first Japanese student to get a PhD in African American Studies; the first Chinese to get a PhD; first Latino to get a PhD; all came out of the Temple program.
The creation of the program was difficult because of the resistance within the institution. The institution itself didn’t say we want to have this program. We had to fight for this program. And in the struggle for the program is where I began to formulate my own ideas to the field. And this is what I want to talk about in terms of the research we ought to be doing.
The questions were, and I think Kimberle may have raised them when she mentioned the question the civil rights leader asked her; how are you going to do this? Which meant that I could not be history because we already had a history PhD program; I could not be psychology; I could not be sociology; we could not be literature. So what is a PhD in African American Studies? And that was the key that focused me, and at that time, Professor Kato who worked with me, in trying to formulate in our discussion what it is that’s different about what we do, and that’s the point I want to make.
A couple of other things I want to mention. The Encyclopedia of Black Studies was out of this concept; because … look … what are the major terms and philosophies and issues and concepts that are being used in Black Studies right now. The other was the Handbook of Black Studies that I co-edited with Professor Maulana Karenga. What are the cutting-edge theories and methods that are being used right now in the discipline? Because part of not having this is having to defend the field on the basis of the territory of somebody else.
If you ask the question about what’s a canon in the field and you give a list of political science books or a list of history books, then the question is why do we need you? These were keen questions that had to be discussed and debated in our faculty. They had to be hashed out. And we came up with a couple of things.
As a professional note, we felt that you had to be a member of the ncbs; I’m sure everybody here is a member of the NCBS. National Council for Black Studies is fundamental; it’s our professional organization and it gave us strength. We were able to go into an argument on the basis of a professional organization. So I always say that if people ask me who’s in Black Studies, I ask, “When was the last time you were at NCBS?” “Did I see you?” … .
Then we said there were three areas—cultural aesthetics; because the question was turf. Whenever we said something sociologists said, “If you do that we’re going to oppose you.” …. So we couldn’t create the same thing that had already been created. We said one area is cultural aesthetics; another area is social behavior; another area is policy and action studies. The university did not accept a policy action idea and went with the other two concentrations; we built the program on the basis of those concentrations.
We attempted, in building the program, to make certain that we did not say that this is a history course. We talk about the African American experience and we can do historical kinds of things and literary kinds of things on the subject.
The other thing — what text? At that time we only had a couple of texts. We had Introduction to Black Studies and we had the People’s College text from Alkalimat and Bailey [Introduction to Afro-American Studies]. There were not a lot of texts that were written by Black Studies scholars for the field, in the field itself. So we used, for the first few years, Introduction to Black Studies to give us a vision. I said to those first thirty-five students in the graduate program at Temple University, you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to write texts in your discipline; not in history; not in political science; not in psychology; in your discipline. We had one guy, James Conyers, who has written over twenty books since he got his PhD in African American Studies at Temple University.
So if we’re not history and psychology, then what are we? We defined our field. We said we are the Afrocentric study of African phenomena. And to do Afrocentric study of African phenomena, we don’t just study Black people; we study Black people from the standpoint of Black people as being subjects; as being center in their own historical experiences, whether men or women. We are examining the centrality of African people in all forms and all contexts.
The agency question became a fundamental part of the research that students started doing. One of the early people to help us was Terry Kershaw, who taught Afrocentric research methods at Temple for several years, and gave us a basis so that our students could begin to do research that was not history; that was not political science; but was based on the whole question of empowerment, transformation, and so forth.
It’s not area studies. So when he’s talking about Diaspora, cosmopolitan Africa; when you have a particular perspective, it doesn’t matter what the area is. The area is basically inconsequential when you start examining from the standpoint of Afrocentricity. There are many other things. I think we should look at what our students do; what they have done; look at the graduate students at UMass and Berkeley, and the PhD students at Temple. These are the freestanding departments. The other departments are not freestanding. So the people do dissertations in anthropology or political science in other departments.
What are they doing? Look at the research. And then we get an idea of what’s going on. Our students are looking at women and welfare agencies. They’re looking at the whole hip-hop movement and the idea of work and so forth. There are many different dissertations that are coming out and many of them are being published as they are coming out. There’s a whole body of information that’s out there.
The other thing I would say to my colleagues—hire PhD students who got degrees in African American Studies in your African American Studies department. That’s how we sustain the field.
Josephine Boyd Bradley (Clark Atlanta University): It’s very exciting to be here for a number of reasons. I’ve listened to the discussion about diversity and I realize that I am one of those diverse representatives sitting at this table. And that’s because I come, not from a predominantly White institution, but from an historically Black college and university, which makes me rare and different in that sense; I’m still Black.
I decided when I was looking at what I had written, there were some things I wanted to say that I had not included, and that’s what I wanted to put on the table. One of the things that I found interesting in the discussion this morning is that Clark Atlanta University really needs to do much more in terms of what we do. We have two programs: one that is now an African American Studies only but initially when it was founded in the ’60s was African and African American Studies; and the other one is Africana Women’s Studies, which is, by the way, the only program in the United States that offers doctoral degrees, and has since 1982.
One of the [issues] that [arose] about five years ago was whether or not that program would continue at Clark Atlanta University. For some reason there was this big massive cut in getting rid of programs. We managed to survive. The only thing we lost was the African Studies component.
One of the things that … I felt was needed in terms of scholarship was that the HBCUs must take their heads out of the quicksand and recognize that because we’re a predominantly Black institution, that did not in and of itself denote an understanding for Black Studies. HBCUs have been missing a golden opportunity to be the new leaders in acknowledging Black Studies as a discipline, and one that should guide the educational ideology of institutions offering Black Studies and serve as role models for scholarship.
One of the things I realized is that Clark Atlanta University has a model in that we in 2002 combined our two programs, African American Studies and African Women’s Studies, into one department. What that has done for us is not only give us two concentrations, but it gives us a more consistent kind of opportunity to offer: a much better program for students. There are many things that we’ve learned that we share and save having to reinvent the wheel. That’s one thing that is very important in terms of looking at this whole issue of scholarship.
The other is coming to a decision regarding this whole meaning of implementation of interdisciplinary studies or the question is, “Are we really talking about multidisciplinary studies?” And when I listen to the discussion, I realize that there is a lot of discussion around the table about multidisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary. So the scholarship needs to bring together in an interdisciplinary manner this whole notion of intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality; because that’s my focus, which I think is important primarily because there cannot be Black Studies without the inclusion of all of those elements of race, class, gender, and sexuality.
It also means that there are opportunities for projects between Black Studies and other disciplines. And I realize that I can give you two examples that are relatively exciting and different for us. I’ve been working on a project with biologists on campus. And what we’re looking at is the number of … women teachers in science, technology and engineering, and mathematics, only at HBCUs. One of the things that we found is that while there are a large number of women at HBCUs, there are very few African American women in [the] STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as faculty. There are a lot of Africans, [but] mostly Asians and [students] from India.
I’m also working on a joint project with Morehouse School of Public Health looking at health disparities among African American women. For me, that becomes a way new scholarship can come about.
I think it’s important, this whole notion of courses that provide activities for closing the technology gap for our students. We can do this in part through offering courses via distance learning. For example, if institution “A” is offering a course in Africana Women’s Studies, and institution “C” does not have any courses in that area, then students from institution “C” can take the course from institution “A” through distance learning. Or we can develop teams for various institutions to develop learning modules for K-12 as well as for other colleges and universities.
The second part of the technology would be to do some media interpretations of Black Studies and … to be proactive rather than reactive. Many of our students are engaged in mass communication as majors as undergraduates, but have really no true understanding of what that means and the significance of that for the whole field of Black Studies or how they can integrate that.
The other thing is looking at interactive conferences such as this discussion, where students and faculty would have an opportunity to come and sit and listen and dialogue with people from across the nation, across the world, in terms of how we would do that.
I think another way of dealing with new research and new scholarship would be supporting more joint research efforts. And in time I feel people of African descent could write their own history. Because for too long our history had been written with our approval by others, and I think it is time for us to take that back and write our history.
Then to this whole notion of scholarship, with the loss of Howard University’s press, Associated Press, and Clark Atlanta University’s own press, that if there’s something someone wants to fund, it should be a Black college or university press that would be supported long enough for it to become established to become its own institution. That’s how our scholarship is going to be distributed.
Going back to Dr. Kershaw’s statement, I think there is a great need for the scholarship to look at the development of theoretical bases from which we can collectively agree on what the scholarship is and how we want to distribute that scholarship. And I think in doing that, that needs a notion of collectivity of programs that we can enhance and support as institutions.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): Dr. Bradley, I have learned from you, it’s the ability to connect the last thing to the next last thing and I learned a lot from it. The last presenter is Dr. Davies.
Carole Boyce Davies (Florida International University): I’m going to speak on a few things. I call it Africana Studies on gateway to liberty. The gateway for me is the twenty-first century and its returning problems, but also the location that our program is in one of the entry points in and out of the United States. This is a benefit, but [is also] a challenge … .
I think most of the programs in this contemporary period need to work in two directions. First, the physical problem with context in which they exist; in our case, it’s Miami, in the middle of a well known Cuban migrant community; but also situated right at the point of intersection of what is becoming a new socialist geography in Latin America versus US imperialism; or would-be imperialism. So the conjunction for me there provides an interesting set of conflicts and challenges and opportunities at the same time.
Since Miami has all of that going and it’s a place … in which the metaphor for me of Chrome and Guantanamo Bay connect—Chrome is a detention site for people coming into the US and continues pretty much in the same way as Guantanamo works and tends to favor more detentions of Haitian migrants, and all sorts of other people who have been caught in this new USA Patriot Act in which they combine some of those [categories]. [Y]ou may have had a felony when you were a kid and your name shows up again and when you return [at] Miami Airport … you’re whisked over to Chrome. A friend of mine said it took her brother literally about six months to get out of there. This is because she was right in Miami. And this is somebody who had been a Vietnam vet and all of that.
For me, the question of what should happen in the field is linked to those particular locations and intersections as far as my contribution here is concerned. One of them has to be, as far as my reading of this, some sort of re-examining of activism and the Black radical intellectual tradition. To me, that’s missing. A lot of our students don’t know how to engage that question, and I should guess the faculty as well. Many of the young faculty come in and are told just get your book, get your tenure; don’t be involved in anything. And I think that’s a very, very dangerous articulation because it says that you should not go into service at all; you should just publish. And basically they are re-socialized away from community work [and even] from campus work. As one of my colleagues said before, [when] you practice to walk crouching, it’s very difficult to stand afterwards. It’s evident that if you use that model, that after you get tenure you’ll suddenly become… [Panel laughter].
To me, as a research question we need to re-examine activism and the Black radical intellectual tradition and put it back on the table. Those things are not necessarily in conflict; but they work together.
Boyce Davies expresses a concern for what she deems is a lack of well-trained scholars knowledgeable in the field. She suggests that some standard should be set for the field before faculty are hired or teach in Black Studies.
I think a really important one is the impact of imperialization and hybridity discourses. While on the one hand these have been wonderfully opening as far as questioning various identities, hybridity as defined for example by somebody like Homi Bhabha and others is very problematic, in the sense that I was in Goa for a conference recently and learned a tremendous amount about the Indo-African communities there who are subordinated and made invisible, and so on. These people like Homi and others who have floated hybridity as a theoretical framework, they have not really engaged the fact they have Black communities at home who are also made invisible, erased, and so on. So when those questions are raised, I think we also have to put back on the table that in those locations there are also Black populations, subordinated but, then, we’re [also] talking Latin America, and so on. And in the same way, discourses are or have been problematized because of this condition. Your presence here [speaking to Mónica Carillo] is an amazing testimony to that question because the constant erasure of Black populations in Latin America similarly means that, again, the US imperialistic framework of what is American Studies and what is African American Studies often gets to hold sway.
Related to the first point from Lee Baker, who I applaud coming from the trenches of Duke, and the denial of Black women’s rights to not be abused. Class, immigration, and globalization are used on Black human rights internationally. The recent activism of Latino people puts on the table some of those questions related and you’ve engaged them well. But I think those are questions that have to do with labor and a whole host of other issues that run to Toussaint from Trinidad and Tobago, who came out of that union tradition, and which need to be recalled because of the December, 2005 transit strike in New York City.
I say that simply because there’s a long tradition of union activism which has worked well with Black Studies programs and concerns that need to be similarly recalled when you look at questions of class, labor, and the ways in which we have organized over the years. Internationalizing citizenship rights beyond the nation makes your point about the African Diaspora: how do we make Pan-African politics practical realities?
I think we’ve done quite a bit of work in African Diaspora Studies and need to archive that, way beyond what’s available now. But the African Union and the attempts to work out that region, I think, throws out a whole range of issues that need to be studied individually: questions of residency; where do we reside and how and what rights we have in leadership, physical movement, trade, communications and educational exchange; women’s rights, refugee rights, political representation, and so on.
Each of those elements provides us with so much work and intellectual inquiry that we have fields of study that our students can go in. In other words, we have not begun to fully engage all of the possibilities that we have for this study.
Community re-education for me is a big one. I say this not just in terms of how do we re-educate Black communities along the Cosby model, but how do we re-educate Black middle-class communities who have moved away from Black communities and who seem to not possess some knowledge of what’s really going on in Black communities in the way that they’ve engaged, for example the hip-hop communities and so on, in a central way?
The Florida model for having the Florida mandate [is the final idea] I would like to at least indicate and put on the table. It’s a mandate unrolled in 1994, in which all children are supposed to be educated in the African American experience, African people’s history, and so on. Along with that, we have been able to put on the table the formation, but Ford—and we thank Ford for this opportunity—of something we’ve called FLASC, which tries to bring together the question of how we do work collaboratively in terms of consortiums along some of the ways that you’ve already identified. And to me the logic of creating an umbrella structure allows us to cushion some of those inner campus dynamics and build programs that are able to reconnect the pieces of our dispersal.
In other words, I’m not so much interested in only the dispersal in terms of African Diaspora, but how we reconnect those pieces that have been dispersed so that the very issue of Black human rights internationally can be articulated. I’m in Florida and our model works still; and this is where I’d like to end.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): Thank you. What has become clear with all of these presentations is that there’s more work than we can perceivably do in the field of Black Studies, and that the people who write our obituary will have to keep rewriting it because we’re not going anywhere, given the energy that we see in the room, particularly since we’re missing the students. But there is a lot. And any field has to have some direction. You can’t do everything, and a lot of the students will determine what’s going to be done. That was one of the best things about intellectual life, is that if you try to put someone in a box, they will find a way out.
So we have to yet decide what vehicles can we put in place to allow scholars to do the work that they’re compelled to do. So how do we go about that? In other words, we have an abundance of ideas. How do we collectively with our journals, with our conferences, how do we go about putting together this new knowledge? Do we need a press? Do we need more presses? What kind of shape and form should we try to give to this thing if it’s possible with all this array of topics?
I don’t think there’s a debate about the validity of the topics that have been raised. I want to be practical about this and say how do we go about this?
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): The main focus that I had for some time is this question of what is it that Black intellectual history can teach us about this very question. Woodson and Monroe collected data, aggregated it into a data set that we all [have] benefitted from analyzing over the past decades; for example, the slave narratives. That is a certain kind of contribution.
A lot of people write an analysis of that which is their subjective [view]: this is how I read it, this is the story I think it tells. But then next week somebody else writes something else. What is sustained is that collective body of work.
The question then becomes what is the data set that we need? I can talk about a lot of people today who are very well known in Black Studies who will soon become very well unknown because the ability to sustain influence is a question of whether or not somebody wants to read whatever it is they said about whatever. And as we all know, books are on the library shelves and aren’t going to be read consistently. But what people have to come back to is Monroe’s data set on lynching or the data set on narratives; or the kind of work that Charles Johnson did at Fisk with regard to sharecropping in the South.
To me, the question is not so much how do you interpret the world; but what indicators have we got about the world that we can put on the table and let everybody interpret, as opposed to all we got are interpretations but there ain’t nothing on the table. So to me, that’s the critical point now for our generation. Because the reason we’re having this meeting is, in twenty years we’re not going to be sitting around any table.
So the question is what are we going to leave other than our relative interpretation of relative historical phenomena without anything fundamental that the next generation, regardless of what they think, will have to deal with, because that’s what we face.
You can’t avoid the kind of data sets I’m talking about no matter what discipline you’re in; autobiographies, for example. That’s another data set we could create: autobiographies of all of the founders in all our diversity.
Josephine Boyd Bradley (Clark Atlanta University): I think the answer is do it. We sit around and talk about what can we do. But we don’t reach out to take the initiative to do it. One of the things I’m interested in is this whole notion of interactive conferences. And the reason for that is because there’s information. We don’t have a lot of money, so we can’t do a lot of things that we want to do. However, we do have accessibility to all of this equipment and all this technology that we don’t use. Some of that is our fault, because I may have not taken the initiative as the chair of that program. The Women’s Studies program started out as a doctorate program and it’s still a doctorate program.
The students are doing some exciting research, and I think that research needs to be shared. The question is how do we share it so that the database gets put into play? I think one of the ways of doing it is to say this is what we want. We have to agree on something we want to do; that’s the beginning. Can we as scholars agree that this is what we want to do when we leave here and say this is how we’re going to go about doing it? For me, that’s where we are, and that’s a charge if indeed we are serious about moving to another level and not just walking out of here saying we had a conversation.
Charles E. Jones (Georgia State University): I think the issue of digitizing those more than one hundred PhD dissertations that have already been done in the field is a work that can be done. That’s a tremendous data set. We’re talking about research directions. That’s something that can definitely be done and digitalized and we’ll have a set of data regarding the dissertations that have been done in African American Studies.
Josephine Boyd Bradley (Clark Atlanta University): Our library received a grant to do something of this nature.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): But was it African American Studies, though?
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): This is what’s missing in intellectual history that no one has dealt with. The people who did MAs and PhDs at historically Black colleges and universities who were blocked from having careers and went into high schools and what have you with PhDs in psychology. So we don’t know how they engage the main ideas in these disciplines under the conditions under which they were living. So our understanding of historical evolution of Black scholarship is limited because we haven’t mined the wealth that is there.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): That’s all absolutely right. But I want to try to see if we can keep this to the spirit of the question. How do we create these data sets about problems that are taking place? If it’s on the question of immigration; if it’s on the question of digitization for the Black community, how can we bring those together today? How do we bring the other scholars who are interested quite often in the same topics that don’t exist as central questions within the field; how do we bring together those people for a collaborative project? So there’s a need for clearing house; there’s a need for a database. And I want to see if we can come together… . Are we missing something when we put together our program?
For the last four years I put together a program for ASALH. I’ve been program chair longer than I probably should have been. That is potentially where this change takes place; the same in NCBS. There needs to be this kind of process by which we all bring together the people who want to do similar work; that we bring together in NCBS and ASALH, we bring together resources to collect data. So how do we institutionalize this so that people can come in a way that we know to go to Fisk [University] about lynching data and so forth? Is there a way we can do that?
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): I just want to suggest a model which really comes, not necessarily out of my own discipline, but comes out of my discipline at the university where I did my doctorate degree; and that is within anthropology we have opportunities to specialize or are required to specialize in three areas. They could be very traditional areas—African, Southeast Asia, Europe; that was the geographic focus. Then we also had more theoretical kinds of foci. So we could do economic anthropology or psychological anthropology.
But my generation of teachers said, if you don’t want to do one of those, tell us what your field is. So we were challenged to say what our field was by doing what they referred to as a statement of the field. What this required you to do was to take this area of research interest that you had and relate it back to theoretical concerns, various kinds of concerns that have occupied anthropology. And I think the same is true for African American Studies so that these take you back and you ground yourself in those questions, in those issues which are always unresolved and the answers are always unfolding and you’ve got a new angle of vision.
I ended up doing linguistic anthropology, which was kind of new at that time, which has become very traditional in my field. My husband did something that was very non-traditional, too, in cognitive anthropology, which is getting somewhat more central, but never really made it to the kind of centrality like some areas. But necessarily, it allows the production of new work that is connected to your own genealogy and that scholars in your field recognize as part of their tradition.
Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan): James Jackson, at Michigan in 1981, has conducted a survey of Black America at the department of social research with lots of people collecting and analyzing the data. Now he’s replicating that in Europe; a survey of Black Europeans. He’s doing it in South America. They’re even collecting swabs to build a genetic database. That data is there. I wonder how many of us have used it. I wonder how many of us actually sit on his advisory panel to make sure the survey is constructive.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): I remember the first survey was in ’78, ’79.
Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan): The question was about quantitative research.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): But doesn’t it point to another question about where is the research institutionalized? Last time I was at a meeting with Abdul, he was talking about taking the university concept and applying it to the cyber range. And then we’re talking about, when it comes to something supra academic; it’s above the academy in some way. Perhaps these kinds of things should be housed at the National Council for Black Studies or the Association, where scholars in the field will have access to it.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I think there’s a more profound question as a person in Black Studies. Out of which discipline is Jackson?
Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan): Psychology.
Unidentified: Social Psychology.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): This is the problem. The problem is that the funding is in psychology; not in Black Studies, even though the work can be used by us. What we need to see is the funding in Black Studies. That’s what is different; and that’s why I made my argument about it. If you have more than one hundred people doing PhDs in African American Studies and getting degrees in the department, then that tells you what the discipline is and what the field is. I’m not saying you can’t have an interest in psychological subjects or historical subjects or in literary subjects. But what is your discipline?
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): I still don’t know if that addresses the question of access. I would have finished the book already if I could have had access to some materials at Duke, allegedly opened to some, but really only opened to Duke scholars. Access is a problem. So if you house it within the university, who’s giving the funding?
Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University): I think one of the issues we have to address is if there are people who are not in Black Studies, however we define that, that are doing profound work. And if we don’t carefully orchestrate how Black Studies, as it is defined, works with those people and that kind of data, then we’re not going to be able to produce the knowledge about Black people that we say we want to produce. What is going on in these disciplines that should be on the table like what we were talking about Black Studies? Who are the psychologists doing the work that should be on the table where we have the debate about what psychology contributes to Black Studies or law or sociology and so on? We have not clarified the Black paradigm so that people have a way that’s productive for all concerned.
Josephine Boyd Bradley (Clark Atlanta University): Let me give you an example of how we use the Jackson data. We have a woman who’s getting her doctorate this spring, who worked for CDC. She did her research, which we thought was very challenging, because we weren’t sure she would pull it off, but she did. She took the data looking specifically at health and she wanted to know, if there is a theory out there called Africana Womanism, is there a way in which that data can demonstrate that this theory has some credibility or reliability? And she did the project; and it’s a really exciting piece of work.
Where we’ve run into trouble with it, because she put quantitative and qualitative together, is the people who were reading it outside of the committee were questioning the utilization of the data; and two, “Well, what I know about Africana Womanism she can’t do this.” So we ran into that problem again. But it’s the idea that the two can blend and it brought to our attention that there’s more need for the utilization of data that exists. So we’re having to look at it and find it, and that becomes a challenge for us in African American Studies in moving our students who are writing theses and dissertations to start using those databases where we know they exist. That, I think is the real exciting part of being in Black Studies.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I don’t think it’s the problem of the use of the data because our students use the data. My issue is the issue of power. If we’re talking about sustaining Black Studies, you’ve got departments of Black Studies where people are producing scholarship, where they are engaging in intellectual conversation. We just had a student use Michael Dawson’s work, for example. The support and funding of people in Black Studies departments is the issue; not the use of people that work for people in psychology or political science; it’s the support of Black Studies. To study Black people is not necessarily the same as doing what is called Black Studies research.
Mónica Carrillo (LUNDU, Lima, Peru): I think that African-descendant people are fighting to be part of that social-economic education system without seeing that there is a racist structure. For example, in Latin America, in Brazil, there are important political quarters in education. Maybe twenty percent of the population in the university must be descendants now. But the problem is that the next generation of African descendants don’t remember or forgot that they are in this situation because we were fighting for reparations.
I think that in the United States you have more possibility to get money toward that because the system is different. But in Latin America we have a very few possibilities. So [the people of] African descent [that] are being studied are only few. And if you are connected in the system, for example, we have a lot of possibilities to be citizens and use strong words about five hundred years of slavery and especially a lot of possibilities to forget our context. So we don’t have a high class or medium class of people that are thinking and have capital to support [people of] African descent.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): All that argues towards the ability to have freer access to information. I actually believe a professional organization can play a role in the field in this game. We can pull together information so that it’s more broadly known and broadly used.
Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): It seems to me we have three fundamental questions that we might be collapsing. The first question is the use of data from multiple, varied sources; that’s a question that people sometimes collapse with these other ones. The second is collaboration with other departments in other fields. And the third and most important and the one that Molefi continues to argue, and I argue also, is the construction of our own discipline.
A discipline by definition is first a clearly defined field of studying research and teaching and intellectual production, and second, of self-defining a community of scholars that produce in reality the data for the discipline. That’s why it’s so important for us to produce our own data. It’s not that we don’t want to collaborate with other people; it doesn’t mean we’re not going to use it. What we’ve got to do is stop shirking the responsibility to build a primary data for our own discipline, and that requires that Ford support, not the data building in other places, but the data building right here.
I’ve been doing this a long time. But I’m saying this must be within the discipline, otherwise you’ll never encourage Black scholars to sustain Black Studies. They’re going to go where most Americans go—where the money is.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): Let me ask a question. The tension is always funding between individual projects, which is not the kind of funding that an agency like Ford does. We’re not a Social Science Research Council (SSRC). So the question is if you conceptualize helping to create an opportunity to support the field, what kinds of things? What I heard on one hand was people saying something that would allow us to know where all these data sets are. Is there one place where someone has a database that says, whether it’s in Michigan or Indiana or anywhere, there are these data sets around that will contribute to people doing research in Black Studies … whether it’s a text or electronic, some kind of compilation of that?
Second, from my own experience, I know that there are these amazing resources, someone like Charles Johnson, whose work is sitting in six file cabinets at this library; it’s not digitized; it’s not even secure. Many of our programs are located in historically white colleges. How do we link it back to the original data sources, which are these archival materials that are sitting there? So [how do we] bring that link and what’s there?
Third, how do you create collaborations where the context in which we work really privileges silo research: the lone researcher going off to do their own thing? So how do you on the one hand address that because we have to deal with the reality—that’s the environment we’re in—and, [on the other], simultaneously challenge it by also engaging in collaborative projects?
I’ll give one example of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia, in which they started as a work group and they continued to do the work. And part of what they did was to produce texts that cut across disciplines on Jazz Studies. So how do we in some ways begin to create the kinds of texts that are needed to build the field and ensure its continuation?
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): The report that everybody received, the PDF regarding Black Studies, is an example of the road forward. What that is, is a data set that anybody here can get in three Excel spreadsheets. The idea is to build it on source models. We’re going to do the whole country in three weeks. That’s a data set on us. Institutions that grant degrees, some report that it has something to do with Black people; the faculty and all the courses that cover all the Black college students and anybody else for that matter studying the Black experience.
This will be the first national data set on us that we have created. The question is, how are we going to continue that? So the whole idea, for example, is that graduate students can get access to this data with the idea that as they create new fields or new variables, they will then contribute that back to the community. So this is our self-definition, if you will. So coming out of this, this is a project we can all engage in. It’s an accommodated set we created.
Tsuruta suggests Black Studies programs are pressured by administrators to hire faculty with what might be considered more traditional training, which makes hiring faculty with PhDs in African American Studies difficult. .
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): … So that attitude is part of what I’m hearing you say, and I’m also hearing the other argument that Black Studies is not only being done in just Black Studies. It’s both-and, not either-or.
James B. Stewart (Penn State University): Part of what I’m hearing is that we haven’t asked the research questions that will define what kind of data we need. We talked about where the existing data sets are and how we can massage them to get at some of the questions that we want. And I think what Abdul and Molefi are talking about is actually getting a data set that’s unique [and] answers the questions that we want answered as opposed to trying to modify existing work. So when we’re talking papers about important people like Johnson and others, we don’t know yet what potential wealth is there and we need to deal with both.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): I consider myself an institution builder. And I’m concerned not about the particular data set, but the infrastructure for creating data sets and where they will be housed.
Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan): But the data sets; these aren’t independent questions. To attract the resources to get that data, you’re going to have to clearly lay out what your hypotheses are. If it’s going to be an Africana or Black Studies program, you’ve got to lay out what it is you think this data is going to address.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): I understand that part. I’m no longer a facilitator; I’m a participant; so somebody needs to control me. [Laughter] I think people know where I’m coming from on this. But I want to say that I also think that until we create this structure, all the ideas that people have around this table for concrete projects, they will not have as good a chance of meeting the light of day until we create an infrastructure.
Kimberle W. Crenshaw (UCLA): I’m a little reluctant to make this intervention because I think the conversation that we’re having about the creation of data and housing data is important. I want to remind us that we also said collaboration issues are important. And because my particular interest is on both building horizontal relationships across the university and vertical relationships between universities and public policy-making institutions and advocacy institutions, I want to put that back in the mix as we think about institutionalization.
Two examples I want to throw out, both which I think are worthy of replication. One [that] I think is being done by our opponents on the right and another that was done by Critical Race Theory. In trying to create the field, because we were similarly desegregated across specific legal areas, people did contracts, civil rights, etc. But there was a potential thematic hold that went across these different disciplines that we were not able to articulate because we so rarely had the opportunity to come together to talk about this stuff.
When we did come together, people did their presentations and that was it. So the ability to figure out what there was, was often defeated. So we created a series of working retreats where people would come with a paper, but they wouldn’t present their paper, because if they were to present their paper, they were going to present it within the disciplinary confines in which they tended to present things. Someone else would present the paper; and yet a third person would be responsible for figuring out what the overarching themes were that were being amplified in all the work. So in that way we were able to get both an intermediate view of what the work was and then a global view of how it all fit together. It was out of doing that repetitively over a course of three or four years that Critical Race Theory actually started to develop interdisciplinary boundaries. There was a layer there even though it went across a lot of different areas.
One of the things we’re trying to do now is to replicate that along lines that are relevant to the need that we have to develop more data and more information that helps us contest what’s happening in the law with respect to color blindness. For example, I heard somebody [ask is there] a psychologist not in Black Studies that’s doing work that’s significant? Claude Steele is a person doing tremendously important work on stereotype that ends up being enormously important to us in fighting for affirmative action by confronting the argument “How come you all do so bad on tests; what’s the test score gap about?” We always had a sense that there was an explanation to that that wasn’t just about K–12 education. He helps fill that gap.
So what we’re trying to do is figure out who are the other people in their disciplines who are doing work against the grain of their discipline but within the grain of what we’re doing? And it seems to me that’s fairly similar [to] what might be a model that can work with Black Studies. Who are the people in their disciplines who are doing work against the grain, against the expectation that race is a legitimate organizing principle that we can also bring to the table, recognizing that the projects need to be grounded for a range of reasons in Black Studies? But we can bring a lot of people in.
The other model on the other side that I think we need to use, and [it] has to do with the vertical dispersion of ideas, is, quite frankly, the right wing’s deeply integrated well-funded machine. They have connections between their academics, their think tank people that create policy, their advocates, their legislative aides; they’re on a first-name basis with each other; they’re going on TV to argue against the inheritance tax or whatever; they know who to call. How many times have we heard from our people in Washington, DC, or our organizations to come and help? When I sit there and watch some of our people make arguments, I want to scream. We’ve been talking about these issues for twenty years.