Relationships Between Black Studies and Her Sister New Perspective Fields
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): I think we’ve talked a lot about the thrust of Black Studies as driven by the Black Studies and Black students and community movement of the sixties, so I don’t have to read that section of my presentation about the thrust of Black Studies. But I will say, considering … our question, it is asking us to connect Black Studies. So considering the connectedness that binds Black Studies to the various areas of studies identified in the question, it is necessary to move from a review of Black Studies to that of the related area of studies under consideration. I think a review of it has already happened in the earlier presentations of how it came into being.
I do want to say in this last year, the historically significant Black Studies department at San Francisco State changed its name to Africana Studies to reflect its African centeredness and African Diaspora interests. So the name is saying, as you have just said, we have been doing anyway; so the name makes that clear now.
I will have to say that, as recently as graduation comes up, we have been getting a lot of complaints from students who themselves are former graduates of Black Studies and they think that the word “Africana” Studies is a little bit problematic to them, because they think it’s moving beyond what the situation is here in too strong of a way. So, for this year, we’re giving students who came in under the name “Black Studies” an option to have on their degree Black Studies or Africana Studies; and most of them are choosing Black Studies; but the parents of the younger ones are telling them Africana Studies sounds more fancy; something they can stand up in church and say and the Black church won’t be mad at them.
Tsuruta introduced the problem that exists for Africana Studies (and often for African American Studies) as the field carves out its intellectual terrain by providing an anecdote of her experiences as chair. In addition to students being confused by departmental identities, administrators often confuse Africana and African American Studies with African Studies. Although it was not discussed, it is important to acknowledge the fact that boundaries of centers and institutes also are not clearly defined, which often become points for conflict and/or confusion on campuses where centers or institutes operate outside of departments or programs. In this vein, Tsuruta goes on to explain that, while SFSU has the first College of Ethnic Studies, little interaction occurs among the subdivisions. She continues by defining African Area Studies as being “like any other Eurocentric tradition on campus. We do have a relationship with them to the extent that they ask some of our professors to teach a course for them. But, teaching a course for them and being driven by who gets tenure for them is two different things.”
So we have a relationship of avoidance of hostility to the extent that you can’t have a relationship with them; sometimes adversarial, but for the most time, we look upon them having claimed the name “Africa” as problematic. But we do work with them. African Studies varies in that people can take courses from different disciplines for that and the perspectives that drive Black Studies do not drive it.
Then I move to Africana Women’s Studies. At San Francisco State only, we’re looking at that area to the extent that it is Black women scholarship driven. I mentioned a couple [of times in my position paper], when I was looking at Africana Women’s Studies at a couple of places, we at San Francisco State don’t use the feminist theory. “Feminism” is not a word that we would probably have in a course description of our courses dealing with women. So to the degree to which everything should be studied within the course, I’m not saying that we don’t censor what is studied in any of our courses, because certainly you need to study all of the works coming out by Black women, but to the extent that we take [the] feminist model, we don’t. So [that’s] one of the things we had to fight to get rid of: the dean wouldn’t take “womanism” or “Black womanism”; you have to do “feminist theory.” He used that term, “feminist theory.”
Interestingly enough, when our students learned that they don’t have to describe themselves as “feminists” when dealing with Black women’s issues or scholarship, they seemed very relieved. Because to try to untangle themselves from — I’ll say this coming from a woman who had taught at Mills College and had to deal with white feminists, we talk about white male patriarchy — there’s nothing like it until you get to white feminists.
[As for] Afro-Latino Studies, we just had a visit from a school. I was invited to the presentation; and I totally agree with you; why is Afro-Latino Studies [located] out of [the] Diaspora; why would it be separated from the Diaspora Studies? But I did get a strong sense of that claim being made by the group from Afro-Latino Studies who had come to our college to bridge differences. I [asked] why is that separate? It’s part of the Diaspora. Is that to get special treatment?
The question of Critical Race Studies is we have to keep within our own discipline up with developments in that area. I think people from UCLA and that core of teaching in Critical Race Studies could probably speak more on it to the extent that we have to use the law to advance our situation. We have to keep that as part of our studies.
More crucial to this discussion of Black Studies’ relationship with Diaspora Studies, Africana Studies, Afro-Latino Studies, Africana Women’s Studies, and Critical Race Studies is the various relationships of Black Studies to one another. They can be strained by academics who land jobs there when all efforts to be in “traditional” disciplines fail.
James B. Stewart (Penn State University): Let me be as brief as I can and relate back to the issue of institutionalization. For me, institutionalization is not simply issues of structure and location. It’s truly about the intellectual approach that you take to the field.
I think we continue to face the whole question that was framed early in the history of the modern Africana Studies movement, and that is the difference between Black Studies and the study of Black people. One of the interesting phenomena of the field is you have an inordinate number of people that are claiming membership, claiming that they’re doing Black Studies, when in reality they’re really doing sophisticated, modern versions of studying Black people. So what I tried to do in my thirty-five years in the field is talk about what is a discipline, and that started out by using tools from philosophy of science, the sociology of science, the African American intellectual tradition, the African intellectual tradition, etc., to try and ferret out some of the key characteristics that provide some legal energy into the field.
That led me into a number of directions. One is to back off the hard use of the term “discipline” for a couple of reasons. One is that disciplines don’t easily accommodate the activist tradition as part of our field. And secondly, they’re too rigid in terms of talking about the fluidity and motivation that’s necessary if you are going to delve into new areas. And I think that part of what I’m doing is talking about using it in the twenty-first century. So I use terms like “rational enterprise,” “coherent intellectual enterprise.” A jazz theory of Africana Studies is [an example] — we’re currently using a jazz combo in terms of talking about how we fit different pieces together in ways that allow us to be creative. I think if you don’t have some criteria for selection of what is and is not part of the field, all that you do is degenerate into some sort of individualistic sorts of studies and we allow people to remain attached to traditional academic disciplines in ways that are dysfunctional to the development of the field.
In the presentation I talk about five characteristics that I think are necessary to provide coherence to the field; you can read those. And that’s the context in which I approach the question that I was asked. From that context I treat the various fields as sub-disciplines within the product of Africana Studies. But I also argue that you have to pick and choose within those subfields which theories, methods, ideologies, and so forth are best aligned with the traditional mission. Everything that somebody says about Africana Women’s Studies or Diaspora Studies or Critical Race Theory doesn’t fit neatly within the historical parameters of the field.
I won’t talk about the Diaspora Studies too much except to say that I do privilege Sheila Walker’s piece that came out of the University of Texas at Austin because of the way in which she approached the study, not in a destructive way of ignoring history, but talking about Diaspora as it evolves out of the historical experiences of people of African descent in different parts of the world.
In terms of talking about the sort of multicultural dimensions, I brought this book, The Borders in All of Us, which is a dialogue involving people of African descent, Asian descent, Latino descent, [and others]. And that’s simply to say that if we have a grounding in understanding what constitutes the most optimal Africana Studies scholarship, we don’t have to be afraid to be in dialogue with anybody, about their traditions and their approaches.
Let me end by talking a little bit about the Ford mission as relative to the National Council for Black Studies and also about Penn State and how we approached some of these issues. From 1989 to ’94, the Ford Foundation provided grants to the National Council for Black Studies for summer institutes for faculty members for administrative workshops. The summer institutes for faculty tried to facilitate knowledge by faculty trained in traditional disciplines who wanted to move into Africana Studies per se. So there were six years those grants were provided. The administrative grants were provided to try to facilitate the development of better management skills among Africana Studies administrators. Those, I think, in my mind, were very effective in terms of allowing more useful engagement between traditional disciplines and Africana Studies. But again, that movement ended in 1994, and Ford went on to do different things, and we’ve done different things as well.
At Penn State, we have a department of African and African American Studies; that’s probably one of the few that has that type of nomenclature. So what we’ve done is capture traditional African Studies within the Black Studies department. I think that has eliminated some of the schisms that you see; like at Indiana University, you’ve got this well-established, well-funded African Studies and a couple of different Black Studies units that operate in tandem.
The people that come in to African Studies come in with an African Studies mindset. They haven’t bought into the approach to the study of Africa that flows out of the Africana Studies tradition. So there are tensions within that department about how you study Africa, what the relative priorities are going to be between African Studies and other parts. So having it in the same administrative structure doesn’t solve archeological and knowledge generation problems.
As it relates to Africana Women’s Studies, well, there is contested terrain there with Women’s Studies. To be frank, some of the Africana women who subscribe to the approach to Africana Women’s Studies that I talk about in the paper still got pushed out of African and African American Studies because of patriarchal issues. So we [have] got to solve those issues inside the departments as well.
Finally, in Critical Race Theory, I believe we need to do much more in integrating those ideas into what we do. I’m hoping that the people that are working in that area will move towards some international comparisons about how the legal system was used to frame and identify race in ways that perpetuate change.
Carole Boyce Davies (Cornell University): I just wanted to make sure, in a discussion like this, we kept on the table that there’s been at least twenty years of research on Black feminist theory that informs intersectionality. We could look at critical race feminism, Black feminist literatures, anthro, art, legal studies, and so on. So I just wondered where that went in this discussion? I’m a little bit worried about that. I think we had a couple of cases where it was picked up, but I just felt it was elided, too easily slighted. Because it still generates quite a substantial series of fields of study, and I wondered if the panel could at least address that again more substantially?
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech):
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): I want to jump in on that. Part of [what] motivated my interest in this question is the proliferation of, what I would say, silo studies — is that we have Africana Studies over here; then we have Diaspora Studies over here; sometimes they come together. But sometimes there are these multiplicities. And I guess the question is, how has Black Studies positioned itself in such a way that it’s carved out [a space], whether it’s a paradigm or whether it’s an approach. In some ways [it] is exclusive and doesn’t really open up the conversations so that people feel the need to generate new understandings over here. And then what happens is this competition for resources. So I want to put that on the table. How could Black Studies become more inclusive and begin to bring in perspectives that make it stronger without diluting it?
Part of what I hear sometimes is the tension between people talking about [how] Africana Women’s Studies or feminism is somehow going to dilute what goes on as the core of historical kinds of origins. So I just want to throw that up, just to be provocative.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): When I saw this particular question, I was a little puzzled by it. And I have been very much enlightened by some of the presentations that we’ve heard this morning. But this goes back to the uniqueness of many of our programs at UCLA, where I have been involved in African American Studies since 1974.
Certainly since the mid-1970s, Diaspora Studies, African Studies, and Afro-Latino Studies have been a part of African American Studies at UCLA and never seen as a separate silo. If you look at our publications programs you’ll see titles on Brazil as well as [the] Deep South.
The Critical Race Studies, on our campus, more has its center of gravity in the School of Law, and the folks at our law school have made major contributions to that area. But I note that those who are teaching Critical Race Studies in the School of Law at UCLA are also very deeply involved in African American Studies. There is a joint degree program between African American Studies and the law school. The folks at the law school serve on the various advisor boards, and so forth and so on. So there’s a deep connection.
When it comes to Africana Women’s Studies, I’m a little bit at a loss, because I don’t see where to particularly locate that on our campus, apart from the Women’s Studies or the examination of women’s issues that goes on by some scholars in African American Studies, or in some ways in what is a traditional Women’s Studies area. That may ultimately be a problem.
I mention these things because these interconnections are so prominent on our campus. And it may very well have to do with the continuing character of the program, which was established in 1969; so we’re now thirty-seven years old as an interdisciplinary area. And it has continued to grow and flourish within that framework, although it also has experienced some significant problems because of that framework.
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): … At San Francisco State we try to look at what is Black Women’s Studies or Africana Studies independent of feminist analogy.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College): I think it would just really be important to say that in general African Studies — which includes the use of Black Feminist theory and Black women’s perspectives from a Black woman’s perspective — is critical to the evolution of the field. I mean, it is literally already happening. To me, doing Africana Women’s Studies is doing Black Studies; there is not a disconnect. And doing Black Feminist Studies is not antithetical to doing Black Studies or Africana Studies. The scholarship is there; the commitment to the field is there. And the ways in which intersectional analysis of Black Feminist theory is impacting the field are incontestable.
Edmund T. Gordon (University of Texas, Austin): You look at the full presentation again, one of our basic foci is Black Feminist theory. We’re trying to build a notion of Black Studies based on certain theoretical precepts. And one of the key sources of those theoretical precepts is Black Feminist theory — whether that should be Africana Womanist or Black Feminist … this notion of intersectionality, the notion of listening to knowledges and movements of expressive projects from below, experientiality, reflexivity, these are all key aspects of what I understand to be [the] Africana Womanist or Black Feminist approach, which seems to us to be at the cutting edge of Black Studies. It’s not only Black Feminist theory, but Black Queer theory, which is key to where we’re trying to push Black Studies in terms of trying to create a theoretical package of tools to use in Africana Studies.
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I just want to change the discussion, because it seems to me that a relationship to other programs on campus is part of what this is about. Something recently happened on our campus regarding the struggle over the meaning of race. I’m on the panel; the guy next to me is from the biology department and I hadn’t really prepared for his point of view. We also are facing this … medical thing; so the pharmacy people, the biology people; in other words, there’s a struggle over what this means. This is the first country that has adopted an apartheid — an official government position on medicine, and Black Studies has not spoken up.
It seems to me that if we have a contradiction between the way we think of race and the way the biology department thinks of race; or the pharmacy people think of race; then we have to ask the question in the university, how do you handle contradictions over what constitutes scientific knowledge or what constitutes what it is that we should be delivering in our curriculum? Or the university has to acknowledge the fact that we’re sending people in opposite directions and that all fits within the same degree. It seems to me the real world is imposing itself here. And we haven’t spoken upon the battle issue.
James de Jongh (CUNY): I want to support the emphasis to which Black Studies speaks much more in terms of the scientific discipline, and I welcome your comments in that direction. The thing that I want to speak to is the one area that I think that constitutes a sidebar that some people have referred to already: and that’s the relationship to African Studies, because this African Studies business has a history that predates, and they’re better funded than we are, and they have a much more central positioning [in] the university.
In recent years, my center has been working with some African organizations in terms of the so-called sixth region from the African union. Organizations from Africa have been trying to reach out to centers of research and African Studies, and have been finding it difficult to negotiate, because when they look up the things they call African Studies, they find these programs that were created decades and generations ago to assist the first world in managing the third world.
One of the things that abstract this particular organization I’m working with is calling a meeting [in] November in Trinidad for research centers in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, South America, [and] Europe to begin to address what African Studies [should] be. They’re concerned about how African Studies is being conducted outside of Africa, about Africa. They would much more welcome a kind of Black Studies approach to the study of Africa to serve the purposes of the African continent, as opposed to manage the resources of the African continent. And that’s a particular emphasis that I’m concerned about. That’s the one area that’s a difficult and problematic relationship to Black Studies. I think younger areas all have their natural connection to Black Studies.
Mónica Carillo (LUNDU, Lima, Peru): I have a question. Is there a critical perspective about how capitalism and neoliberalism have determined the development of the Afro-American movement and the African American Studies? I think the principal contribution to the African American movement is the promotion of rights and identity like African descent. But the use of the word African American was connected with hegemonic and centric perspectives. The language is the problem. “I am African American” means a national identity connected to America. A Latino or Afro-Latino is connected to a language.
But I think it’s important to think about this because, for example, most people in America think that if you accumulate capital, money, the racism disappears. For example, let’s say now we know that there is not a race. But race is a social construction that works and lives in the ideas world. So it’s important to use the word “racism” because we need to fight in this kind of language, in the ideas world.
Josephine B. Bradley (Clark Atlanta University): I’ve been sitting at the table listening to the discussion about where African Women’s Studies fit in, and I didn’t want to say anything, because that’s what I want to present. But I am concerned that we’re making such a great distinction about it. Maybe part of the problem is that those of us sitting around the table are not really willing to deal with that whole issue of where Black women fit into Black Studies, and it seems that that’s a challenge; that we’re going to have to realize that it is not a Black male-dominated field. We exist too, even though we’re on this side of the table primarily. That’s because we want to be recognized for who we are. Thank you.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): One of the things that I want to briefly say is that the table is also a starting point [for] moving beyond that. For example, Claudia, I’m very interested in how did you see to bring all these different strands together? Was there a discussion where clearly they may be ideological differences? And, Dorothy, at San Francisco State, I think if you start excluding in terms of saying we want to define women only in a particular kind of way, then what happens to those who do claim… . I claim myself as a Black Feminist and I don’t foresee that as problematic. How would my scholarship then fit into that?
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): Instead of being excluded, it’s being proactive about identifying … Given that so many people do hold a position that Black Women’s Studies cannot be conducted without dependency, the essentialists claim that white theorists make feminists, and therein is a clue to what Black women as scholars must do to bring rescue. So it’s not excluding the study. You can’t have any study of Black life and not include parts of it that are problematic. But you can challenge the assumptions that you have to use as a framework, that has worked for one group of women and not create your own. That’s all that it is.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): It’s also about taking the language and reforming it, and I think those of us who claim Black Feminism as a perspective have taken the position that we’re not just taking these paradigms critically and just adopting them. But in fact we are reshaping them in ways that address the kinds of concerns we have. It’s not to say that it’s just put on the table, that part of this thing about how you reach out and how you connect is how we open up the space in difference and paradigms or ideology.
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): I think it’s Valethia Watkins who says that she maintains that we Black women should talk about younger women, because there is that age difference, too, in this other blueprint that’s coming on. That Black women scholars who appropriate the intellectual tradition of African women in the manner of feminism should be rebuked and systematically challenged. These are all just ideas. We shouldn’t have any police saying you can’t think like this or you can’t think like that.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I want to just make one comment in support of Dorothy’s orientation program. That locus for Black Studies is different from the locus of Women’s Studies, and is different from the locus of Queer Studies. That is not to say that Black Studies has not in its evolution had to deal with problems. But it is to realize that at San Francisco State, the majority of the faculty is female. At other institutions, at Temple University, half of the faculty is female. So what is the issue here? It seems the issue is this — from a discipline point of view [what is being talked about] in many of the departments, what you see from the beginning if you look at the history of African people — is the integration of men and women into society structure. That has been a historical phenomenon. And what has happened is that you have a discussion now about whether or not Black people are more un-gendered in their thinking than anybody else. And the concentration should not be the emphasis.
If [in] Queer Studies, the locus is sexuality, [and] if Women’s Studies is on the question of gender particularly in terms of women, then you have separate kinds of things. But where they get confused is to say that the locus of Black Studies should be gender or sexuality. And I think that San Francisco State is very correct. We have to study the issue of women and men. But we cannot become a Women’s Studies department or Queer Studies department. That’s not our locus.
Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (UCLA): I’m glad this conversation is finally happening. I guess there are a couple of ways that we can frame what we’re debating. The first thing I thought I heard was the frame around just how women-oriented studies within Black Studies is named. Is it simply a matter of whether it’s going to be Women’s Studies or feminist [in orientation]? Then, I think in fact what we’re also talking about is what kind of perspective is being brought.
I want to borrow from someone earlier who said there’s a difference between studying Black people and Black Studies. There’s a similar parallel here. There’s a difference between studying Black women or having Black women in the department and Black Women’s Studies. One is simply a descriptive, factual type of study. The other one is framing that study with an analysis of power.
I think where we’re having some tension here is the assumption that analysis of power along the gender divide is coming from white Women’s Studies. And to frame it that way, I think, is to ignore a long history, not just a twenty- to thirty-year history, but a century’s worth of history of Black women making a multiple kind of critical intervention: both within our own communities and also within white communities as well.
Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University): I want to say a couple of things. One is, it would be useful to go back and review the 1980 curriculum study report of the National Council for Black Studies because [in] that report, Black Studies was a nondescript, interdisciplinary field that involved three substantive disciplinary subjects—social behavioral studies, historical studies, and cultural studies; and then argued, at the front end of that, an interdisciplinary intro course that pulled all of those bodies in to be intro courses, and advanced courses in each one of those three fields, and an interdisciplinary capstone seminar that gave the student a chance to synthesize what had happened. I think that’s useful because if you need to expand historical studies, cultural studies, [and] social behavior studies to include some of these other sub-disciplinary fields, that can be done. But unless we are accumulative in looking at what have been the formulations, we won’t make headway.
The other point related to this question of paradigms is the proposal that we put forward in Introduction to Afro-American Studies, which argued that the paradigm that’s developed here had two people: (1) units of analysis; and (2) historical periods. Color, class, culture, and consciousness [are the divisions of] the units. My argument would be that [it] is a point of departure to talk about whether or not we got the units straight. We did biology in color. But biology in gender is also there as well. But I think there have been some formulations in the field that we aren’t being deliberate enough about, in terms of how should we be handling paradigms or multiple paradigms, where that discussion is now.
Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): We’re back to the old question of diversity. This is where we began. The question of diversity is [whether] we can allow contending schools of thought to exist within the discipline. That depends upon one fundamental question that is complex and multidimensional. How do we maintain the integrity of the discipline as we include these fundamental elements?
For example, we accept [that] to activate the integrity of the discipline, we must bring new and emerging elements and then reaffirm the old ones. That means first recognizing, just like we talked about, that Afro-Latino Studies, Latino Studies, and Women’s Studies have a historical evolution within the discipline itself. It ain’t like somebody dropped this from on high. This is contained within the discipline itself, when Black women who actually helped build the fundamental professional organization insisted on deepening affirming roles of full participation. That kind of discourse had to be in there also. It’s not like the European came in and gave us the word and made things relevant.
I think the second point we have to ask ourselves [is] whether we can integrate this new focus in the critical and enriching role that it should play, or does it in fact become problematic in ways it shouldn’t even be? We have to find ways to let it maintain its own integrity, the element; see it as an element in the pocket check of construction for the discipline, but make sure that it maintains its own integrity.
When we do it, I don’t want the shift of gratitude to move from Black people to kinds of Black people. The problem is that when Edmund was talking about seeing the Black identities within it as a central reference point, that has to be our number one. If it’s not Blackness that unites us around the table, what are we here for? If it is not our identity as African scholars and people interested in and believing that African life and culture is worthy of the most critical and considerate study, then why are we here? We’re not talking about deconstructive conversations, about we don’t really exist; we don’t have any identity; we’re not meeting on that. We’re meeting on Blackness; we’re meeting on Black Studies. That’s a reality.
What I think is that we have to be honest about the whole question of methodology. We have the same question on our campus. We advertised for an African woman instructor, and I talked to Beverly about this. I had this tenure battle with the dean who wanted to actually put Black Women’s Studies and White Women’s Studies [together]; she said no. The question is whether we are topics or subjects. If we’re subjects, then Black Women’s Studies. If we’re topics, then White Women’s Studies. What are the fundamental documents you use to define the character of your discourse? Do you borrow from the early white women, or do you borrow from Black Women’s Studies? Do you go all the way to the continent, or do you find yourself locked over in America?
What Kimberle says, that is the question. But it’s really a question of culture and the rich and diverse forms of thought and practice that Black people engage in. In our campus, women are talking about varied ways of being African women in the world, not just about their relationship with men.
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): This makes the point to me why it’s so important to talk about this whole notion of paradigm. Because what it allows us to do is say this is Black Studies, and this is not. For example, a sociology department that teaches on the Black family is not doing it from an Africana Studies perspective. We have to be clear on what that is. And it seems to me that it’s not all that difficult to do. We just have to sit down and do it. But that to me says how we define the field, and that to me says how we can form a community of scholars who have different ways of approaching things but try to approach it in terms of some of the basic assumptions.
I mentioned two points before: this whole notion of a Black perspective and empowerment. One can look at all of these areas and ask the question, do they present a Black perspective? Women’s Studies, for example — Africana women — are they giving a woman’s voice, the primary voice? And are they operating in such a way as to try to improve their chances and life experiences? For me, when I look at that, that allows me to say, if somebody comes to me and says, “I want a cross-list in your department or course,” I’m looking for those things.
If we’re clear on those things, it seems to me, then we can begin to say this fits in, this does not fit in; and we don’t have to get into the argument about I think this fits in more than that fits in. What is the purpose for your research; what is the role of the research; what are you going to do with that knowledge to me becomes the key to helping to shape that. If we do that, there’s room for everybody who’s dealing with those issues, putting Black folks at the center to be a part of Africana Studies.
Charles E. Jones (Georgia State University): I feel like oftentimes when you bring this issue up, Black Women’s Studies as a discipline, we almost freeze the discipline in an area when it was not doing it. I don’t think we’ve ever brought the discussion up to what has been done. Professor Davies mentioned that it’s been twenty years of scholarship. Clearly, Africana Studies in 2006 is not Africana Studies when the sister wrote the book. So as scholars, let’s establish what we have and then we go from where we need to get to.
At one time it was an issue of leadership; that’s not the case anymore. We have several chairs around this table, Dr. James, Dr. Terry; a number of the women have led professional organizations. So it’s the faculty that’s a part of that, the majority of women. We at Georgia State have always tried to have a gender balance within the department.
I think in the issue of curriculum, we have learned from the situation. We have seven or eight classes on women and the department has granted us more benefits; we can tap into the best practices in the boardroom; we have those course requirements being offered.
Concerning scholarship, I know we had this discussion at Illinois on what Black Studies has done, and that led me to the question of scholarship. Let’s look at what our articles and journals have covered. Do they include women? That’s an empirical question. So what I’ve done is gone back to the very first issue of the Journal of Black Studies, over thirty years, and identified all articles that have focused on women, from 1970 to 2005, compared those articles with the Western Journal of Black Studies to that of Signs, the premier Women’s Studies journal, and Gender and Society, which is an interdisciplinary Women’s Studies journal. Even when we often try to hedge to women by saying we’re going to now encounter Black articles, we’re going to include women of color in this discussion, which, from what I got, should keep it even. It’s a big disparity between what is published in a Black Studies journal as opposed to the Women’s Studies journal. Yet we still have this argument about Black Studies [not including] Women’s Studies.
Perhaps it is at the theoretical level of framework that should drive how we analyze. I think we spin our wheels when we make the general comments about discipline instead of working on those areas where we can make the discipline more inclusive.
James Turner (Cornell University): This is one of these tough issues, but we need to be very open about it. I think the issue is at the theoretical and conceptual level. It’s not necessarily at the participation level. I remember when we started out, one of the real differences between us and at one point the Association of the Study of African Life and History is that they took a contributionist approach, that is the Negro end. They argued within the larger story of Europe and we opposed that.
If you go back and look at that classic lecture by Lerone Bennett, he talks about new and clarifying concepts. And you can’t talk, as John Flock [did], about history when one page of the book is missing. So I can understand that we need to understand that for the most part, African American historiography is male-centered. It is not only the way in which we talk about who participates; it’s even the way we demarcate the movement of that experience amongst Black people.
I think the other problem is that so many people keep saying Black Studies excludes this; Black Studies doesn’t do this or that. And that when Barbara Hull and Barbara Smith did that work, they were talking about which white feminism did not deal also with Black feminism. But you can’t talk about Anna Julia Cooper as part of who we are without what it is she was talking about.
In some senses we talk as if the framings of Black women are not Black people, or that there is a Black people without the position of Black women; and that is just their being present, but their voice; the way in which they have a conversation with us about how you structure who we are and what our story is. And that has little to do with white women’s feminism; it has to do with Black people who are women. I think this is the challenge for us. But we also have to understand that white women’s feminism has got its own problems and its own issues.
The other more challenging question is also the question of sexuality. If one assumes that there is a random distribution in the universe, those of us who are called heterosexual and then those of us who are homosexual within the human community, then that gets distributed amongst those of us who are Black. The question is whether they should have a voice in agency or not. Those are some of the challenges. All of us have lived with that. We’ve always grown up and knew the people in our community.
So the question isn’t that that ought to redirect or derail the discipline; it is in fact what it needs to be about; that we need to take control of those questions. I say that in all honesty, that much of the question of gender and feminism and sexuality is positive as an anti-Black Studies project. And that needs to be dealt with. Too often these younger people are talking from a postmodernist position, that in fact argues that Black identity and Blackness is an anachronism. And we need to confront that and reject that. But as long as it seems that we have people who say that somehow that’s not part of what Black Studies is, it fuels their position and it fuels their alienation; and what you hear is alienation.
So whether we intend it to be that or not, we have to look at the effect it’s having. That it is alienating, and it is intending to say that it is not being given enough attention. As Charles says, those things are emerging. But the fact that they have to emerge has something to say about conceptualization in the first place.
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): … Everything that James has said, particularly your comment about it has nothing to do with feminism, that’s exactly what we’re saying. So we wouldn’t say something as simplistic as that Black women got it from white women. Everything that you all said is exactly what we’re bringing into Black Studies. We’re not saying that; in fact, we’re doing exactly what both you and Kimberle said. We’re bringing all of that into the discussion within our studies.
We’re getting younger faculty coming in who consider themselves womanist stylists, and we’re looking at it as relevant. All of our “sheroes” throughout history and present time didn’t have to call themselves feminists. We’re doing everything that all the other departments are doing. All your books about Black women’s efforts and accomplishments and Black women’s concerns are added in terms with the other issues.
The issue in the journal from San Francisco State has two articles by Black male students who are talking about their experiences as gay men and confronting racism in the Castro district of San Francisco. The cover of the issue features a Black woman who graduated last year and got the hood from our department for having one of the highest grade point averages. She won our contest on dealing with herself as a lesbian Black woman. So all of that is studied in our department. We’re not limiting that.
The only difference between what everybody else is saying is that we see an impetus with Black women’s development that doesn’t even need the discussion for it, which is not to discount other people. But the word “feminism” is a legitimate word and people have used it legitimately. All we’re saying is that there’s another drive to look at Black womanism without that dependency, but to include all of the things that white and Black feminists have been writing about. Now there’s another way of defining it. All that you’ve been speaking of, I’m agreeing with it; but it sounded like what was being said was that we didn’t want Black Studies; we want all of that in Black Studies.
Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University) We have topics for special conferences, panels, journals; a lot of good points made and a lot of questions still to be dealt with.