Block I Illinois Library Illinois Open Publishing Network

8 Question Two Discussion

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.


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