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7 The Relationship between Black Studies and Her Sister New Perspective Fields

Edmund T. Gordon, University of Texas at Austin

I want to try to respond to these questions from the perspective of the African and African-American Studies program at the University of Texas. We have traditionally been at the margins, I think, of Black Stud­ies in this country for reasons I don’t quite know except for the fact that Texas has often been at the margins in terms of things Black. [Our center] is actually in its thirty-sixth year, so we were one of the first to be­gin. But nevertheless, we’re not usually included when we’re talking about the pioneers in the area.

…[The question to be discussed needs] to be foregrounded by my impression [of what] … is under attack, which perhaps is dif­fer­ent than some of the rest of us around the table. That is, in a sense, I think in terms of higher learning in general is under attack in this country. I think there is a prevalent anti-intellectual­ism which is very dangerous, which has characterized, particularly [by] the Bush regime, which has been pretty much building for a while. On cam­pus there is an anti-activism, which I think is prevalent. Inasmuch as Black Studies, as I understand it, is based in a certain activist and political positional, I think we’re under attack in that regard as well.

Beyond that, Black Studies is under attack in a sense that the Black community in general in this country is less collectively ori­en­ted than previously. We can talk about that in the future. But it gets more and more difficult, I think, for Black Studies programs that are progressive and activist to mobilize Black students in terms of participation in our programs.

At the University of Texas, Africana or Black Studies is basi­cally characterized by three important orientations. One is towards Black col­lectivity. I think we are in some sense non-cosmopolitan, and cer­tain­ly not motivated by notions of universal humanism, which are two things that some Black scholars seem to be pushing these days. We are very much focused on Blackness. Blackness as identity both in terms of the way in which Black people in­ter­po­lated or iden­ti­fy as Black, but even more than that, in the ways in which we cre­ate our identities, self-make our identities in our com­munity and make our own Blackness. It’s about Black col­lec­tiv­i­ty and Black iden­ti­ty.

The second focus of what we do as Black Studies, I think, has to do with a particular interest in power and social hierarchy, par­tic­u­lar­ly racism as it begins for Black folks here, there, and every­where, and how increasingly racism is articulated with other for­ma­tions of power and exclusion.

In terms of the third area that characterizes our notion of Black Studies is the issue of Black agencies. In other words, ways in which collectivity is mobilized politically as for or against Black exclusion and social hierarchy based on race.

Having said that, the answers to the questions seem relatively simple. For example, in terms of the relationship of African Ameri­can or Black Studies to Diaspora Studies, from my perception, from its very beginnings, Black Studies has been interested in a Pan-African perspective: interested in Black folks here and there. In some sense, our interest in Black Studies in Black identity and Black collectivities basically is an interest in Diaspora. Because as far as I’m concerned, Black identities and Black collectivities are not con­tained by national borders or continental shores. Those are ar­ti­fi­cial separations, which I don’t think Black Studies needs to take or should take as real separations.

Also, neither Black racism nor anti-Black sentiments are sepa­rat­ed by national boundaries or continental shores. In fact, those of us at the University of Texas, at this point, are busy concep­tu­al­iz­ing a notion of global racial formation. And in order to be able to un­der­stand global racial formation, one needs to be able to take a di­as­por­ic perspective. So Diaspora Studies seems to me, when we’re talk­ing about Black Studies, we’re talking about the “Afri­can/Black” Dias­pora.

The next question was: what should be our relationship to Af­ro-Latino/a Studies? Again, we have key concepts of agency, col­lec­tiv­i­ty, and anti-Black racism come to the fore. Afro-Lati­nos/La­ti­nas are part of the African Diaspora. The largest pop­u­la­tion of Blacks out­side of Africa is in Latin America, so excluding Afro-La­ti­nos from our notion of Black Studies seems artificial.

There are strong vibrant relationships between different as­pects or different locations in the Diaspora of which African-La­ti­­no/a populations are an important part. Perhaps most im­por­tant­ly, Af­ri­can Americans are now ethnically complex; and if we try to de­fine Blackness while excluding Afro-Latinos, we’re exclud­ing an im­por­tant part of our population. … I think that African Stud­ies should also be a part of the Black Studies experience. Africa is part of a glo­bal racial formation. Racial practices are important within Af­ri­ca, al­though often ignored. Also, Africa is a key location of Black self-mak­ing imagery.

Africana Women’s Studies are important also; first, as a way to contest the heterosexist and masculinist kind of an orien­ta­tion of Black Studies in the past; but even more than that, es­pecially at the University of Texas, Black feminist theory provides the key in the localization of sexuality. We use that as a key theo­retical tool.


The Relationship between Black Studies and Her Sister New Perspective Fields Copyright © 2018 by marilyn m. thomas-houston. All Rights Reserved.

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