Bryanne E. Mitchell
Photo by Matt Atherton on Unsplash

“The story of the historical Negro will never be completely known until every book, pamphlet, and manuscript on the subject has been found and recorded in bibliographic form.” Dorothy Porter, who in 1930 was appointed curator of Moorland Foundation: A Library of Negro Life (located at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University), had it right. We may never know the full story because that luxury was stamped out by colonialism long before the beginning of Transatlantic slave trade with America. The burning of the library in Alexandria believed to be a tactical “accident” during Julius Caesar’s reign could have housed the missing links we need to piece together the amazing story of our people but the search for insight continues.

The creation of consistency in and definition of African – American Studies has become increasingly difficult. Scholars of all racial backgrounds work to develop the field as an academic discipline, given that it would be a historically accurate representation and interpretation of African-American culture in addition to augmenting the long-established fields of study in American colleges and Universities. Unfortunately, the establishment of African-American Studies as a scholarly discipline resulted in the disparagement African-American people. In other words, African-American studies have become a collection of esoteric knowledge, incomprehensible to people with non-scholastic interests.

As a counter-attack to this median, intellectuals strive to unify the varying definitions of the discipline itself in an attempt to “assess and end the African-American struggle against oppression, discrimination, imperialism, racism, and other pejorative forces, while also looking at their inner struggle to establish community, identity heritage, and function as well as practical and protective institutional infrastructure,” (as cited in Norment, 2007, p. XXXIV).

The many definitions of the term African-American Studies extend beyond the limits of other academic disciplines and explore the cross hybridization of traditional academic subjects in relation to Americans with African ancestry. For example, the introduction to Yale University’s African-American Studies department web page (located on the University’s website) states that the unit, “examines, from numerous disciplinary perspectives, the experiences of people of African descent in Black Atlantic societies, including the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Courses explore the innovative, complex, and distinctively African-American social structures and cultural traditions that Africans in the Diaspora have created. Students are exposed to the historical, cultural, political, economic, and social development of people of African descent.”

Maulana Karenga, author of Introduction to Black Studies established this theory of the multi-disciplinary, transposable field of African-American Studies in his definition. “Black Studies is the critical and systematic study of the thought and practice of African people in their current and historical unfolding… Likewise, stress on the historical and current unfolding of African thought and practice is meant to call attention to their diverse dynamic and constantly developing character” (Karenga, 1993, p. 3).

Vivian Gordon characterized it “as an analysis of the factors and conditions which have affected the economic, psychological, legal, and moral status of the African in America as well as the African in diaspora. Not only is Black Studies concentrated with the culture of the Afro-American ethnic, as historically and sociologically defined by the traditional literature, it is also concerned with the development of new approaches to the study of the Black experience and with the development of social policies which will impact positively upon the lives of Black people” (Gordon, 1981, p. 231). The manifestations of having conflicting definitions like these examples created the many different nomenclatures for the discipline. The names that were publicized for the field ranged from the popular, Black Studies, to the most recent reevaluation, Africology. (Nelson, 1997, p. 60–66)

In the beginning, followers of this Africology theory established the first African-American Studies departments in academic institutions. In 1968, the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Nathan Hare, a professor from Howard University convinced administrators at San Francisco State College (now University), to launch the first African-American Studies department in America. Eventually, the college was even able to provide courses not only about the Black Experience, but also core courses taught from a Black perspective.

The objective of research in Black Studies is to show educated thinkers across the globe the “beauty of all human beings, and to …celebrate…the gifts that all have to offer,” (Norment, 2007, p. XXXIV). Therefore, researchers investigate unique Black contributions to American society. The seven basic fields of Black Studies are Black History, Black Religion, Black Social Organization, Black Politics, Black Economics, Black Creative Production (Black Art, Literature, Music, Dance, and other Performing Arts), and Black Psychology . The idea is to broaden the terms so that it becomes synonymous with all the collective thought and activity of the people. The relevancy of the subject then becomes questionable from a white supremacist perspective. White supremacy erects the notion of history in a Eurocentric framework that designates the contributions of “othered” races as supplementary information rather than imperative pieces of the puzzle. Black scholars support the relevancy of Black Studies by arguing that the education of Afro-America triggers the development of solutions to the problems (social, economic, etc,) that Black people were face globally.

Personally, I think the best term for African-related studies would be Africology. The prefix Afric- suggests any and all matters related to Africa and the African Diaspora. All types of Blackness could be defined this way to be more inclusive of the Black people in America who’s ancestral stories originate as parallels of the transatlantic slave trade rather than derivatives. The global story of the African is not solely defined by 400 years of chattel slavery in America. Using this term to correctly summarize would be most effective. The term, African-American Studies feels like makeup. It connotatively draws imagery of chattel slavery and the KKK but the “-American” washes that in red, white, and blue and asks us to be patriots before allowing ourselves to be Black.

The creation of consistency in and definition of African-American Studies has developed it into a multidimensional field of study that will continue to change until scholars can agree that the concept of “illegitimacy” in reference to the history of Black people in the world is white supremacy at work.

Originally published at http://bryanneelaine.wordpress.com on August 9, 2010.

References

Adams, R. L. (1993). African American Studies and the State of the Art. In M. Azevedo, & M. Azevedo (Ed.), Africana Studies: A Survey of Africa and the African Diaspora (pp. 25–49). Durham, North Carolina, United States of America: Carolina Academic Press.

Daniel, P. T. (1980). Black Studies: Discipline or Field of Studies? The Western Journal of Black Studies , 4 (3), 195–99.

Gordon, V. V. (1981). The Coming of Age To Black Students. The Journal of Black Studies , 5 (3), 231–36.

Karenga, M. (1993). Introduction to Black Studies. Los Angeles, California, United States of America: University of Sankore Press.

Nelson, W. E. (1997). Africology: Building and Academic Discipline. In J. L. Conyers Jr., & J. L. Conyers Jr. (Ed.), Africana Studies: A Disciplinary Quest for Both Theory and Method (pp. 60–66). North Carolina, United States of America: McFarland and Company, Inc.

Norment, J. N. (2007). The African American Studies Reader (Second ed.). (J. N. Norment, Ed.) Durham, North Carolina, United States of America: Carolina Academic Press.

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