Africana Studies Can Save The World

It is the constant seeking of an outside to white supremacy that might elusively be understood as Black freedom. -Jarvis R. Givens

As someone who has taught a required African American History course in Philadelphia over the last decade to racially and ethnically diverse student populations, my personal engagement with the related concepts found in Africana Studies has deepened my own intellectual and educational practice.

I have witnessed students from all backgrounds become better people who are committed to the cause of making a better world for all people. Africana Studies is a scholarly tool for understanding the world through the transtemporal African-centered worldview  and seeks to define a paradigm not confined by Eurocentric definitions.

About a month ago, I participated in a collaboration with scholars from the United Kingdom about legacy maroonage throughout the Americas related to consistent African resistance to enslavement. Before the professional development session, I had to virtually meet with Kwame Boateng, a scholar from the UK working on the development of a Black curriculum in the UK about what we will collectively present on.

During our first meeting, Kwame and I jumped right into sharing with each other titles of books about Africana Studies and the importance for people to learn the concepts developed through the discipline. At one point during the conversation, the scholar from the UK said to me that he believed that “Africana Studies can save the world”. Following the conversation and during the last month, this simple statement has rested heavy on my soul as a profound idea.

The recent emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) positions and offices in educational spaces will not lead to an increased equity in a white supremacist system due to its reliance on the very framework it is meant to dismantle. Simply looking at racist practices without including a conceptual framework derived from Africana Studies and an African-centered worldview creates the conditions for the erasure of the significance of the story of development of culture and contributes to more confusion about the meaning of being human.

An African-centered conceptual framework locates philosophical cultural reality metaphysically beyond the confines of temporal significance and informs a deeper meaning behind the “why” of our meaning. John Henrik Clarke captures this:

For students to understand the twenty-first century, they must understand the centuries of disruption that led us to where we are today.

We really have to study the 500 years of world history and the last 500 years of disruption in favor of Europe and the downgrading of other peoples.

Once things are placed in their proper historical perspective, they might have a better idea of where the world can go.

Despite being interested in Black History since being introduced to the Autobiography of Malcolm X by the librarian at my elementary school after experiencing a racist incidence, I would not become aware of many Black philosophers, theorist, historians, psychologists, and scholars until taking elective Africana Studies courses as an undergraduate.

I now realize that the exclusion of these Black writings and speeches from mainstream dialogue related to making sense of being Black in the American context limits the continuity of the intellectual genealogy of Black political and social thought developed over generations. This limitation of Black thought not only adds to misunderstandings, but it also prevents the world from benefiting from the concepts developed with the intention to liberate.

Black people worldwide have been denied recognition of their humanity for most of the past 500 years, so the scholarly work invested around developing ideas about human resistance found through Africana Studies could be transferable to all people’s pursuits to combat dehumanization. By being unaware of what is meant by Africana Studies, even the most intellectually honest teacher will do a disservice to authentic evaluation of the totality of human existence.

Most conversations about the inclusion of Black History surround narratives that simply show Black people being successful by standards developed under white supremacy. Consequently, the current emphasis on critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) will never address the deeper need for developing educational tools necessary to create alternative concepts. Currently, the world is set-up in a way that is unsustainable and leaves much to be desired in relation to meaning and purpose connected to human collective existence.

Therefore, all of our students are continually being denied knowledge and information that can be translated into understanding their positionality in the American historical context more thoroughly and produce real systematic change. This practice of cultural and historical erasure for the service of European power has been a consistent tool in the development of what is known as Western Civilization. The purpose of colonizing concepts of reality within a framework that benefits few people is more than an analysis, it becomes a limiting factor needed to maintain control. 

Toni Morrison reminds us:

It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is a distraction.

It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Someone says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do.

Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that is. Someone says you have no art so you dredge that up.

Somebody says you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

The recent coordinated attacks on the teaching about the inglorious history of the United States and critical race theory is a continuation of the age-old practice in America of unwillingness to acknowledge the humanity and experiences of Black people. Moreover, I contend the over-emphasis in trying to convince others of such is a waste of time and will not change anything long-term.

Throughout American history there have been examples of social and political gains for Black people followed by a whitelash committed to reinforcing the mythology of white superiority. The goal should not be to convince others (and too often ourselves) that African people have the right to exist in our unique greatness without structures meant to maintain dominance and control.

What is needed now to combat the insidious forces allied with white supremacy is less of a question of how to be accepted and more a question of shifting the narrative of what frame of references that should be taught to all students. I would even go further and say that if a person in America is unwilling to acknowledge and recognize that Black people were never meant to be free in America, they hold anti-Black views regardless of their perceived racial or ethnic identity.

America has a long documented commitment to distort its past and undermine the true pursuit of hard history. Furthermore, the conclusions related to our misunderstanding of ourselves is usually tied to belief in the mythology of racial progress. We see this manifested by the way Black History Month has been presented as a indicator of racial reconciliation and therefore utilized as a tool to reinforce the idea that “something must be wrong with Black people”. These anti-Black ideas of racial progress have always been used to perpetuate mainstream American thought and have informed us that the whitelash we see today is just a reflection of that truth.

Jacob Carruthers warns us all:

For the European and white American political scientists, political science and its focus, are the natural extensions of their historical way of life.

To them “African politics” in Africa and Black politics in America are, although sometimes quite significant, subdivisions which are not fully mature and developed.

For them the end of African politics is integration into the world as organized by Europeans.

Connected to pursuing Africana Studies is the inclusion of the African-centered worldview written about extensively by scholars like Jacob Carruthers, Linda James Myers, Karanja Keita Carroll, Asa Hilliard, Marimba Ani, and Na’im Akbar to name only a few.

Different from the Eurocentric conception of reality tied to individualism, detached spiritual existence, and the dichotomization of reality, the African-centered worldview acknowledges the contradictions inherent in human beings as one part of a whole which everyone is part of physically and spiritually.

As a result, shifting the conversation away from fighting for education being simply informed by the need to address systematic racism to one that integrates the African-centered worldview in the way education is handled will contribute to the liberation of all people from the historical confines of Eurocentric definitions and structures.

Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the Father of Black History, pointed out the need to deviate from the definitions of the dominant white society. Even white children in America are held captive by a worldview premised on mythologies and avarice. As long as the Eurocentric worldview informs frameworks used to maintain structures that dehumanize all people, educators committed to the education of Black children will repeatedly find only temporary respite from the ongoing battle against white supremacy. Africana Studies is the missing piece needed to address reality in a more humane and holistic way. 

The restructuring that educators need to do, then, is much more a matter of theory, philosophy, perception, conception, assumptions, and models than it is a matter of rearranging the technical and logistical chairs on the educational titanic. -Asa Hilliard


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