The necessity of black studies
African-American studies: an unnecessary, fabricated, pseudo-academic escape from the real sciences. It is simply a “recreational” subject of research, ideally left to one’s leisure on the weekend, or designated downtime during the 28 days of Black History Month.
These are a few facets of opposition facing African-American studies and various other subjects of the humanities. And despite, nay, because of the controversy such views may spark, they are a worthy topic of public discourse and academic debate.
African-American studies was established as the necessary fruit of the civil rights movement. First established in 1968 at San Francisco State University, African-American studies was a reactionary response to the ubiquitous exclusion of the black perspective in academia. Indeed, it was established at a time when the civil rights of black Americans were not wholly established—a time when oppression of black Americans was the ruling paradigm in this country.
Now, in the “post racial” age of the first black president, is it time to incorporate African-American studies into fully established history departments? After all, racial diversity is now encouraged at many colleges. Schools like our Washington University, which once barred black students from the campus, now host special programming to encourage their attendance. Self-proclaimed “progressive” history departments now include Lewis Latimer next to Thomas Edison; Toussaint L’Ouverture alongside Louis XVI.
African-American studies programs transcend the simple study of famous historical figures deemed “black.” Rather, the programs aim to question what is black. These programs philosophize the creation, existence and nonexistence of race in our society. These programs look into the fabrication and permanency of an American underclass—the mudsill, if you will, upholding the very monuments on which our nation stands. These programs establish a mode of discourse for students to comprehend the social forces of race and class that have shaped (and misshaped), our very nation. These programs profess the historical figures of African descent, who are still ignored by collegiate history programs. And they contribute so much more.
Some might argue, or at least question the existence of the humanities as a whole. Indeed, from the perspective of a chemist or an entrepreneur, both African-American studies and history in its entirety might appear to be frivolous, disposable subjects of pseudo-academia. Many are perfectly content in embarking upon societal progress without first knowing the direction in which they are headed. Those same entrepreneurs may not grasp the importance of minority hiring. Those same chemists may not grasp the importance of a drug for sickle-cell disease, which predominantly affects individuals of African descent. Of course, for many, such enlightening knowledge does not require 20 credits of undergraduate coursework. Why invest such time and tuition when, frankly speaking, the library is both quicker and infinitely cheaper?
But what books would exist without established programs in the humanities, which scrupulously research, write and review to ensure the most balanced perspective? Are the simple, unquestioned facts of age-old textbooks adequate for balanced historical discourse? Is an outdated historical perspective enough to base political rhetoric upon?
While recognizing the necessity of the humanities, many do not see its profitability or economic sustainability. The two are not mutually exclusive, however, those individuals have a decision to make. Indeed, we all have a decision to make. We can opt for vocational training, learning the most efficient modes of monetary accumulation. Or we can follow in the footsteps of our nation’s forefathers, and in educating ourselves with the necessities, ideals and realities of mankind, we can be this world’s true leaders. We shall trade Fortune 500 employment for a better, freer society. We shall trade a paycheck from a West Virginia coal company for protest of their misconduct. We shall trade personal comfort today for a better America, nay, a better world, tomorrow.
Years ago, those eminent words of George Orwell read with didactic truth, “he who controls the past controls the future.” Let not a focus on the speed of the car blind us to its course; let not a focus on the productivity of our society blind us to our direction; let not the realities of the present blind us to the warnings of our past and the prospects of our future.
Long live humanities; long live humanity.