These words are my summary notes from the plenary panel session at the end of the proceedings.
State of African American Studies
Dr. Walter Greason, Ph.D.
8 January 2011
Looking into the Crystal Ball: The Future of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Challenges and Prospects
Moderator: Lillie Edwards
He begins with an acknowledgement of ancestors and praise to Eshu (orisha of his birth). Respect to honored panelists and audience members. Attention to the crisis in Arizona surrounding ethnic studies – is Black Studies affected? No – why not? Are we doing the work we set out to do? There are only 10 Ph.D. programs nationwide. Some are lost in the thicket of post-modernism. I am a practicing African committed to the betterment of humanity. Nod to National Council of Black Studies and the Cheikh Anta Diop conferences in confronting the topic of this event. Settling the disciplinary question – Africology is claimed by some who are unfamiliar with the theoretical framework of the discipline. Darlene Clark Hine argues that the debate is unsettled about whether this area is a discipline or a field. How can we maintain the field when so many fear traditional disciplinary suicide? Hearsay and rumor carry too much sway in the debate over fundamental issues. Afro-Asian authors have no expertise in Africology – a just symbol of the larger problems. Sociologists and historians were among the first to resist and deny the legitimacy of African American Studies. The discipline must always be global. Rural areas of South American countries like Venezuela are nearly 90% African-descended – we must pay careful attention to these regions around the world. New generations must re-energize the traditions that have built the discipline. Where are our independent institutions? Do not rely on an infrastructure of white institutions. Many departments do not have discipline – are Africans referred to as tribes or ethnicities?
There is a room for expansion in the framework of both African American and African Diaspora Studies. The continued focus on the Atlantic world is problematic, even as it has grown from a preoccupation with North America and the Caribbean. Be global by including Europe, Asia, India, and the ‘middle east.’ There is reward in the study of other disciplines to contribute to the methodological growth of African Diaspora studies. Dealing with textured identities and layered meaning will enliven the discipline. More insight from the various scientific fields is needed for true interdisciplinarity. What is the biological/neurological process of memorization? –for instance – We need to engage these kinds of questions more aggressively. The time may have come to re-connect with African Studies in a way to develop a more accurate body of common knowledge – at least for the process of policy formation. My passion lies in the organization of Africans – what can scholars contribute to that process? Asante refers to ‘think tanks’ – we need to develop formal, well-funded institutions that will impact globalization in the twenty-first century. This work is an extension of the Organization for African American Unity, but it should complement the African Union as well reflect thoughtfully on our condition.
There is a tension between preservationist and transformationalist impulses in this discipline. When you’re under siege, you must preserve yourself. (survival) Let’s push that to transformation. We cannot become comfortable where we are. New ways of seeing sometimes require us to leave things behind. It is uncomfortable position for those who have lost so much. The political state of education in the world is DIRE. Arizona is one example of a movement that will move into many other arenas. Public education is currently designed to consolidate power to the very few (through consumerism). The battle is in K-12 education where students are STARVING for energy and skill. Can we engage families and their students in grades 4 through 10 to provide more support and justification for our political urgency? Now, we need to gender individuals and systems from whichever disciplinary approach we endorse. Black power is not a reassertion of black patriarchy. Ask gendered and sexual questions all the time. Resistance vindication must account for black behaviors’ inclusion in commercialized mass culture. What does resistance look like now? Take technology seriously all day and every day. It is difficult and slippery, but our determination must be equal to the task. Make the digital resources attractive and available to mass audiences. Do not allow the academy to marginalize available knowledge either implicitly and explicitly.
Thanks to everyone – especially for the hard talk, and the long talk. The future of this field is very dear to me. I’ve been involved since 1969. It started out as a way to save myself from a profound sense of depression after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I left the country for a year, trying to read myself back into sanity. This conference is a new beginning of my involvement in this field. The Schomberg “In Motion” website focuses on African American migration. It was a digital representation of African American studies as the foundation, not the total sum, of Black Studies. Thirteen migrations in black history, and only two were forced migrations. Every act of migration is an act of individual and collective agency. When black people assemble in any significant numbers, it changes everything that happens there. South to north migration after 1520 changes the historical narrative of North American settlement. The “In Motion” site possesses 25, 000 pages with supporting collections of photographs and primary source documents. Schomberg studies of the black experience put together 30 volumes on major themes online with critical responses. We are still living colonial lives in a post-colonial world. Our liberation must first be intellectual. Or we will continue to live the lives that others have planned for us.