Significance of Black Studies to Non-Black Students (E2 S3)

Significance of Black Studies to Non-Black Students (E2 S3)


The student revolts that gave rise to black
studies happened alongside similar uprisings in the Asian and Chicano/latino student communities,
and oftentimes they took place as part of the united front. Thus, Asian studies, Chicano
latino studies, and Gender studies come from a similar efforts from marginalized communities
in their struggles toward social justice. For that reason, Black Studies theories and
methodologies have much to offer to their sister disciplines. WEB Dubois writings on
the color line and dual consciousness, that is, the dilemma African Americans face in
constantly having to negotiate the boundaries of living simultaneously living in two worlds
(black and white) are works that Asians, Latinos, women, and sexual minorities may find value
in. The African-American experience in terms of citizenship in the United States – granted
by the 14th amendment to the constitution -is an experience that the immigrant community
may find value in especially in light of the current backlash on the immigrant community
in Arizona in which citizens and noncitizens alike who come from immigrant backgrounds
are faced with a whittling away of their civil rights. Some have even considered a partial
repeal of the 14th amendment such that the children of undocumented immigrants born in
the United States would not be given citizenship rights. As far as the African-American experience
-we’ve been there and done that, and the country would do well to look two that experience
as well as the experience of Jim Crow before we go any further down this very dangerous
road. By the same token, black studies, and black students, have much to gain in engaging
Asian Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Gender Studies. The brilliant contributions
of the late Gloria Anzaldua have in many ways succeeded those of WEB Dubois. She writes
as a Latina, a woman, a second generation Mexican immigrant, and a lesbian and the notion
of border crossing along multiple borders (that is the cultural boundaries between the
various aspects of her identity). Is it possible to exist as a Latina in a United States society
that devalues that aspect of who she is? How does one negotiate being a woman in a US and
Latino society with strong notions of male supremacy? How is it possible to exist as
a lesbian within a context that looks upon homosexuality with disdain? These are questions
that Gloria Anzaldua deals with that bring dual consciousness to a whole new level – a
level of multiple consciousness. I believe black studies would do well to add some of
those theories and perspectives into a discipline that encompasses people of multiple identities
especially when black people of diverse backgrounds are often in such close contact. Why is it
that when you visit the cafeteria on your campus you often see African Americans and
Africans (immigrants from Africa) sitting at different tables? What about Blacks from
the Caribbean? Are they just as black as black folks from Mississippi? What about black folks
who happen to be gay or lesbian? Are the just as black as straight black folk? The social
critique of Gloria Anzaldua may be helpful in helping students of Black Studies wrestle
with those questions. Finally, what about white students? What do
they have to gain from black studies? What is it like to experience the United States
as a person of African descent, and what insights can a person gain by looking at that experience?
Again, Cornel West shares his insights at an event that I hosted at Sonoma State University.
A warning to viewers, this excerpt does contain language that some consider to be offensive,
but Dr. West uses the language to make it very eloquent point:
… And we need is so very badly today, especially after 9-11… Especially after 9-11. Never
in the history of the nation have all Americans felt unsafe, unprotected, subject to random
violence and hated for who they are. It’s a new experience any Americans. Many white
brothers and sisters, to me, “You know, brother West, I just can’t get over this sense of
being hated like this.” I say, “You don’t say! Really?! Oh! That’s a novel thing, huh?”
“Yeah, I just don’t like it.” I say, my dear brother, to be a nigger in America for 400
years is to be unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated for who you
are. So, we’ve got some experience that might be useful. We’ve got some experience that
might provide some insight for the nation itself to access the best of its past and
its present, now that the whole nation in that particular sense has become “niggerized.”
What kind of resources are available for that nation? Will they remain socratic? Self critical?
Or will it become self righteous? Will they remain prophetic or will it become revengefull?
Let’s look it certain moments in black history when black folk had to respond to vicious
forms of degradation called terrorism. What did Emmet Till’s mother say when she stepped
to the lectern when her baby, Emmet, shot down by American … murdered by American
terrorists in Mississippi August 1955. You all know who Emmet Till was? She brought his
body back to Chicago. They said under no circumstances will we allow the coffin to be open. She said,
“This is my only baby. I’m 32 years old, and my husband fought in the Jim Crow army against
a vicious xenophobe named Hitler, carrying the U.S. flag, and now his baby is now the
victim of American terrorism. We go’n keep that coffin open. And they did keep that coffin
open in Chicago, didn’t they? And 50,000 citizens of all colors – the first major civil rights
demonstration, three months before a black sister named, Rosa Parks sat down in order
to stand up for justice in December, 1955. And what did she say when she stepped to the
lectern – tears flowing, socratic juices still at work – looks over the lectern, her baby’s
head is five times the size of his ordinary head, and the coffin is open? And she says,
“I don’t have a minute to hate, I’m gonna pursue justice for the rest of my life! What
level of spiritual maturity and moral wisdom and courage to still both critique, but also
the care and to love went into that statement. She’s not isolated. This is a tradition
that produced her. That took very seriously the interrogation of dogma like white supremacy,
but yet at the same time she refused to get in the gutter with cowardly gangsters who
killed her baby because she didn’t have to read Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice,
to know that the law can be bent one way or the other. Against Shylock or for him or,
against Portia or for him. She didn’t have to listen to the quality of mercy speech of
Portia, then Portia herself was unable to enact. She had already been molded by something
else that said, “I’m still not gonna hate! I’m not gonna hunt them down like cockroaches.
I’m not gonna exercise of vengeance and revenge. I’m not gonna be manichaean, thinking
that somehow, I’m purely good and they are purely evil. No! I’m deeper than that! Martin
had the same challenge when four young sisters in Birmingham were victims of American terrorism.
16th St. Baptist Church, you will know what I’m talking about, September 1963. The only
time Brother Martin cried in public. Didn’t know what to say. Wondering whether this non-
violence was a hoax and anyway. People gonna be killing babies like that in church, in
Sunday school. He looks of the parents. Tears flowing again. What does he say? “Somehow
we’ve got to muster the armors of love and justice.” This is a great people at their
best! At their best! And it’s a human potential for any people at their best! As Cornel West is fond of saying,
there’s much that society at large can gain from the experience of a
“blues” people, a people whose unique experience provides fresh new perspectives and insights.
That does it for this episode. Join me next time for a look into the African past. We
explore rise and fall of powerful and wealthy African kingdoms as well as the fateful path
they took that ultimately led to the Atlantic slave trade -the trafficking of millions of
human beings from West Africa to the Americas.

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