Point of View

African studies must be taken seriously

February 8, 2013 

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Maulana Karenga

MATT GENTRY

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, which would eventually become Black History Month to celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to the study of black history is that it is something to use to sell hamburgers or a way for a college athlete to get an easy A.

I am sure Woodson is rolling over in his grave because of what has happened to the study that he devoted his life to develop.

A large segment of the population has alway disrespected the study of black culture. After the conception of collegiate black studies programs, courtesy of scholars such as Maulana Karenga during the turbulent ’60s, many people believed the discipline was created simply to pacify African-Americans who were fighting for social equality and to keep the “militants” from rioting in the streets.

During the early ’90s, black studies again gained attention, thanks to the Afrocentrism movement led by such scholars as Dr. Molefi Asante. During that period, Asante and professors such as Dr. Leonard Jeffries and Dr. John Henrik Clark challenged traditional Western ideology by daring to suggest that it was Africa, not Greece, that was the mother of civilization. This ideology caused many debates as an anti-Afrocentrism movement led by educators such as Mary Lefkowitz, author of “Not Out of Africa,” soon developed.

Fast forward to 2013, and we see that the idea of African-centered education is still under intense scrutiny, especially in North Carolina in the aftermath of the UNC-Chapel Hill scandal. The university’s African/Afro-American studies department has been accused of giving “ghetto passes” to its students.

Some argue that the scandal is just about academic accountability, but it is more a part of the downplaying of any discipline that dares challenge traditional Eurocentric thought. Regardless of the outcome of investigations into the program, it will not erase the fact that old stereotypes die hard and that African studies is not taken seriously, even under the best circumstances.

We live in a society that has shown no real interest in black civilization prior to the trans-Atlantic slave. Also, for many white Americans, interest in black history died with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2013, the African-American community can no longer allow others to tell our story. We must tell it ourselves.

This is why we have launched the Black By Nature/Conscious By Choice Campaign. During the conscious era of hip-hop (the late ’80s-early ’90s), rap group Public Enemy tried to develop new 5,000 black leaders. Likewise, our task this year is to develop 5,000 scholars who will be experts in the study of black culture.

And, unlike 20 years ago, we now have the technology to accomplish the goal.

Instead of depending on the corporate media to tell our story, we are urging the black community to take part in the “Black History: The Lost Episodes” initiative and to use their iPads and iPhones to post black history facts on YouTube that have been hidden from the masses of black people.

Next, we are asking that the African-American community email and tweet local hip-hop radio stations to ask them to play rap music with a social and political message instead of music that degrades our culture.

Also, instead of depending on white-controlled institutions to educate our children about their history, we are urging the black community to take them to places such as the Stanford L. Warren Library in Durham, which has a wealth of information about the black experience from ancient times until the present.

Finally, we must become militant-minded and aggressive with our advocacy of black culture. We must do this. And we must do this now.

As Malcolm X said, “By any means necessary.”

Paul Scott is an activist, writer and syndicated hip-hop journalist based in Durham. He is also author of the blog NoWarningShotsFired.com.

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