African-American Studies: An African Scholar's View

Article excerpt

IMAGES of African Americans dominate every facet of life not only in the United States but increasingly in the entire world. Think of the stature of the Rev Martin Luther King, 1964 Nobel Peace Laureate, now an American national hero with the full honour of a federal public holiday and a federal monument comprising a mausoleum, library, and a chapel where a burning fire never dies. Do not forget Mohammed Ali, George Foreman, and Mike Tyson if you like boxing as many Americans do. In American football, big names include O. J. Simpson, the father of the two lovely children who lost their mother Nichole in tragic circumstances. In basketball, one of the greatest heroes is Michael Jordan. If you cannot resist popular music, then you should recognize Michael Jackson. Tiger Woods dominates world golf. The two Williams sisters are omnipresent in international lawn tennis. African Americans, however, are not just confined to the arts and sports arena. As shown by the example of the current Secretary of State Colin Po well, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, equality is an important American ideal.

Because of its segregated past, the American educational heritage remains largely dominated by Americans who trace their ancestry to Europe. Once called American Negro, then Black American, before being dabbed Afro-American, the African American is a minority group often marginalized in education. In response to this alarming deficit, successive governments continue to create new and strengthen existing Equal Opportunities mechanisms for all minorities. Action speaks louder than words, and indeed President George Bush broke yet another record and named a distinguished educator called Roderick Paige, also an African American, to the strategic position of Education Secretary. To crown it all, a prominent member of the academic community, Condoleezza Rice, has been named National Security Advisor by President George Bush.

As a matter of American law, any institution proven in an American court to be guilty of racial discrimination automatically loses federal funding. Moreover, as the recent case at the Coca-Cola Company involving certain minorities, including African Americans, amply demonstrates, the levels of compensation are so high that it is wiser to treat all workers equally.

In recent decades there has been a great growth in African-American studies in the U.S. Specific structural dimensions to African-American Studies can be discerned, namely traditional universities, colleges, schools, institutes, departments, centres, and programmes. For the sake of the reader not familiar with academic life in the United States, these different institutional patterns are discussed in detail. American universities originally designed to cater for racial minorities still exist. As mentioned earlier, a certain minimum level of integration has effectively been realized by now in line with the principle of democracy, freedom, and progress everywhere. That is the basis for attracting federal funding, faculty, and students in accordance with the competitive spirit of free enterprise. This category of universities includes institutions such as Howard University in Washington. It is illegal to practice racial discrimination at any American university, including Howard University. What that means is t hat the future of such universities is guaranteed under the law.

A certain number of colleges, such as Perimeter College, started as minority institutions. These colleges, too, are no longer organized along racial and such unethical criteria. In line with a general spirit of social peace and harmony, some changes in the nominal numbers rather than their statistical interpretation, are perceived as either too slow or too fast. To the shrewd observers, only demagogues can overlook the amount of progress which has been recorded in a relatively short space of time. Racial superiority is not the national ideology it once was. …