The Emerging Black Studies Africanist: A Case Study of MSU's Triple Heritage African American and African Studies PhD Program

Article excerpt

Introduction

If one were to use the trendier name--Africana Studies--to refer to the Black Studies discipline, one would assume that the current article's thesis about Africa-inclusivity were a misnomer! Africa is after-all an integral component of Blackness and, thus, its study one might say is part-and-parcel of its constitution. We know that classical Black Studies scholars ranging from Du Bois (1969), Cruse (1967), Woodson (1969) and Malcolm X (1966) articulated their desire to reconnect the Black experience to African cultural roots. (1) Nonetheless, the current article illustrates important reasons why this proposition that Africa is central to Black Studies cannot merely be assumed. The case must be interrogated, explored and evaluated in relation to important trends regarding the progressive evolution and institutional growth of the Black Studies discipline. The reality is that the study of Africa in Black Studies is much more variable, ambiguous and vague than the popularity of its Africana Studies name signifies.

Not only did Black Studies emerge as a core study of the African American experience first--and only later on, include the study of other Diasporic Black experiences in the New World including a more intentional study of Africans in the continent--nonetheless, within both the Euro-Americanist, on the one hand, and the African Americanist disciplinary traditions, on the other, Africa has remained an ambiguous phenomenon. The Continent formed a romantic 'Other' and 'Roots' symbol in even the foundational Afro-centric Black Studies genres. Moreover, for the White American Africanist, Africa would be the terrain of American foreign policy--missionary, security and developmental concerns.

The study of Africa by the mainstream Africanist tradition in America does not concern me in this current discourse. I acknowledge that the study of the continent in that Area Studies field of study is trapped in a geographical and still paternalistic freeze-zone. It has not been able to integrate the more vibrant cultural, ontological, or Diasporic epistemologies that is more of the trend--and certainly ideal--of the Black Studies discipline. (2) Nonetheless, like and unlike Lisa Aubrey's classic 2002 article, where in her own reflective essay about 'African Americans in African Studies' in which she also criticizes African Studies programs' insensitivity to African American epistemological premises of knowledge on Africa (Aubrey, 2002), the current article perhaps considers the opposite insight and reflects upon similar considerations by 'Africans in Black Studies'.

Using as case study Michigan State University's (MSU) Black Studies program (African American and African Studies--aka AAAS) and shamelessly injecting a perspective of an African-born Black Studies Africanist scholar and current director of a Black Studies program in the US, I use the ensuing Africa query, that I refer to as 'Africa-inclusivity', as an occasion to analyze issues pertaining to nomenclature (Black Studies vs Africana Studies), curricular, faculty research, and teaching profiles (inter-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity), and the discipline's institutionalization (Black Studies department vs interdepartmental program), to examine these dimensions in relation to important indices for assessing the state of the discipline in Black Studies in 2012.

In relating these themes to Africa-inclusivity, by which I refer to the inclination for the Black Studies curriculum to foster both a regionally deep, comparatively robust, and globally interconnected distinctive approach to Africa as the discipline evolves; the current article hopes to provoke a dialogue regarding the nature, orientation, and prospects for the role of Africa in Black Studies programs while also navigating the status and range of MSU's AAAS Black Studies program's "African-inclusivity". To further inject dynamic trends to guide the discussion, I use the article to excavate a shifting disciplinary landscape guided by the following questions? …