Multicultural Studies Don't Divide Us

Article excerpt

Jazz, rhythm-and-blues, gyrating dance steps, and fast-break basketball practically define American style in the eyes of the world - and all originated in African- American culture. So did several words in American English. This semester I assigned something new in the class I teach each fall in this field. Each student was responsible for a class presentation that traced a certain African or African-American style through American culture.

One student talked about how Muhammad Ali had changed boxing and the public style of athletes; he showed us a picture of himself as a baby on Ali's lap.

Another reported on white basketball great Pete Maravich and how his father, a basketball coach, taught him from an early age to copy the black athletes. "They are the future of the game," Pres Maravich told his son, and the fancy ball-handling of Pistol Pete proved him right. Other students reported on legislator Barbara Jordan, writers Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, cooking, New Age medicine, and military cadence calls, originally called "Duckworths" after Private Duckworth, an African American, who introduced them to the Army. Midway through the term, a criminal justice major in his mid-30s stood up and stunned us by saying: "I'm not going to report on something outside this class. I'm going to report on this class." IT was not what I anticipated from this student, who had not said much so far, and whose attitude I had pegged somewhere between indifferent and hostile. His report told why he felt the course ought to be required of all university students and possibly all Americans. "I figure if there was this much I didn't know about {my own} African American culture," he said, "I must be even more ignorant about other people. …