Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Fade from Black: Becoming Africana

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Fade from Black: Becoming Africana

Article excerpt

"The political implications of word selection further complicate [the] question of language. ...Some audiences welcome language that mutes the effects of oppression...where as others view such language as part of the problem."

...Choice of word creates frameworks that remove African-American protest and criticism from their specific historical and political contexts: "The general practice has been to de-racialize the African-American protest, eschewing terms such as 'black', 'racism', 'exploitation', and 'oppression' in favor of 'minority', 'ethnicity', 'underprivileged,' 'disadvantaged,' or 'diversity'".

Patricia Hill Collins1


In 1968, San Francisco State University was the first college in the United States to establish an academic program that focused primarily on the scholarly study of peoples of African descent. They called it "Black Studies."2 It came after a lengthy and armed strike of students and faculty protesting the university's minority admissions and hiring practices. As "no school wanted to be the target of demonstrations and disruptive strikes,"4 hundreds of universities and colleges around the country eventually followed the lead of SFSU and created departments and programs that focused on elucidating the history and marginalization of African-Americans.5 In this way, the Black Studies movement was born. 6

Nearly 40 years later, San Francisco State University changed the name of its inaugural department to "Africana Studies." In recent years other schools, such as Notre Dame University, University of Arizona, and California State at Long Beach have also changed the titles of their departments' from "Black Studies" to "Africana Studies." This paper serves as an exploration into the factors that have prompted these name changes and the impact of this relabeling effort. Ultimately, this project functions as a reflection piece, considering the ways in which the rise of Africana Studies indicates a shift in the politics and direction of Black scholarship; distancing the field from its volatile beginnings and radicalized allegiances of the "Black Studies" movement.10

When the field of Black Studies first emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the terms "Black" and "Africana" held distinctive meaning both inside and outside of the university. In theorizing about Blackness, William Cross Jr.11 wrote that:

A pro - Black perspective... includes a commitment to the destruction of racism, capitalism and Western dominance. [...] The goals of Black self-actualization [are] an awareness of the condition of the masses of Black people, development of skill, preparation for participating in the mass struggle of Black people...12

In other words, the term Blackness was invoked as a politicized identity defined by a communitarian orientation towards collective progress. Blackness reached beyond a monolithic category based on skin color - to call oneself Black, Cross argues, was an assertion of distinction from "plain, everyday Negroes"13 who had only individualistic commitments to the Black community. Across the nation, a wider embrace of a Black identity during the late 1960s and early 1970s functioned as a reclaiming project. Globally, Black identity represented an effort to make transnational connections amongst people resisting racial apartheid in countries around the world. The coinciding demand on college campuses for Black Studies programs - scholarship as articulated through the lens of the Black experience - served as an intellectual response, expression and institutionalization of various societal goals within the academy.14

Africana Studies had a much quieter entrance into the ivory tower. Before James Turner founded the first Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University in 1969, the term Africana had been a previously arcane DuBoisian reference from the early 20th century.15 According to Turner, "the concept Africana is derived from an 'African continuum and African consociation' which posits fundamental interconnections in the global Black experience. …

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