Taking Back the Academy! History of Activism, History as Activism

By Jim Downs; Jennifer Manion | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13

Teaching Across the Color Line

A Warning About Identity Politics in the Classroom

JIM DOWNS

I didn't teach African American studies because I was part of the civil rights movement or a disciple of black power. I didn't teach African American literature and history because I thought it made me progressive or radical, or, even worse, because it was politically correct; nor, did I teach African American studies because I had to.

I taught African American studies because it was fundamental to the American experience, because by ignoring African American literature and the history would not only undercut the major achievements that black people contributed to this nation, but it would also undermine any definition of freedom that I would attempt to explain to my students. As any historical accounting of black people in the United States would uncover, when the question of freedom was placed under political scrutiny, it was black people who put the question on the table. From the Emancipation Proclamation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Consititution to the civil rights movement, black people's fight for freedom has set the stage for the feminist and labor movements and provided the vocabulary for countless other political discussions.

In many colleges and universities, the fight to incorporate African American history and literature topics into the curriculum as either part of the larger survey courses or even as individual departments-for the most part-has been won. Certainly, college teachers continually struggle to teach these courses, but, at least, they can find the support of the outside scholarly

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