African American Literacies

By Elaine Richardson | Go to book overview

Foreword

In essays and speeches contained in the collection, The Education of Black People, edited by Herbert Aptheker and published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1973, W. E. B. DuBois laid out his grand vision for the education of Negroes (to use the terminology of that era). Focusing on higher education under US-style apartheid of the 1930s, DuBois argued that the role of education was not simply to teach Negroes how to make a living but how to make a life. He thus called for a curriculum and philosophical pedagogy grounded in their culture and real world needs.

In the same way, a Negro university in the United States of America begins with Negroes. It uses that variety of the English idiom which they understand; and above all, it is founded, or it should be founded on a knowledge of the history of their people in Africa and in the United States, and their present condition (DuBois, 1973:93). College teachers cannot follow the medieval tradition of detached withdrawal from the world … The teacher … has got to be something far more than a master of a branch of human knowledge … the possibilities and advancement of [a Black man/woman] … in the world where [he/she] is to live and earn a living is of just as much importance in the teaching process as the content of the knowledge taught (DuBois, 1973:78).

It is now more than seven decades since DuBois wrote these words. The US-style apartheid laws have been abolished. We have witnessed the emergence of a voluminous body of research on the language and culture of African Americans. Yet we find ourselves still engaged in struggle: how to implement pedagogical practices that will effectively and successfully address the continuing educational crises of Black students.

Elaine Richardson's work is a major contribution to that struggle. Her book brings together composition, African American language and the Black tradition of literacy. Seeking to do “right in a wrong world, ” Richardson has created an African American-centered composition curriculum that takes her students on the journey from “slaveship to scholarship.” Along the way, they analyze literacy practices in Hip Hop and “discover” Black female literacies. For the first time, the students are exposed to a conception of the vernacular that goes far beyond phonemes, morphemes, and Black slang to encompass an Africanized

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