Black Studies for the Public:
Interview with Manning Marable
Jeanette R. Davidson
University of Oklahoma
JRD You have intimated that you believe Black Studies should be for the public. I wanted to ask first, what exactly do you mean by that and why is it important?
MM For me, Black Studies is the African American intellectual tradition. It is grounded in, and an analysis of, the lived experience of Black folk through their history and the consciousness derived from that experience. African American Studies is the interdisciplinary interrogation of that experience. As a body of critical texts, it has over the years acquired certain characteristics. African American Studies is, first and perhaps foremost, “descriptive.” It provides, if we use Geertz’s expression, “thick description.”1 It provides a thick description, a nuanced approach to the realities of Black life, of love, of work, of faith, of activism, of triumph and tragedy. It is a thick description of Black life as Black people understand it to be. It is “corrective” in that much of Black Studies literature is a defense of the humanity of Black people. So much of the Social Sciences, and especially the Natural Science literature about people of African descent, is a running “dis” of Black people. So someone has to defend us as human beings and our innate capacities like other human beings to think, to reason, and to be worthy of civil and human rights. And so Black Studies defends Black people and it is “prescriptive.” Black Studies seeks not only to interpret but to transform the world in ways that empower Black people. So there is an element of advocacy in Black Studies that some scholars feel taints the field because it links it to various social justice or political projects.