African American Studies: Vital,
Transformative, and Sustainable
Jeanette R. Davidson and Tim Davidson
University of Oklahoma
African American Studies is vital to the mission of the academy and transformative for students, educators, and communities. The discipline continues to evolve in the twenty-first century, is proven to be resilient, and should be sustained. The story of African American Studies has always been about finding a place to stand—securing a footing in the academy, finding a clearing (opening) for pedagogy, and being integral to the process of discovering, transmitting, and creating knowledge without the Black focus being assimilated, diluted or commodified by the (typically) White power structure within the academy.
Up to this point, much of the narrative of African American Studies is cast within the politicized frame of Black liberation and self-determination amidst White resistance and strategies that foster second-class citizenship or institutional vulnerability. But at its core, African American Studies is more than freedom as opposition; it is freedom as greater understanding and expression. It not only challenges the academy, but revitalizes it through its systematic enquiries into: (1) African modes of thought and traditions; (2) the international impact of the Diaspora; (3) American culture (past, present, and future); and (4) theoretical perspectives on race (forged experientially from the vantage point of the oppressed).
Maulana Karenga says the “very meaning of Black Studies” is “to speak African people’s special cultural truth and make their own unique contribution to the flow of human history”—not just as a “variant discourse,” but as a specific and unique field of study.1 Kathleen Cleaver emphasizes