Leadership and Performance in African American Studies: Towards an Introductory Discourse

By Zulu, Itibari M. | Journal of Pan African Studies, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Leadership and Performance in African American Studies: Towards an Introductory Discourse


Zulu, Itibari M., Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

In this discussion African American Studies is defined as an interdisciplinary academic discipline devoted to the study of the history, culture, and politics of people of African heritage, created in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of a new consciousness and activism articulated by the African American community, and according to Rogers (2012), between 1965 and 1972, African American students at upwards of a thousand colleges and universities in the U.S. organized, demanded, and protested for Black Studies which organically took its inspiration from the Black Power Movement.

In this context, the process was steeped in three phases of struggle consisting of conflict (1967-1973), accommodation (1974-1992) and general institutionalization (1993 to present) which transitioned from a national or regional focus to an international focus as representative in the ongoing shift in its naming process (i.e., Black Studies, Afro-American Studies, Pan African Studies, African American Studies, Africana Studies, Africology). And additionally, this work contends that African American Studies is a performance and performativity phenomena, because it is an 'event, ritual, or cultural presentation' (Turner 1986) that over time operates in a 'stylized repetition of performances [to] constitute identity' (Butler 1988) in and outside higher education in the U.S. wherein we have come to expect particular activities and symbols when discussing or performing African American Studies. These cultural presentations, stylized repetition of performances, and particular activities and symbols have thus arrived in the form of holidays such as Kwanzaa and Juneteenth, and cultural presentations like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a conference of the National Council for Black Studies, and cultural events like the annual Bayou Classic college football game between Grambling State University and Southern University, featuring the battle of the marching bands.

Hence there is a performance discourse related to the identity, content and context of African American Studies in higher education. The relatively recent 40th anniversary celebrations of the discipline point to this common and expected historical performance of the discipline in the academy, and supports the notion that leadership and events can be "read" as performative texts to reveal meaning and culture. Therefore in this endeavor, this paper will briefly review how leadership is linked to performance or performativity, the importance of Performance Studies (PS) theories in relationship to African American Studies, and key performance or performativity thinkers in PS. And interestingly, in this construction, a limited amount of supportive literature has been found, a reality which makes this discussion essential.

Leadership

The relevancy of leadership to performance and performativity in the prism of African American Studies links to the need for a Black political performance aesthetic that hooks (1990) mentions in reference to jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show (a TV variety show, 1948-1971), however at the time there were no Black folks engaged in writing a critical cultural analysis, therefore, limiting the possibility of a Black political aesthetic discussion of how Armstrong was being treated (Denzin (2003:5). Hence, the idea of a Black person developing a written critique may have never entered the imagination of the audience, because at the time (1956-1966), the status quo via television dictated a negative politics of culture on how society should respond to Black people, famous, or not so famous. Second, in retrospective, we are not sure if Armstrong saw his performance as an opportunity for leadership or as an 'intervention, a method of resistance, a form of criticism [or as], a way of revealing agency', so that his performance would become a political statement, open for public pedagogy (ibid. …

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