Black studies comes to power? – importance of a series of conferences to African American Studies - Higher Education

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Black studies comes to power? – importance of a series of conferences to African American Studies

by Rhett S. Jones

Four conferences important to African
American Studies were held this fall.
Columbia University’s Institute for Research
in African-American Studies hosted “The
Future of African-American Studies Theory,
Pedagogy, and Research;” New York
University’s Africana Studies Program and
Institute of Afro-American Affairs sponsored
“Finding Fanon: Critical Genealogies;”
Temple University held the Eighth Annual
Cheikh Anta Diop Conference with the theme
“The Impact and Significance of the Works of
Dr. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga;” and the
National Council for Black Studies held its
annual meeting at Gallaudet University, this
year titled “Celebrating Thirty Years of Black
Studies/Africana Studies: A Legacy of
Leadership, Learning and Change.”

The
programs of the four conferences not only
provide straightforward accounts of what the
meetings intended to achieve, but reveal much
about the state of Black studies.

Future historians of Black studies will
learn much by studying these programs,
examining themes, and determining who was
invited and who was not. Some things were
predictable. That Manning Marable, who
directs Columbia’s Institute, would invite
Abdul Alkalimat and Gerald Home, troth of
whom share his leftist perspective, is
understandable, as is Molefe Kete Asante’s
(who until recently chaired Temple’s
department) invitation to fellow nationalist
Haki Madhubuti. But there were some
surprises. The National
Council for Black Studies’ which just changed
the name of its journal from the Afrocentric
Scholar to the International Journal of
Africana Studies, invited both Henry Louis
Gates Jr. and Cornel West– each of whom as
had harsh if not downright nasty comments on
Afrocentrism–to speak. West is now on the
NCBS board.

The NCBS meeting and the NYU
conference on Fanon were remarkable for their
breadth, with persons of varied ideological
perspectives invited to participate. White the
naive expect this to be true of all academic
conferences, it is seldom the case, and certainly
rare in African American studies.

As William
Banks make clear in his new book, Black
lntellectuals: Race Responsiblity in American
Life, Black academics have never had the
luxury enjoyed by their white counterparts, of
pretending to be neutral. They are part of a
tradition, Banks persuasively argues, dating
back to the slave era, in which leaders of an
oppressed and villified community are
expected to assume responsibility for the
uplift of their people.

The ideological clashes
that marked the early years of Black studies,
reflected in the different political orientations
of such publications as Black World and The
Black Scholar, were not about narrow issues of
interest only to the professorate, but were over
very different ideas of the role Black
intellectuals should play in the Black struggle.

As Black folk and white are linked in our
ongoing American race war both as
allies and as opponents, and white
organizations have the money, knowledge of
sponsors reveals much about the role white
institutions continue to play in the
development of Black studies.

The National
Council for Black Studies has received a
number of grants from the Ford Foundation,
the Fanon conference was funded by Ford and
the Rockefeller Foundation, while the
Leadership Alliance — a group of Black
colleges, Ivy League colleges and other leading
universities — supported the Columbia
University conference. No outside sponsors
are listed for the Temple conference. While
Fanon studies are supported by Ford and
Rockefeller, apparently Karenga studies are
not.

Together, the four conferences
demonstrate the obvious and the
not-so-obvious. Obviously, despite
considerable opposition, Black studies has
come of age as a discipline and has sufficient
confidence in itself to set and achieve its own
agenda, one independent of traditional
theoretical assumptions and methodological
strategies. It is not obvious, nor is it yet clear,
how a discipline that has its roots in Carter G.
Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro,
can function within and relate to continuing
racist structures in American higher education.

DR. RHETT S. JONES,
professor of history and Afro-American
Studies, Brown University and
member of the board, National
Council for Black Studies.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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