Whatever the name, Black Studies, Africana studies, or African American Studies, university disciplines designed for understanding African history have a problem of attempting to be too Black. When I say “too Black” I’m not saying that Africana culture (relates to both African and African-Diaspora culture) is annoying, but that the way that scholars handle it can be ridiculous. Most programs are afro-centric, (they teach that everything originates from Africa) so every discussion feels heavy on the criticism of how un-African everyone and everything is. In the case that American education still fascinates itself with European culture disproportionately, I can understand the normal procedures of Africana studies. Regardless though, these programs were set up to help lead the political agendas of Black folks. And as it stands it forgets that the struggle of Black people is the same struggle of enslaved peoples and self-proclaimed masters worldwide.
A special lecture entitled “Black Studies: Then and Now” caught my attention earlier this week. My school (Temple University) invited the chair of Howard University’s African American studies department, Dr. Greg Kimathi Carr, to present his reflections on the failures of departments across the United States. Dr. Carr told us that failure is not a bad thing since it shows dedication when a person continues to work. The beginning was very inspiring, because it reiterated the goal of Africana Studies, along with the encouragement to acknowledge failure as progress. There was a turn though; toward the end, Carr diagnosed some criticisms that seemed impossible to get pass. One that hit me severely was Dr. Carr’s critique of Black intellectuals working in the field of philosophy, which he called “Grand Theorists.” As a Black student of Temple’s philosophy department, in the mind of Dr. Carr, I will always be misguided because my methods are influenced by the white tradition. In other words, my methodology is not Black enough. I’ve face this type of clowning before from Temple’s Black studies department, I don’t know why I thought this lecture would have any different ideas. My study of Plato, Kant, Hegel, etc. should not be dismissed as Euro-centric garbage, but just as conscious of the humyn struggle as any other field of Black studies.
Afro-centric platforms for talk about the advancement of Black folk have to understand that exclusion is an effective element of the White-dominated world. Interestingly enough, Dr. Carr throughout his presentation expressed shame toward the numerous ways that the Euro-centric academy and the anti-Black racist society ignore the existence of Black history, or “genealogy.” Philosophy majors (or anyone that reads Dr. Lewis R. Gordon) understand that invisibility is a motif of the Black experience because of the availability of bad faith. Bad faith is a feature of freedom in which one can escape the facts of situation by directing consciousness to what is wanted to be believed or seen; in other words, it’s a lie to oneself. Dr. Lewis Gordon, a Black philosopher and teacher of mine, applied Jean-Paul Sartre’s, a German/French philosopher, concept of bad faith to the phenomena of racism. Of course Gordon’s acceptance of the European method landed him in Carr’s “progressive” category, whereas in reality, the so-called African tradition does not outlaw respect for another’s ideas.
If Afro-centrism is a request to be visible by shedding everything started by white people, then the foundation of Black studies needs to be reevaluated. What programs reach for in the status quo is an anti-White world, which should not be confused with a world that fixes all the problems of the post-colonial world. In any case, there can be no resolution without wrestling with the moments of bad faith that got people enslaved in the first place; remember we had bodies and minds like Columbus, yet we were objects like another tree in the background. Clearly we have not learned from the first centrism, that any claims of there being one perspective through which we see the world brings nothing but destruction. Afro-centrism is not above any of the faults of Euro-centrism, even if anthropologists understand that all humyns came from Africa. Sartre, by way of Gordon’s analysis of racism, contributes to Black studies no more than Dr. Carr. For that fact, the Black student must always be conscious of the humyn fantasy and be well-versed in the academies of the world.