or Afro-American Studies or Africana Studies or Black studies. WhatEVER! The discipline has different names at different institutions. That was my undergraduate major (techinically African and African-American Studies). When I decided to major in Afam (as we called it), people questioned my choice. “What are you going to do with that? Be a teacher?” and they belittled the work that I did. “Oh, that’s the easy major. That’s the one all the atheletes choose.” My response: “Negro, please.”
I actually think that’s kind of rude and pretty ignorant. While the discipline of Afam Studies is fairly new in relation to English Literature and not as clear a path to a particular career like Computer Science, that doesn’t mean that it’s just some bullshit major. I chose Afam after taking some classes in the department. I was really intrigued and figured I’d do better in school if I majored in something that was actually interesting. Prior to that, I was a journalism major with a minor in French.
I was in the Dunkin’ Donuts the other day and overheard two folks discussing Black Studies (as they called it). They were grad students. The girl voiced her frustration with people discounting Black Studies as just a “program” at the school. She referred to it as a discipline and went on about it being a legitimate piece of academia, even moreso important because of its activist component. What she meant was, not only does Black Studies foster academic growth and discussion like any other discipline, but it kind of calls for its students to put what they learn into practice or invest their intellectual capital back into the community. At least that has been my experience.
At Carolina, the mission of the African/African American Studies Department is as follows:
The current goal of African and Afro-American Studies at UNC-CH is to give specific and precise attention to the histories, cultures, and cultural linkages of the peoples of Africa and their descendants in the New World. Although students must concentrate in either African or Afro-American Studies, all majors must gain competence in both areas and thereby come to understand the cultural and historical continuities and contrasts between Africa and the African New World.
The purpose of the African Studies concentration is to develop an analytical approach to contemporary Africa. Courses stress the importance of traditional values and institutions to the definition of modern African society, and stress the historic range of commercial and political relationships with Europe and the New World. The purpose of the concentration in Afro-American Studies is to develop a broad knowledge of the history and culture of the peoples of African descent in the Americas and the significant social, political, economic, and humanistic issues they face.
Sounds good, right? In my Senior year, I had a seminar class where we talked about teaching and learning Afam. We examined the prominent Black Studies departments in the country. There are Afam or Black Studies Departments at: UNC Chapel Hill, UC Berkeley, Temple University, Univ of Penn, Cornell U, Harvard U, Ohio State, U of Illinois @ Chicago, U of Wisc-Madison, SUNY Buffalo, Yale, UVA, UCLA, U of TX-Austin, Columbia U, U of Chicago, U of Pittsburgh, Tulane U, Washington U – St. Louis, Duke, Oberlin, Brown, and Princeton. I’m sure there are more and this list doesn’t even include what HBCUs have been teaching since their inception. With all of these prestigious institutions of higher learning offering degrees and graduate opportunities in Afam, how can people continue to doubt its validity?
In response to the “what can you do with that” inquiry, I say yes, a person can become a teacher. However, just about any career path is open to you. I like to say that I had several majors in one. Studying Afam required me to study economics, history, sociology, literature, art, film, international studies, political science, language, gender studies, and philosophy. I just learned all of that stuff through the lens of the African American experience. Furthermore, we explored many issues through the lens of a person of color in the Diaspora. Does that really sound like the “easy major”?
Granted, there were a number of football and basketball players who were in my classes. I’m sure many of them found a way to do as little as possible while they were crossing their fingers to get into the League. I’m just as sure there were athletes who took their studies seriously. I don’t think it’s fair to shit on an entire discipline because there are athletes interested in it.
I sometimes wonder if people think less of Afam because it has to do with Black folks. I wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, some Black people still don’t trust Obama because they think that white is right! I dunno. I don’t really hear people talk badly about Asian Studies! I almost put Women’s Studies there, but when you major in that, people just assume you’re a man-bashing feminist, a lesbian, or if you’re a man you’re a simp. Don’t get me started on the majority folk whining about how having Black Studies is racist. Spare me. They don’t call it the Ivory Tower for nothing.
I have considered going for an advanced degree in Afam. Add it to the wall next to my BA and my JD. Maybe go all the way for a PhD? But uh… the way this last year of law school is feeling, it’s just a thought.
I just want people to open their minds and have some respect. There are plenty of people who majored in business or computers or English and are grabbing coffee for somebody else on a daily basis. I mean, geez, it’s not like I majored in communications or anything!*
*Just kidding. Communications is okay. There were more atheletes majoring in comm than anything else, though. I’m just saying!