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Like all things consciously Black in the age of “race neutrality,” Black Studies has been targeted for the irrelevancy file. “The truth is, Black Studies has always been in conflict with the powers-that-be, on campus and in the wider world.” Born of activism 40 years ago, Black Studies “leads to greater and more effective activism” - which makes the discipline dangerous to power and privilege.
Black Studies: Still Indispensable After 40 Years
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“Those who have achieved power and inherited privilege through systemic racial oppression are the last ones to want to fund a discipline that examines past and present oppression.”
In 1968, the Black Student Union at San Francisco State University, in conjunction with other activists and faculty, demanded the establishment of a Black Studies Program. The next year, the Black Studies Program became a department. Forty years later, as many as 350 colleges and universities offer majors, minors and degrees in Black, African American, Africana and related studies, according to Dr. James Turner, of Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center.
Just like the movement and politics that it sprang from, Black Studies is under assault, as irrelevant in today’s times. The truth is, Black Studies has always been in conflict with the powers-that-be, on campus and in the wider world. It was born that way, out of a movement and a people that were trying to find a way out of their own oppression and the ills afflicting humanity at-large. Only fools and the enemy can claim that this mission has been accomplished, and that Black voices should stand down, in academia or anywhere else.
Black Studies grew out of Black activism, and when the discipline is done well, it leads to greater and more effective activism, while deepening our understanding of the global society. This is, by definition, dangerous to those who profit from the status quo and the lies that prop up privilege. Those who have achieved power and inherited privilege through systemic racial oppression are the last ones to want to fund a discipline that examines past and present oppression.
“Hostile forces proclaim Black Studies to be an obstacle on the road to 'race neutrality.'”
Naturally, opponents of Black Studies have always tried to marginalize it as a kind of special dispensation unworthy of accreditation and resources. In the Age of Obama, hostile forces proclaim Black Studies to be an obstacle on the road to “race neutrality” – another way of saying that those who illuminate and struggle against a problem, are themselves the source of the problem.
In a society that is truly committed to social justice, Black Studies would be viewed in much the same way as the study of medicine, whose ultimate purpose is to promote the health of human beings and to combat the diseases that plague us. Medicine ameliorates human misery, and seeks ways to make possible the maximum fulfillment of life for the greatest number of people. So does the struggle for social justice and its academic arm, Black Studies.
Black Studies provides a unique prism through which to identify that which ails us in the United States, and beyond. When Black Studies is devalued, Black people are devalued and all of humanity is diminished.
Those who think we are already liberated and can now dispense with Black Studies, are the ones most in need of an education.