Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Evolving African-American Studies

John McWhorter -- whom you may recognize from some of his brilliant commentaries on NPR -- has written an excellent piece on "What African-American Studies Could Be" (via Andrew Sullivan).

McWhorter summarizes his argument here:

It’s time that African-American Studies departments let go of the sixties imperative to defend blacks as eternal victims of racism. Black people can do their best even under imperfect conditions--and if that reality is irrelevant to an African-American Studies curriculum, then we must question the value of said curricula to those whom they purport to speak up for: real people in this real world. This real world which will never be perfect--even for descendants of African slaves.

In 2009, the study of blackness must be the study of a race most of whose members are now victors, not victims. Certainly the victims must be studied--but only within a genuine commitment to saving them, not chronicling them as helpless until America turns upside down in a fashion no one could seriously imagine will ever happen.

Two things are crucial in my piece at Minding the Campus.

First, I do not argue that African-American Studies departments should not exist. Any claims that this piece is “against Black Studies” will be, as Obama said in his speech on health care not long ago, lies.

Second, I do not assail teachers within them as charlatans or anarchists. At all. I know they are all working at the top of their abilities. I just question what the guiding imperatives of their departments are, and ask them to address a wider range of arguments.

This piece is simply a call for a true African-American Studies paradigm: a study of black people entire, with ample room for views from all sides. Black conservatives should be read alongside Du Bois and Baldwin, with no clucking and hedging. Any hovering consensus that leftist positions are “truth” should be a mark of failure.

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