I’m only half of a semester into my 100-level Africana Studies course, but I can assure you that I have learned more than a semester’s worth of lessons. African American Studies, Black Studies, or Africana Studies, these courses are not solely designated for students of African descent, but for all students. Here are five of the most notable things I’ve distinguished from my course so far.
1. I learned the history of my country wrong.
In schools across the country, the history of the United States that we are taught is a white, Eurocentric version that excludes other points of view entirely. We refer to the Native Americans as “savages” while downplaying the horrors of European conquests. We downplay the brutality of slavery. My professor included the newest version of “Roots,” which included some scenes that were so brutal I had no choice but to look away. We tend to speak about slavery as something distant and completely irrelevant in today’s society, but we are really not that far removed. Elements of slavery still exist in different forms today.
2. I learned the history of other people wrong, too.
I do not remember seeing the history of people of African descent in any U.S. History textbook that I have ever read. Isn’t it disturbing that we assume that the history of all peoples began in America? Have you read anything at all on the African Diaspora? Why is this information left out, yet the white children know that their ancestors came from distinguished parts of Europe and brought over their individual cultures? The history of people of African descent does NOT begin in the United States.
3. I am unfamiliar with black scholars and authors.
I am familiar with white theorists, artists, and philosophers. But why, as an 18-year-old college freshman, am I just now reading and analyzing the works of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington? Why am I hardly aware of the advancements and contributions to society that black men and women have made? These people have made a significant impact on the world, yet they are hardly recognized for it. It was required of me to note several important white contributions to society, but never those of their black equals.
4. I was not aware of the lasting psychological effects of slavery on black Americans.
White Americans tend to believe that because they themselves were not slaveholders, the issue of slavery is one that people need to quit bringing up. But do you, white America, understand the long-lasting and incredibly harmful effects that slavery has on people of African descent? In this class, I have been exposed to this notion of second-class citizenship, lack of self-identity, and double consciousness that I otherwise would not have recognized. Slavery may have ended, but the effects will endure with this society.
5. I am never done learning.
From the first day of class, I was incredibly uncomfortable. I was reading and analyzing unfamiliar concepts and ideas and I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. I highly doubt I will have a decent participation grade, despite reading all of the texts and taking in-depth notes. I struggle with finding the right words to convey my ideas without pushing my perspective into this space that is not about me, my culture, or my feelings. This is an entirely new space that I am still learning to navigate. My classmates are generous in that they know I am trying to relearn and refocus my perspective, and they are patient with me.
People will not hate you for trying to educate yourself. However, do not ask them to do it for you. It is not the job of students of color to educate you on their backgrounds and their histories. If students choose to share with you their experiences and thoughts, learn from them. It is your job, as a citizen of the world, to learn about other cultures and how they relate and differ with your own.
Yes, it is uncomfortable to realize that what you were taught is wrong. Is it not more uncomfortable to remain ignorant and unaware? Take an African American Studies course. Make it a minor. Make it your major. Take classes that cover civilizations and cultures very different from your own. Do not remain ignorant and selfish. Learn.