“RULES TO LIVE BY IN AFRICANA STUDIES CLASSES”
By Professor Françoise N. Hamlin
A friend of mine, also a professor (we trained together in Graduate school), had a Facebook conversation with me and other colleagues about the rules we should lay out to you, our students, in the first week or two in such a class as this:
The original poster said:
“How to Write for African American/Africana Studies”
1. To use or not use the passive voice is a political choice (there is a big difference between saying “The slaves were freed” and “The slaves freed themselves.”) We are writing about subjects and actors.
2. There is no single “The Black Man” or “The Black Woman” (unless you’re Toni Cade Bambara). We are a diverse people.
3. Speaking of which, we are indeed people. “The Blacks” are a band from Chicago.
4. To Capitalize or not to capitalize…
We all wholeheartedly agreed that this merely began the conversation and we set to work to extend the list.
This is an edited selection of responses:
- We strongly discourage students from using “society” in their papers.
- I usually get papers that state “society is racist,” or “society caused X.” State specifically which institution (schools), industry (education), etc (media–radio, tv, pop culture) actually did whatever action, in an effort to recognize that there are PEOPLE, AGENCY, and POWER factors that influence activities or make something happen. If students use “society” they better be sure that’s what they mean.
- There is also no “black community.”
- Multiple opinions exist on any given subject within the racial group. There is no homogenous white community that has a singular way of thinking and being. Rather, black folk exist in multiple communities.
- Know the difference between race, ethnicity and nationality.
- Not all stereotypes are created equal.
- Avoid false equivalencies and binaries (both/and not either/or), especially without proof!
- If you don’t know, ask. Do not assume knowledge or fact based on your own experience. Your being black does not make you an expert on blackness, just the blackness you call your own.
- Evidence! Africana Studies teaches you the diversity of blackness and black experiences – everyone will experience this class differently so do not assume you have the
- Just because you decided to take an Africana class does not mean you are free of prejudice or unbiased, whatever your color.
- You do not understand Africana experiences because you are a woman, gay, 1/4 Cherokee, listen to hip hop, etc (this list is trite but you get the point). Your sadness over the fact of slavery should not overwhelm your critical faculties. Possessing whiteness does not make you responsible for racism but it also does not mean that the passing of the Civil Rights Act solved anything. Immigrant statuses of parents or grandparents to the U.S. after 1865 does not absolve anyone either. Racism did not end with Obama’s election. Race is not just about Africans Americans or Africana people, rather, it includes everyone. This class will not absolve white guilt and this class does not promote such accusations. If you do make a troubling statement based on ignorance be open to constructive (and kind) criticism. If you hear an ignorant statement respond with empathy and not condemnation. Everyone must strive for tolerance.
- In Africana Studies we do not make blanket statements like “the White Man.” See above.
- In Africana Studies we do not use the “n-word,” even if it becomes a topic of discussion. Academic freedom will go so far. Tread lightly.
- Do not use of first names for people, even for children. Do not refer to Emmett Till as Emmett, use Till.
A very interesting list! Africana Studies should teach you a way of knowing – it is not necessarily intuitive based on our social and cultural conditioning in the U.S. and the West. The professors here also acknowledge modes of power that seep into our classrooms and into the way we think about groups, stereotypes, and the past. I do not want to say more, rather, read this list carefully and think about what you might have seen/heard/said in the past.
Remember too, nowhere here do I talk about methods and epistemology…. Now you know!