Give Black People “Agency:” Urges Professor Molefi Asante

By E. Obiri Addo, Pomona NJ

“We honor and praise our ancestors. We recall the hardship and pain they endured, and remember them with gratitude. Yes, the struggle has been long, the victory is certain.” In these poetic words tinged with passion and compassion, Professor Molefi Kete Asante prefaced his keynote address at a recent gathering of African and African-American scholars at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, NJ.
He gave an overview of “Black Studies” which emerged in the 1960s. “American education was then essentially “White Studies,” he stressed. “It was all about Europe, nothing about African people—their origins, civilizations, science, mathematics, history, music, and religion. I looked and tried to identify myself; I couldn’t find myself,” he lamented.
Professor Asante argued that there should have been African people during the medieval era that also shaped the modern world. “I believe that African people were workers, traders, astrologers, economists and emperors in the then known world; indeed the richest person then was Mansa Kankan Musa, emperor of Mali,” he stressed. Dr. Asante, who is the founding director of the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, opined that we cannot fully understand the history of the United States without appreciating the historical contributions of Black people. “Any field of study should see the enslavement of African people as a fundamental drive that has produced progressive movements in America. People of African descent have always put themselves in the line of fire for others to follow,” he said. He further argued that there can be no serious university academic program without African-American studies, and explained that “a college that pays attention to the basic structures of human society should see Africa and its Diaspora as central to understanding the total human experience.”
Professor Asante is the author of 74 books. He was the first head of de
partment of the African-American studies program at UCLA. He observed that the same problems that Black people face in society are also evident in the origins and development of African-American studies. As a discipline it has struggled for identity—from “Black Studies”, “Pan-African Studies”, “Africana Studies” (originally coined by Cornell University), and “African-American Studies.” Since none of these expresses the core-values of the academic discipline, he challenged his colleagues to consider
“Africology” as a starting point of analysis of the Black experience. “Studies,” he argued, “is an ambiguous term”, and “Africana” is too akin to the history of South Africa.” He therefore believed that “Africology” gives Black people agency. “They are a people not in the margins of European experience. After all, David Livingston is not the history of Africa; he dealt with African nobility and kings,” he said with a chuckle.
He explained that by making Black people agents and originators of history, we would appreciate their contributions to history, culture, politics, economics, etc., adding, “There were Black people during the United States constitutional conference in Philadelphia—at least as cooks, horsemen and others; they made contributions at every point of the history, and we need to acknowledge that.” At the same time he lamented the lack of knowledge among Black people about themselves.
This ignorance, he observed, is the core of inter-Black conflicts today. “What do African-Americans think and know about Haiti and Haitians? What does Haiti mean to the Black world? Do we know that the Haitian revolts engineered by a priest and priestess produced the first Black nation in the world. We need to embrace our history so we can impact the world,” he stressed.
The theme of the one-day conference was “The State of Africana Studies in the State of New Jersey: Scholarship, Pedagogy and Social Action.” It was attended by over fifty scholars from the various colleges and universities in New Jersey who also contributed to panel discussions. The conference was coordinated by Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Africana Studies at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, NJ. Also in attendance was Dr. Stephanie James Wilson, Executive Director of the New Jersey Amistad Commission.

Posted by on Apr 24 2014. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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