We are all saddened and moved by the events of the last two weeks, which have come during an already stressful time due to COVID 19 and all its ramifications. As Chair of Africana Studies, I want to thank all who have been in touch with me about current events. I have also recently been approached by some students to do a webinar on racism and African Americans, which I will do next Friday at noon. This was a spontaneous request from one student who will bring together some of her student colleagues from Lafayette.
In Africana Studies we recognize that while countering racism is important, here in the United States in particular, approaching this subject without learning some of the history of African Americans, Africa and the African Diaspora is almost impossible. Lafayette has an outstanding faculty in Africana Studies, including myself, Robert Blunt (who is on sabbatical), Randi Gil-Sadler (who is on sabbatical), Jeremy Zallen, and Christopher Lee (just coming off sabbatical), for example. While we are all engaged in extra labor that was not anticipated at the beginning of this strange year, I would like to urge you to consider the resource that we have here on campus if you have ideas about contributing to better inter-ethnic understanding on our campus or in the community. This includes advising, which allows an opportunity for you to suggest some AFS courses.
Professors Zallen, Lee and myself teach about black communities, the history of African Americans, and related subjects every year. We are particularly reminded each year of the ignorance that Americans have about their own history as it pertains to black people, the inherited prejudices most Americans unwittingly carry about Africa which affect their attitudes towards African Americans, and the honest curiosity of our students to learn more about these topics. Although I can only speak for myself, I believe that all my colleagues are dedicated to their fields of study and have special insights on the events of the last two weeks. This would include the long experience of professors Bissell, Ahene, and Hutchinson.
One book I would suggest is Richard Wright’s early volume: 12 million black voices” first published in 1941 (available online on several sites). Its combination of poetic text and photographs from the period remind us who the people in the ghettos of today are: the descendants of disenfranchised blacks who migrated from the south. Many of you already teach some part of black history in your courses in various disciplines. I don’t presume that most of our community are not reasonably well-versed on the topic of black life in the United States. However, I take this opportunity to emphasize that the problems we are living now are the problems of all of our citizenry, as is already stated in many news reports and other online texts.
I have been in conversation with Dean Bookwala and of course, President Byerly. To date, Africana Studies has not been approached to carry out any particular task and the administration is sensitive to our current workload of re-designing the fall semester. Through no fault of the administration or ourselves, we were not able to make a hire this past fall, and so are still under-staffed which makes it difficult for the program to contribute as we would like during this difficult time. Still, it seems appropriate that as Chair of Africana Studies I reach out to the community to express my very deep concern for our community and our country, and in particular for our incoming students of color who will be carrying a particularly heavy burden. Likewise, there are many non-African American students who would like to explore the problems of racism and their ignorance of African American history and culture. They are also experiencing significant angst and discomfort. I have been hearing from many of them.
If you have any ideas for collaborative efforts that you would like to envision or carry out for the next semester, or would like some suggestions of resources, please do feel free to contact me. AFS is too small to do much on its own at this juncture, but understands its symbolic and practical importance in this historical moment. This is not a request, but an acknowledgment of community and an offer to engage in dialogue. Africana Studies recognizes its particular responsibility in this regard.
Associate Professor and Chair, Africana Studies