Africa or America

Africa or America


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



New Negroes have arrived in America, the old Negroes have bitten the dust,

victims of the criminal justice system in particular, but certainly they, especially

black men, have no presence in the academic system



Africa or America

The Emphasis in Black Studies Programs

By Marvin X  and Nathan Hare

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On Cecil Brown’s Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department

By Marvin X

Brown’s essay appeared in the Eastbay Express newspaper, December 1, 2004. Novelist Brown is known for his Life and Loves of Mister Jive Ass Nigger. I have discussed this topic in my essay “Neo-Colonial Black Studies” (See In the Crazy House Called America, Essays, Marvin X, 2002, Black Bird Press, Castro Valley). Although Cecil clearly could use a course in statistics, his general idea is on point but it must be handled with caution because of the Pan African nature of his discussion. This delicate topic has wide implications for the future of the Pan African world because demographics are  changing so rapidly it bewilders the mind.

New Negroes have arrived in America, the old Negroes have bitten the dust, victims of the criminal justice system in particular, but certainly they, especially black men, have no presence in the academic system. Cecil noted after that initial radical thrust to establish black studies in the 60s, they were immediately removed from the student body and the faculty of colleges and universities coast to coast.

The system realized who they were and knew they had to go, after all, the system could not contain them. They were immediately replaced with acceptable Negroes, the more pliant variety of military types and yes, in many cases, immigrant negroes more acceptable to the colonial college administrators.

Thus Africans and Caribbean Negroes were in many cases less radical, even though much of the African American radical tradition comes from immigrants, such as Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame Toure, Malcolm X and Farakhan. As Amina Baraka informed me, “We’re all West Indians.” And this is true because kidnapped Africans were brought to the Caribbean for “the breaking in,” then transferred to North America and elsewhere. And we must ask ourselves would we rather have a radical immigrant African in black studies or a reactionary Negro only because he is a Negro.

But Cecil’s point is that the American academic system feels the immigrant Negroes/Africans are easier to control than the violent black American male. So the truth is immigrants have replaced Negroes coast to coast, but even black American males who remain are of the passive variety, and even those with a Pan African ideology or Afrocentric approach to black studies are often at odds with the original mission of black studies that was to focus on the plight of the so-called negroe in the ghettoes of America, how to uplift him out of his morass and degradation.

The focus on Africa and Pan Africanism was secondary to this central focus, but such a focus by definition requires a radical intellectualism that the University industrial complex of necessity must avoid. The African and Caribbean intellectuals found acceptable on campuses, naturally feel issues from their frame of reference are priority, not issues critical to “Black Americans.”

While this emphasis is on bones in Egypt, rarely will one find students going to Mississippi and Alabama to research their ancestors. Yet it became clear to me that until I made peace with the South, I could not reconnect with Africa in any meaningful sense. Matter of fact, some of those founding radicals of black studies claim their ancestors are in the South and go no farther.

After all, they say, what can Africa teach American Negroes? The poorest Negro in the ghetto is richer than the majority of Africans. The poorest ghetto Negro has running water, electricity, a bathroom, televisions in every room, at least two cars, and other amenities out of reach to most Africans and Caribbean blacks.  It is for this reason that he is the object of envy and jealousy, although we must place the source of this madness to colonialism and neo-colonialism. And of course the Negroes suffer the same. The replacement of radical students and professors in black studies with immigrant Negroes not only represents the legacy of colonialism, including divide and conquer, but also the new demographics in America, it reflects the pervasive criminal justice system and the desire for immigrant Africans to take full advantage of the amenities of America. For sure, all the discussion of African culture and civilization is not leading to a mass exodus of Africans back to Africa, and for all their jealousy and envy, Africans are trying hard to stay in close proximity to Negroes, even if it kills them, as with Diallo and the Haitian brother who fell victim to the plunger. The mission of black studies awaits redemption and African Americans must again crash the gates of Academia or construct their own radical academic institutions as I am suggesting with the University of Poetry. See Manifesto of The University of Poetry.Marvin X, poet, playwright, essayist, is considered the father of Islamic literature in America, also one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement. He has taught at Fresno State University, University of California, Berkeley, UC San Diego, San Francisco State University, University of Nevada, Reno, Mills College, Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland. His latest collection of essays is In the Crazy House Called America, and for 2005 he is publishing Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, essays, Black Bird Press, Castro Valley. Contact him at

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Reply from Dr. Nathan Hare

Marvin, right on to that. It happens I mentioned this development in 1981, in a conversation with Maulana Karenga, who put it in the last chapter (“Challenges and Possibilities”) of his comprehensive textbook, Introduction to Black Studies, the following year (Talmadge Anderson may also have referred to the matter later in his apt Introduction to Afro-American Studies).        Officially blacklisted by late Senator S.I. Hayakawa, and banished and blocked from offices in the Ebony Tower since 1969, I answered a classified ad in 1981 in the New York Times — on the urging of an acquaintance in Philadelphia — soliciting applicants for the chairmanship of the black studies department at Temple University, and was summoned there for an interview. When I arrived at Temple’s gates, I immediately came face to face with The Hiring Committee, consisting of the whole of the tenure track members of the black studies department at that time, three continental Africans.  They asked me to name three journals. Bemused, I said I was a contributing editor of three journals, including the Western Journal of Black Studies, and named that three, without including The Black Scholar, which I had helped to found.  The chief administrative ally of my African examiners, a black feminist “African-American” dean of some kind, challenged me in her turn to name “ten must books.” To her I replied “there’s no book a student can’t do without” —  which virtually sent her screaming slobbering into the arms of Bella Abzug.  In time the continental Africans chose the most conspicuously African candidate among us, the one that looked, sounded and thought more African than thou, but less black, the one with the Africanized name. That day black studies came to a final fork in the road — and took the trail leading back to

Dr. Nathan Hare fought to establish the first Ethnic Studies program in America at San Francisco State University. He is the author of the classic sociological study The Black Anglo-Saxons.

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Cecil Brown holds a PhD in African-American Literature, Folklore, and Theory of Narrative from the University of California, Berkeley. He has published a number of novels, short stories, screenplays, and journal articles relating to African-American literature and life, and has taught classes in literature and popular culture at UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, and other universities throughout California.

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Cecil Brown. Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department (North Atlantic Books, 2007)

Blacks have been vanishing from college campuses in the United States and reappearing in prisons, videos, and movies. Cecil Brown tackles this unwitting “disappearing act” head on, paying special attention to the situation at UC Berkeley and the University of California system generally. Brown contends that educators have ignored the importance of the oral tradition in African American upbringing, an oversight mirrored by the media. When these students take exams, their abilities are not tested. Further, university officials, administrators, professors, and students are ignoring the phenomenon of the disappearing black student – in both their admissions and hiring policies. With black studies departments shifting the focus from African American and black community interests to black immigrant issues, says Brown, the situation is becoming dire. Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department? offers both a scorching critique and a plan for rethinking and reform of a crucial but largely unacknowledged problem in contemporary society.



Other Books by Cecil Brown

 Life and Loves of Mister Jive Ass Nigger (1971) Stagolee Shot Billy (2004)  /  I, Stagolee, A Novel (2006)  /

Target Zero: A Life in Writing

By Eldridge Cleaver, edited by Kathleen Cleaver foreword by H.L. Gates, Afterword Cecil Brown

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From Black Power to Black Studies

How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline

By Fabio Rojas

The black power movement helped redefine African Americans’ identity and establish a new racial consciousness in the 1960s. As an influential political force, this movement in turn spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies. Today there are more than a hundred Black Studies degree programs in the United States, many of them located in America’s elite research institutions. In

From Black Power to Black Studies

, Fabio Rojas explores how this radical social movement evolved into a recognized academic discipline. Rojas traces the evolution of Black Studies over more than three decades, beginning with its origins in black nationalist politics. His account includes the 1968 Third World Strike at San Francisco State College, the Ford Foundation’s attempts to shape the field, and a description of Black Studies programs at various American universities. His statistical analyses of protest data illuminate how violent and nonviolent protests influenced the establishment of Black Studies programs. Integrating personal interviews and newly discovered archival material, Rojas documents how social activism can bring about organizational change.

The Trouble with Black Studies—Scott McLemee—9 May 2012—Black studies was undeniably a product of radical activism in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Administrators established courses only as a concession to student protesters who had a strongly politicized notion of the field’s purpose. “From 1969 to 1974,” Rojas writes, “approximately 120 degree programs were created,” along with “dozens of other black studies units, such as research centers and nondegree programs,” plus professional organizations and journals devoted to the field. But to regard black studies as a matter of academe becoming politicized (as though the earlier state of comprehensive neglect wasn’t politicized) misses the other side of the process: “The growth of black studies,” Rojas suggests, “can be fruitfully viewed as a bureaucratic response to a social movement.”

By the late 1970s, the African-American sociologist

St. Clair Drake

(co-author of

Black Metropolis

, a classic study of Chicago to which Richard Wright contributed an introduction) was writing that black studies had become institutionalized “in the sense that it had moved from the conflict phase into adjustment to the existing educational system, with some of its values accepted by that system…. A trade-off was involved. Black studies became depoliticized and deradicalized.” That, too, is something of an overstatement—but it is far closer to the truth than denunciations of black-studies programs, which treat them as politically volatile, yet also as well-entrenched bastions of power and privilege.

As of 2007, only about 9 percent of four-year colleges and universities had a black studies unit, few of them with a graduate program. Rojas estimates that “the average black studies program employs only seven professors, many of whom are courtesy or joint appointments with limited involvement in the program”


while in some cases a program is run by “a single professor who organizes cross-listed courses taught by professors with appointments in other departments.” The field “has extremely porous boundaries,” with scholars who have been trained in fields “from history to religious studies to food science.”

Rojas found from a survey that 88 percent of black studies instructors had doctoral degrees. Those who didn’t “are often writers, artists, and musicians who have secured a position teaching their art within a department of black studies.” As for faculty working primarily or exclusively in black studies, Rojas writes that “the entire population of tenured and tenure-track black studies professors—855 individuals—is smaller than the full-time faculty of my own institution.” In short, black studies is both a small part of higher education in the United States and a field connected by countless threads to other forms of scholarship.

The impetus for its creation came from African-American social and political movements. But its continued existence and development has meant adaptation to, and hybridization with, modes of enquiry from long-established disciplines. Such interdisciplinary research and teaching is necessary and justified because (what I am about to say will be very bold and very controversial, and you may wish to sit down before reading further) it is impossible to understand American life, or modernity itself, without a deep engagement with African-American history, music, literature, institutions, folklore, political movements, etc.

In a nice bit of paradox, that is why

C.L.R. James

was so dubious about black studies when it began in the 1960s. As author of The Black Jacobins and The History of Negro Revolt, among other classic works, he was one of the figures students wanted to be made visiting professor when they demanded black studies courses. But when he accepted, it was only with ambivalence. “I do not believe that there is any such thing as black studies,” he told an audience in 1969. “. . . I only know, the struggle of people against tyranny and oppression in a certain social setting, and, particularly, the last two hundred years. It’s impossible for me to separate black studies and white studies in any theoretical point of view.”—



Left of Black: Race, Writing and the Attack on Black Studies

with Adam Mansbach & La TaSha Levy

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype by writer Adam Mansbach, the author of several books including Angry Black White Boy (2005), The End of the Jews  (2008) and the New York Times Bestseller Go the F**K to Sleep.  Mansbach discusses the inspiration for Macon Detornay—the protagonist of

Angry Black White Boy

—the surprise success of his “adult children’s book” and his new graphic novel Nature of the Beast.  Finally Neal and Mansbach discuss race in the Obama era and the legacy of the Beastie Boys.

Later, Neal is joined, also via Skype, by LaTaSha B. Levy, doctoral candidate in the Department of African-American Studies at Northwestern University.  Levy and several of her colleagues including Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor and Ruth Hayes, the subjects of a celebratory profile in The Chronicle of Higher Education, were later attacked by a blogger at the same publication, raising questions about the continued hostility directed towards the field of Black Studies.  Neal and Levy discuss the responses to the attack, as well as her research on the rise of Black Republicans


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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.—


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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 24 May 2012




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Related files:


Africa or America: The Emphasis in Black Studies Programs   Askia Touré and Marvin X on Black Studies    Black Studies Forty Years Later

    No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy  Interview with Franklin Knight  Black Studies in the Age of Obama    Reading Africana

  Stirrings in the Jug Adolph Reed    Introduction White Nationalism  Legitimacy to Lead   No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy

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