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Black Studies For Everyone

It is a sad commentary on the state of education in this society that educators hesitate to include a subject in the curriculum because students want to learn about it.

—Armstead Robinson

In 1968, Yale University hosted the Black Studies in the University symposium. A product of the student activism of Yale’s Black Student Alliance, the symposium would be important for the foundation of what is now Yale’s Department of African American Studies. One of the symposium’s 16 participants was Armstead Robinson, a founding student member of the Black Student Alliance and co-editor of the book, Black Studies in the University: A Symposium. In the midst of the uprisings throughout the United States (civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, the women’s movement, etc.), Robinson’s goal was to place the university in the service of black liberation, which for him meant a university concerned with the needs of the black community. For Robinson, universities like Yale shrouded themselves in a cloak of “professionalism,” which often equated to white & Western knowledge frames. But Robinson argued that, like society, the system of higher education was on trial, and one thing was certain: “Trouble in schools will continue and increase” if black Studies was left off the agenda. Robinson would go on shape the legacy of Black Studies at the University of Virginia, founding the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies in 1981.

We are over 50 years away from Robinson’s statement, but the “liberation” that he associated with Black Studies remains as important today as ever. The racial violence that prematurely ended the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more shows the necessity of bringing together critical knowledge & liberatory political practice, that which Robinson called Black Studies. And like Robinson, I suggest that we draw inspiration from the uprisings of the current moment to call for black liberation at the university level; building off the works of Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, along with the abolitionist university studies work, we should demand more from academic institutions. Put more bluntly, like the protests in the past, today’s protests can inspire us toward a trans/national establishment of Black Studies at all universities. By establishment, I do not mean adding another line to the list of diversity programs that many schools are promoting. I mean the material and epistemological backing (departmentalization, center-formation, and programization) of Black Studies to the point that it becomes as commonplace as our Mathematics Departments.

Read entire article at Oxford University Press Blog