Dude, Where's My Black Studies Department? The Quagmire of Interdisciplinary Black Diaspora Studies.

Author:Zulu, Itibari M.
Position:Editorial
 
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In 2007 Cecil Brown wrote Dude, Where's My Black Studies Department?: The Disappearance of Black Americans from Our Universities, a critique of how African Americans were being systematically excluded from higher education in California. Some laughed and joked, but Brown was serious as he, like others witnessed the disappearance of African American students from the campus of the University of California at Berkeley (he earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies, Folklore and Narrative in 1993 at U.C. Berkeley). And as he argued, Black youth are seen more in the California prison system, than in the university system.

On May 12, 2018, I attended the commencement exercise at California Memorial Stadium at U.C. Berkeley with family to congratulate my nephew by marriage upon his graduation from the Department of Architecture. I was indeed proud of his accomplishment that day, but as I looked at the crowd in the Stadium, the title of Brown's book struck me, and I began to ask myself and others, where are the Black folks, what happened?

Some 4,000 students graduated that day, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris was the scheduled commencement speaker, but she had to withdraw due to an ongoing labor dispute, and among the Black graduates from anywhere, I could count them on my hands, I seen maybe ten Black graduates among the 4,000. I was disappointed and sadden to know that very few Black students were in the crowd, graduating that warm afternoon, "... a place where the brightest minds from across the globe come together to explore, ask questions and improve the world (https://www.berkeley.edu/, accessed 10-30-18 at 1:13 AM)."

As I walked out the Stadium, those few Black folks laboring as guides to the event or concession workers said 'congratulations', meaning that it is only a few of us, but were still happy that my nephew had graduated from a top-ranked university, despite the odds. However, that moment of congratulations felt odd, so odd that I felt that more should have been done to get more Black students in the university and to graduation, instead of being directed towards other less productive avenues in life.

Brown seem to have 'hit the nail on the head', university officials, administrators, professors, and students are seemingly ignoring the phenomenon of the disappearing Black student--in both their admissions and hiring policies, and Black Studies departments have seemingly shifted their focus from the affairs of the African American community on or off campus to 'Black Diaspora' interests at the expense of those in the African American community who fought for Black Studies at Berkeley and at other select universities in the U.S.

It is all indeed a complex twist; the original advocates have been diminished to almost a footnote in the pages of Black Studies and replaced with an evasive program that clam to be in unity with the original mission of Black Studies, as a unit of scholar-activism and social change. And interestingly, the push from the origins of Black Studies is being organized through an interdisciplinary scheme centered on 'Black Diaspora' interests. Recently, such maneuvering became a new awareness when the former Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin became the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. My question is why? What is/was wrong with Africology? I thought the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee was a leader in further advancing Africology in academe, but to my disappointment, they have taken another direction, and they are not alone, others have taken a similar road, but most interesting about the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee is that after their description of their program, they state that "African and African Diaspora Studies is relevant to everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality or religion" (https://uwm.edu/african-diaspora-studies/,accessed 10-30-18 at 2:15 AM)." I don't think such a notice is needed, but it seems to meet some requirement, and simultaneously, it seems to be part of a pattern to let Black folks know...

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