Monday, October 27, 2008

The Struggle for African American Ideas

“The world has grown huge and cold. Surely this is the moment to ask questions, to theorize, to speculate, to wonder out of what materials can a human world be built." --Richard Wright

Somehow, creating public humanities projects for the critical appreciation of African American ideas is no simple task, even on a college campus.

Over the course of the academic year, African American ideas are typically presented in the contexts of performances and celebrations. Talent shows. Banquets. Open mics. Parties. These kinds of events are enjoyable and do offer useful learning experiences. However, they hardly alleviate the wide and widening disparities between black and white educational opportunities on a university campus.

Relatively few public lectures, art exhibits, symposiums, honors programs, and reading series feature African American thinkers and ideas. Sure, Black History Month programs and activities do provide an exception to the rule, but squeezing those events into a month does create some downsides.

Figuring out how to expand educational and intellectual opportunities for folks interested in African American ideas is a challenge that I’ve tried to make central to what we’re doing with Black Studies.

What barriers and opportunities exist for a better critical appreciation of African American ideas? How do we produce satisfying, stimulating programs that avoid the usual trappings of mere entertainment? In what ways can we create spaces that allow participants to engage in heavy thinking about black cultural knowledge and African American intellectualism?

I’m hoping the project planners and affiliates for the Underground Freedom Galleries—a series of exhibits that will focus on slavery and struggles for freedom—will help us address these kinds of questions.

If you have suggestions on how you’ve addressed them at your university or in your community, do let us know.

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