Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Notes from the Master Teacher of Black Studies: Dr. Nathan Hare

Dr. M, aka Marvin X, Dr. Julia Hare, Dr. Nathan Hare, Attorney Amira Jackmon

Dr. M.,

I was just reflecting again on when you saw my master’s thesis and two Ph.D. dissertations (all groundbreakers in their own way – one anticipating the field of sports sociology, another setting forth a new approach to the demographic analysis of social change, and the other constituting the first dissertation on black male/female relationships), you exclaimed that you’d “been looking for the black studies”). Which caused me to wonder if the archivist scouts from the great white centers of higher learning might not be aware of the fact that “black studies” is a misnomer. Not understanding this, the Africana Studies (“Africana,” as you know, is a Latin word constituting the feminine form of africanus”), terminologists seek to escalate it by changing the adjective “black” instead of the noun “studies” and skip over an inherent problem of semantics at the same time.

By “studies,” most people have empiricism in mind as the highest form of studying and the  Middle French word recherché (“to go about seeking”), rather than searching within, as science was taking preeminence in the acquisition and definition of knowledge, and reflection and introspection were being preempted by the likes of Aristotle and the Grecian scientific method of dominance and nationalism embodied in the “Olympics” to justify the seafaring expansion and colonization of the darker peoples of the earth.

Meanwhile, black studies (alternately “Afroamerican studies,” circa 1968, was not so much geared to the acquisition of knowledge, except through the passé or primal “historical method,” as to the dissemination of knowledge selected ad hoc.  Black studies was not so much motivated by the quest for knowledge as it was a new approach to pedagogy, to teaching and learning. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) assumed a high place in the minds of black studies advocates, as did its predecessors, Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth) and other revolutionists such as Mao Tse-Tung. Black studies was a new approach to scholarship and teaching, a scholarship yes but more so a pedagogy, a scholarship of change, indeed a scholarship for change. It constituted a war on “mystification” of knowledge and “miseducation “ of the oppressed. Its aim was to erase the separation of learning from life, of knowledge from community. It was a war on scholarship and pedagogy separated and divorced from the daily lives of the oppressed and the need for change; hence it was above all a search for “relevance” of knowledge to the black community and its needs.

Hence black studies never developed a research tradition. This fact was complicated further by the emergence of “Afrocentrism”(a semantic triumph of the concept of blackness (“the black perspective”), which claimed no methodology.  After I pointed this out in the 1980s, its adherents did begin to talk briefly about “methodology,” but never came up with any they could call their own.

See previous publications of mine such as: “The Meaning of Black Studies,” Graduate Journal (circa 1970); ditto “Black Studies,” The Massachusetts Review; “Teaching Black Studies and Culture in Secondary Schools, “Social Education” (1969); the debate with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP in Newsweek, (2-10-1969)  “A conceptual Proposal for a Department of Black Studies” (San Francisco State College, April, 1968). “A Black University Manifesto” (Howard University, February. 1967).

Archivists who come with a firm determination to get “everything” from a scholar, all of his/her “trash,” will risk letting the scholar’s gems slip through the scavenger’s net, inasmuch as the search for scholarly gems is much like the search for gold, a sifting, a search that relies on perception, luck and pluck. Trash is to be bagged while gems are to be plucked.

And, as you know, though I might deign to hold something back of presumed worthlessness,  I would never lie to you. I look forward to the next visit from you and your crew. I received an order from Bro. Itibari for the book I had promised on the Black Think Tank web page, “Rebels without a name, whose publication has been stymied by traumatic and time-consuming events, though Maulana Karenga, who has seen most of the typed manuscripts of previously published essays collected for the book, has expressed an interest and commitment to getting the book published.


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