Introduction to Africana / African American / Black Studies
The field of Africana / African American / Black Studies emerged as an academic site of inquiry and struggle in response to the needs of the ongoing movements for racial justice and civil rights. Within the institution of higher education, Africana / African American / Black Studies provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary home for the intellectual work being done by scholars to uncover, document, analyze, and explain the complex and varied experiences of people of African origin. It also works in conjunction with efforts to increase diversity and inclusion within higher education at all levels, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as supporting broader movements for justice and inclusion that advance change in different institutions throughout society.
The Veil and Double-Consciousness
In Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois’ (1903) seminal work outlining double consciousness theory, he argued that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line” (p. 281). Despite reductions in de jure racial discrimination, which is legally codified explicit racism, improved racial attitudes among the general public, and the election of the United State's first biracial Black president, the trouble of the color line persists in reproducing racial disparities in the United States and around the globe (Alexander, 2010; Bobo, 2017; Bonilla-Silva, 2013; Williams and Collins, 2001). As exemplified by the 2016 election of a Presidential candidate who campaigned on an explicitly racist, anti-immigrant, and nationalist platform (Bobo, 2017), national discourse and political rhetoric have become more divisive while hate crimes and brutality towards people of color and immigrants have risen (Eligon, 2018).
In this context, the Du Boisian theory of double consciousness is relevant for understanding the racial politics of the 21st century. For Du Bois, double consciousness symbolized the psychological impact of living in a racist society for African Americans in the years following the end of slavery. Societal treatment of African Americans as a “problem” contributed to the development of the Veil, a lens through which [African Americans] viewed themselves from the perspective of White Americans. Despite being citizens, African Americans were not fully regarded as such, a plight that contemporary Black Americans and other Americans of color still experience.
The content in the preceding two paragraphs was initially published in the article "Double Consciousness in the 21st Century: Du Boisian Theory and the Problem of Racialized Legal Status" by Tiffany Joseph and Tanya Golash-Boza (2021, p. 345) in Social Sciences, which is licensed CC BY 4.0.
In this chapter, the terms Africana Studies, African American Studies, and Black Studies are used throughout. These terms often refer to the same body of academic scholarship and community practice, but there are important differences to note. While Africana and Black Studies refer broadly to the experiences of people with African heritage throughout the world, African American Studies are explicitly focused on the experiences of people whose family lineage includes African peoples who were enslaved in the United States. These realities differ from the experiences of African people who were never enslaved, African migrants living in various parts of the world, or the descendants of enslaved people in countries outside of the United States. For the sake of inclusion, the terms “Africana Studies” or “Black Studies” are used to signal these multiple disciplinary names.
This chapter charts an overview of relevant and foundational history that shapes the development of Africana / African American / Black Studies. In the first section, you will have the opportunity to understand the broader political and historical contexts that shaped struggles for Black liberation in the 1800s and 1900s, which had many implications for society, including the creation of Black Studies programs. This is followed by a more focused examination of how the dynamics of exploitation and resistance have been more effectively studied and understood using a Black Studies framework. In the remaining two sections, these tools are brought to life in the context of systemic, cultural, and political dynamics that are the focus of Black Studies scholars and practitioners today.