The discipline of African-American studies is committed in the study of the black Americans. It is an intellectual field that largely focuses on the politics, culture, and the general history of the African-Americans. It specifically covers the North American region and the peripheries that were shaped and reshaped the history of the black people in America.
An extension of the African-American studies also covers the wider history of African Diaspora. Nonetheless, both histories have been illuminated in different perspectives. It is pertinent to mention that social sciences, humanities, sociology, religious studies, politics, history and African-American literature has been instrumental in exploring people of African-American decent.
The late 19th century witnessed a major showdown in the reconstruction of African-American way of life. Owing to the long and challenging history of African-Americans, several schools of thought have been documented to analyze their history.
This paper offers a reflective thought process of the African-American course module that we covered in the last 11 weeks. In particular, the essay reflects personal ideas/ stereotypes/expectations of Black Americans before I began taking the course and how the same ideas have been changed or maintained while taking the course.
The discipline of African-American studies
To begin with, it is perhaps necessary to posit that the impact of the black people across generations cannot be ignored at all. As much as this segment of society went through challenging times in history (some of the challenges are still real), they have contributed heavily in the civilization of human history across the globe. The black experience is a holistic area of study that has triggered racial stereotypes and human dignity in equal measure.
At a personal level, I had my own reservations regarding the Black Americans before taking the course. For instance, I was personally convinced that the black Americans have been a forgotten lot in society. To some extent, I used to believe that African-Americans had a lower Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EI) and that is why they found themselves vulnerable in the hands of white slave traders.
The slave trade era of the 19th century illuminated a bitter experience of the blacks. How could an entire black society be taken captive by just a handful of the white people? This argument also made me to rule out that since time immemorial, the black people have been a timid segment of the population. I often correlate this timidity to their inability to confront social intrusion by the white people.
On the other hand, I had always high optimism and expectation for the black people. Considering their contribution in history, they equally have the potential to propel major changes in the growth and development of global society. As a matter of fact, we have witnessed sporadic growth in the development of African-American art and literature.
While taking the course, I gradually began to have a different perspective of African-Americans. For example, my perception regarding the intellectual ability of the black Americans has completely changed. After studying major black personalities who pioneered the rights of African-Americans, there is no doubt that the black people could not be dismissed as intellectual dwarfs.
A case in point is a notable black figure like Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a highly competent and intellectual African-American personality who left a rich legacy of black empowerment that cannot be doubted by the world. The high degree of assassinations that wiped out transformational black leaders such as Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and most recently, Tamir Rice were largely as a result of their immense potential to change the course of justice across the board.
The study has also altered my assumption of African-Americans as a fearful group of people in society. Tracing back into the origin and development of slave trade, it can be recalled that extreme force and coercion were used to acquire and maintain African slaves. While Africans valued socialism as a way of life, the white slave traders cherished a capitalistic system that completely disregarded human dignity and the sanctity of life.
It was practically impossible for African to go against their inherent culture that attached a lot of value to peace and social cohesion. Worse still, most of the literatures of the slavery era were biased in favor of the white population. As a result, African-Americans were viewed negatively by society as a primitive segment of the population and that slavery would civilize them.
The course has also enabled me to learn about the Black Americans. First, Virginia was the first landing point for slaves from Africa. This took place way back in 1619. After some years, the slaves could be released by their masters unconditionally after working for them as indentured servants. Later on, race-based slavery replaced this system.
The situation became worse when the released slaves were auctioned to the highest bidders. This implied that the social status of the Black people in the Americans was pathetic bearing in mind that they were relegated as servants to various slave masters. Subsequent generations of the Black American people suffered through the miseries of slave trade.
Apart from slavery, the history of African-Americans can also be captured through the remarkable revolution that took place in America during the second half of the eighteenth century. Although this upheaval was not directly related to the Black Americans, they were similarly affected. Hence, their history was reshaped during this period.
There was incessant appeal to relive America from British rule. Needles to say, Black Americans suffered substantially in the hands of both Britons (colonial masters) and the American slave lords. During the same period, it was believed that slave holders turned hypocritical to demand for total liberation from colonizers while they were holding thousands of slaves as captives.
Religion was also another fundamental aspect of the African-American history. At the onset of the 19th century, Christian churches had already started attracted a sizeable number of African slaves.
Towards the north, slaves who had been set free were now more liberal to interact and advance their social wellbeing and desires. Several networks of churches were established in the north while the upper gallery severed as crucial meeting point for slaves residing in the southern region of United States. The first ever religious community to be set up was the Black Church.
The Antebellum Period of the African-American history witnessed gradual calls to abolish slave trade especially in the northern region. Myriads of events contributed towards reshaping perspectives on slave trade. The first abolition law was passed in 1780 in Pennsylvania. Besides, the Haitian revolution caused a major ripple effect in the American world since it led to creation of an independent state known as Haiti. The history of the Black Americans is long and winding and cannot be exhausted in this brief reflection.
Black Americans still face a number of oppressions in the United States in spite of the perceived democratic gains over the past several decades. While the American society boasts of liberalism, social equity and political democracy, the reality on the ground does not map out these claims especially when African-Americans are put into consideration.
In other words, there are major disparities that have stagnated the growth of the Black Americans. We can argue that the notion of ‘post-racial’ America is far-fetched. Racial oppression is still a grim reality.
First of all, equitable employment opportunity among the black Americans is still an elusive dream. Even for those who can secure employment, they still belong among the poor in society. As much as most of the primary industries that used to offer job opportunities to African-Americans have wound up their activities, the chances of a black person being employed is very minimal according to a number of research studies on equitable development.
Some industries can swiftly employ a white offender than an African-American with a clean track record. As it stands now, close to 49 percent of black males are not employed in New York City alone in spite of their academic and professional backgrounds.
Another visible oppression is in the housing sector. Racial residential segregation is rife among African-Americans. Most of them lack decent housing perks and as a result, they are compelled to reside in neglected neighborhoods with no basic amenities. House-ownership among the black population is extremely low.
Other areas of oppression include poor healthcare, few resources in education, inequitable application of justice and racism perpetuated through the media. Systems changes should be instituted in all of the above mentioned areas of oppression in order to reduce social disparity. Equitable distribution of resources and cultivation of a universal national culture coupled with human dignity, respect, and fairness regardless of racial background can redefine a better future for African-Americans.
African-American study has successfully attempted to contest western ideology definition as well as the cultural and socio-historical aspects. Other disciplines that have been challenged include arts, literature and sociology. However, Eurocentric education has failed to address the aforementioned fields.
The forum entries also provided vital insights into the study of African-Americans. In my opinion, I have never experienced direct and systematic oppression of the Black Americans. Most of the knowledge I have on this subject has been learned in literature. However, I must affirm that some of us still maintain the racial ideologies and stereotypes associated with the Black Americans.
I initially had some reservations for the Black Americans but so far, I seem them as equal members of society. It is interesting to learn that the entire class who took up the course have apparently appreciated the history of the black Americans and are gradually accepting the fact that no one is individually responsible for their mess.
Nonetheless, we must also acknowledge the fact the 11 week’s course might not completely transform the mindset of some classmates regarding African-Americans. While some students in this class seem to empathize with the deplorable history of Black Americans, some are not in the same platform. Nevertheless, the African-American studies course was a remarkable eye opener in understanding and appreciating black history.