Black to the Future

Where does African American studies go from here?

Many departments find themselves with growing pains as they evolve from concentrating on the study of the black experience in America to the study of the African diaspora and beyond, incorporating the study of black people throughout Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean.

"There has always been an international component to black studies," says Eisa Nefertari Ulen, a professor of English at Hunter College. "These issues of displacement and identity, the diverse ways of being black in America, will come up, especially from younger writers. This sense of sameness is something we have to grapple with and eventually get away from."

Others in the field believe that the future of the discipline lies in its democratization: Scholars of all stripes must learn to form a "knowledge network" to share informa tion and avoid the isolation inherent in academia—to work within the community to learn more about it. "The future is going to be a function of what's going on in the black community," says Abdul Alkalimat, head of the Africana studies department at the University of Toledo. "If class polarization continues, we'll have only a certain kind of student . . . who does not share the mass black experience."

Hunter's Ulen: "There has always been an international component to black studies."
photo: Shaune McDowell
Hunter's Ulen: "There has always been an international component to black studies."

All of these changes, say scholars and students alike, represent an evolution, not a struggle of survival.

"It's difficult to argue incline versus decline," says Alkalimat. "It's more like an ebb and flow. It's part of the give and take, the fight for stabilization. It's an ongoing thing."

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