Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reinstate Dr Anthony Monteiro and reclaim our spirit of resistance

“The presupposition that we no longer need African American Studies, is passed off by reference to an Obama post-racial era.”

In 2007, I was invited by Drs. Lewis and Jane Gordon to attend a symposium at Temple University organized by The Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought and the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies. There I met Dr. Monteiro whom I believe was Associate Director of the Institute.

Meeting Dr. Monteiro was a very important learning experience for me. I had the pleasure to sit in on some of his classes. They were enlightening. Coming from Britain where Black people have an insignificant presence in the academy, (only 50 out 14, 000 professors are Black) where they are generally excluded from intellectual culture, it was an energizing lesson to be part of a community in which Black scholars and their Black students had a recognizable presence. However, what stands out for me was witnessing the engagement of his students. I saw students whose intellectual curiosity and sociological imagination were being challenged and enlivened by a dynamic African American pedagogy shaped by philosophy, political economy and sociology. His students were not reading extracts from interpreted accounts; they were reading works in the original such as W.E.B Du Bois Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept and Black Reconstruction in America, Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Franz Fanon Black Skin White Mask among others. He had constructed a pedagogic space without apology.

“I saw students whose intellectual curiosity and sociological imagination were being challenged and enlivened by a dynamic African American pedagogy.”

I remember comparing this to my classes back in England where we have yet to succeed in being part of the process by which Black students recognize their right to have delivered to them, with integrity and seriousness, the hermeneutics of their specific and relational experiences with the world. Without this pedagogic space, we are still fighting to normalize the idea that Black people have an intellectual tradition from which they can define who they are, what they want to be, and what they must know in order to change the world. Devoid of recognition of a legitimate pedagogic space, they learn to accommodate to the daily symbolic and actual violence that tells them that all they need know is everyone else’s history and knowledge trajectories; but not their own. I am continually reminded of the multiple ways in which higher educational institutions act to reproduce in Black youth self doubt and self-erosion, when first year Black students tell me that they “did not know Black people could be university lecturers and professors.” It is therefore imperative that there are Black faculty members available to correct the distortions of self and society that come when there is an absence of knowledge of the rich intellectual culture of the Black Disapora. The Civil Rights Movement fought heroically against this exclusion, thus transforming academic practices. It is now urgent that those achievements are defended and the radical traditions they flow from be extended.

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