Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Black Scholarship Matters

***I will warn those about to read this post. I am still INCREDIBLY angry at this so my rage may come through in a typo or three or gratuitous profanity...I'll try to moderate it, but this is your warning.

I was working peacefully earlier today on a paper for my urban sociology course, trying to draw some links between sustainable development policies (specifically smart growth and new urbanist policies) and gentrification. I took a break to grab a burrito and logged on to twitter in order to catch up on the variety of news, commentary, and ratchetness that is my timeline. One of my followers, @tressiemcphd (a good follow, btw, if you're into issues of education) was up in arms over a recent article in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" and wrote a blog post in response. Like her, I refuse to link to chronicle article because I don't want to give this person any more views than is necessary. The blog post gives a good rundown.

You can check my timeline if you're interested in exactly what I said. This post is to talk about something that the author of that offending post at the chronicle refuses to see or just ignores. Black scholarship matters. I mean Black scholarship as in research performed by Black academics and research that focuses upon the experiences of Black people, not only in the US, but around the globe.

On the first observation, the importance of having Black, and by extensions any minority or marginalized, scholars. While many of us give lip-service to the notion of diversity, I can honestly say that my intellectual development would have been severely limited had it not been for the myriad scholars and commentators I have been forced and voluntarily decided to read. I am a planner and a scholar of cities. I cannot better understand how our cities organize themselves, the complex interplay of politics, space, and place, or the nature of work and economic development if I am not willing to listen to and come to a basic understanding of how other people, groups, etc view and live the city. My knowledge and understanding of the city is  more rich because I have read feminist critiques of our economic system and how patriarchy manifests and reproduces itself through labor practices and space. I become a smarter thinker and can ask more thoughtful questions because I have read the writings of farmworkers and Latino activists. I cannot grasp the more subtle attributes of urban form if I do not read about the ways in which planners and political institutions encouraged and reinforced racial and income segregation throughout American history. And frankly, many of these topics, questions, and ideas would not have been pursued if it were not for the fact that there were scholars of all different types with different experiences and concerns that asked these questions. You do not have the development of feminism without women, you do not have the rise of varied forms of ethnic and racial studies without scholars and activists of color, and you do not have serious examinations of sustainability without the hard work of environmental justice advocates and scholars and attorneys of color that have represented the interests of poor and marginalized communities that bear the disproportionate brunt of environmental costs. In other words, our understanding of the world and the myriad processes that exist within it is much richer BECAUSE we have scholars that are incredibly different.

On my second point, the legitimacy of studying the lived experiences and history of Black peoples. In case you were unaware, I'm a Black man. That means any variety of things, but one thing it certainly means is that I am aware that the lived experiences of Black people in America are unique and deserve study. The first reason why Black life deserves study is because Black people exist and our existence, in the US and around the world, has been defined by a constant struggle for freedom and justice. We are the descendants of slaves, and from the first moment an African was captured and set loose on the US, our struggle has mirrored the struggle that of this country's halting steps towards liberty.

The history of Black people is largely the history of America. From the colonial and early national dependence upon slavery for economic strength (including the construction of some of our most prized monuments and cities, to the bloodshed of the Civil War, both World Wars, the industrialization of America, to the Civil Rights movement, the great dramatic periods of American history are intimately connected to the lives of Black people. Our modern understandings of justice and civil rights are entirely due to the struggles of Black americans. In other words, Black people matter! But we matter not only because we have played integral parts in the creation and evolution of this country. We matter because we are human, and our experiences have been and continue to be largely shaped and influenced by our Blackness. History and our own lived experience, chronicled in books, music, film etc show that our stories matter and our important, not just for us, but for everyone else. To have this essential piece of our humanity, the idea that we matter because we exist, and that we matter because history, rejected by this woman is not simply an attack on Black studies or 5 grad students, but it is an attack on Black people. It seems that no matter how often it is shown that Black people are treated differently (almost ALWAYS to our detriment) as reflected in study after study after study our experiences still don't matter. This is an outright rejection of not only Black studies, but of the black lived experience.

It is a rejection of me and my life. It is a rejection of the experiences of my parents, who suffered through the traumas of segregation and desegregation. It is a rejection of all Black people. And it hurts so much because I'm not surprised.

I'm out.