It’s hard to overstate the severity of the backlash against the College Board’s new Advanced Placement (AP) African-American studies course.
When the first draft of the pilot AP African American studies course launched, Black scholars praised it. Finally, the College Board was taking African-American studies seriously. But after months of criticism from the right, the revised version of the course raised some serious alarm bells.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, who pioneered the legal theory of Critical Race Theory, was removed. And the College Board shifted massively influential movements like the Black Lives Matter Movement and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Case for Reparations article to the optional sections of the course.
So what do Black scholars think about these changes?
Ohio State University Professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries says that while he likes a lot of the course content, the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement and contemporary scholars have been made optional is very troubling.
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“The very essence of African American studies as a discipline is to connect the past to the present,” says Jeffries. “And by lopping off and making some of this material optional and exploratory, that inherently makes [the content seem] less-than, whether they chose to do that or not.”
What About Black Feminists Like Kimberlé Crenshaw?
Jeffries is particularly concerned about the omission of foundational Black scholars like Crenshaw and Coates.
“It’s Jim Crow education. These are the major thinkers in the 21st century,” says Jeffries. “They are not optional for understanding the Black experience and the American experience, past and present. They are foundational. They are some of the best thinkers we have. And they should be front and center.”
Dr. Michael Ralph, Chair of Howard’s Afro-American Studies, echoes Jeffries’ concerns about the absence of Crenshaw and other Black feminist and intersectional scholarship and movement work in the course.
“Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality is one of the most important and most influential contributions to social science and social theory we have yet seen,” says Dr. Ralph.
Getting rid of these intersectional voices, especially the voices of LGBTQ+ and women Black scholars who might be considered controversial, is a massive loss, says Howard Professor Jo Von McCalester.
“[It] paints women who desire equality, who desire rights, who desire their own agency as outliers,” says Professor McCalester.
What Does The College Board Have to Say?
The College Board has responded to critiques that they’re bowing to political pressure.
“Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering,” wrote the College Board in a statement. “This will be the most rigorous, cohesive immersion that high school students have ever had in this discipline. Many more students than ever before will go on to deepen their knowledge in African American Studies programs in college.”
The organization also acknowledged its failure to push back publicly against criticism of the course and scholars removed from the course from the right.
Part of the College Board’s argument for removing voices like Crenshaw and contemporary has been that they don’t think students should have to focus as much on secondary sources.
But for Professor Jeffries, that argument falls flat.
“I think that is an excuse that can be used to avoid engaging with the scholars who are engaging with subjects that have been highly politicized,” he says.
The Larger Fight for Black Studies
Of course, this fight goes way past the College Board. Statements from Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who said he would ban the teaching of AP African American studies, showcase the encroaching threat to the study of Black history.
“[These lawmakers] are trying to diminish the study of black people of queer people, folks that have been traditionally marginalized in the United States,” says UCLA Professor Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson.
Without Black History, there is no teaching the history of this nation, says Dr. Johnson.
“Trying to teach about the history of the United States without black people or queer people is like trying to teach the history of the world without the sky or the grass or the stars,” she says.
The danger of capitulating to these forces is real, says American University Professor Steven Taylor. Right or wrong, if the idea spreads that DeSantis can successfully bully an organization like the College Board to water down their curriculum, there’s no telling where this could lead, he says.
“It’s a disturbing trend and a hateful trend,” says Professor Taylor, “that is probably going to snowball into something bigger and something worse.”