White Scholars and Black Studies

photo credit:  Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune
photo credit: Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune

Dawn Turner Trice of the Los Angeles Times penned a timeley piece today about white scholars in Black Studies programs.  Trice highlights how more and more students are walking into their Black Militancy 101 courses and finding a white professor at the helm.   I don't know about you, but while I was a graddie at the University of Iowa I had a similar experience.   On my first day of a Black Culture and Experience course I walked into the classroom and was floored.  An aging albeit serene white professor was behind the desk.  Call me hopeful, but a brother was expecting Ivan Van Sertima up in that spot.  Anyway, next to the serene professor was a Ph.D candidate who introduced herself as the Puerto Rican co-instructor who, and get this, proudly had no "African" blood.  She insisted the Black Experience also included people who were influenced by a nearby "African" presence.  Interesting point, but I didn't buy it.  My first question of the day was:  "So, the German-Catholics who lived next door to me were part of the Black Experience because… I was their neighbor?"  I was still under 30 and needed someone to explain why two "white" professors were schooling me on the African diaspora.


And I wasn't alone.  I think most of the students were hoping this course would serve as a sanctuary.  A place where they could go and digest the missing sustenance of their experience without a "white" guardian.  By semester's end I was over the white scholar/black student hump and I was even asked to teach once or twice.  [A brother knew his stuff even then. LOL].  This is not to say white scholars can't "bring it" when it comes to the African disapora.  And plenty have provided substantial contributions to the African-American narrative.  But I believe when most students think of Black Studies they imagine "sanctuary" and a white professor [brilliant or not] is not part of that imagining.   What do you think?

Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.