Demands for Diasporic Approach
“Yours in Blackness”
When the first President of the BSU, Dr. Stan Oden, signed one of his first communications with Chancellor Mrak “Yours in Blackness,” he made a claim to a complex and fraught concept and inverted what was once a source of degradation into a celebration. The initial era of Ethnic Studies presented the idea of Black Power as coeval with the aesthetic exhortation that “Black is Beautiful.” What these massive cultural and political upheavals shared was the refusal to allow the African diaspora to be defined by Eurocentric notions of ’civilization'. This effort also comprised a careful elaboration of just what and where “Blackness” was, and from its earliest moments tried to stage a dialogue on the African diaspora for the African diaspora.
This dialogue was always meant to carve a niche to serve students’ concerns about their culture. Spatial concerns were paramount, as one of the first seminars in Black Studies at Davis was “A course on the Cultural Geography of Black America”. A Cal Aggie report on its approval notes that “The course will cover the geography origins, dispersals, and adaptations of blacks in the New World” This unique course was created at the behest of curious undergraduates, and blazed a path that our department still treads today. According to the Cal Aggie, “The experimental, student-initiated course, approved by the Academic Senate, is a novel one, possibly the only one of its type offered in this country”. A plurality of the proposals for Black Studies wrestled with a diasporic perspective. The BSU’s initial agenda featured a course entitled “Bantu: the study of African languages spoken generally south of a line from Cameroon to Kenya.” Wither Black Studies?, the department’s keystone curricular document, devoted an entire section to review the literature on African cultural transmission to the Americas.
Wither Black Studies? also stressed that this intellectual endeavor was nowhere near rectified and completed. Students advocated for foundational course such as “The Ancestral Homeland”, characterized as “A study of the basic ecology, population, social organization, and survival culture of the ancestral homeland before, during, and after colonialism. Stressed is the geography and demography of West Africa.” The justification for “West African Social Organization And Culture” emphasized the necessity for people of African descent, and those indebted to their intellectual developments, to understand the historical, social, and political ramifications of existing in diaspora. From its inception, AAAS offered these efforts “designed to acquaint the student with materials on African economic organization and political forms as they relate to kinship structure, social stratification, and altered culture forms.” One cannot fully account for a people and a worldview spanning continents in any field that is not responsive to the needs and desires of those people.