DAAS holds panel to discuss history and future of Black studies

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 1:24am

Matthew Countryman, chair of the Department of AfroAmerican and African Studies, hosted four panelists from the University of Michigan and the local Ann Arbor community to discuss the history and future of Black studies.

Matthew Countryman, chair of the Department of AfroAmerican and African Studies, hosted four panelists from the University of Michigan and the local Ann Arbor community to discuss the history and future of Black studies. Buy this photo
Courtesy of James Gerard

 

Four panelists from the University of Michigan and the local Ann Arbor community discussed the history and future of Black studies and its connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. The event, held over Zoom, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and was hosted by department chair Matthew Countryman.

Omolade Adunbi, a political and environmental anthropologist and associate professor in DAAS, spoke on the panel and described how communities can continue to support the BLM movement.

“We need to be proactive in our organizing rather than be reactive,” Adunbi said. 

Adunbi suggested that BLM activists take active roles in running for office or advocating for a candidate.

“It’s not just about organizing communities to protest, it’s about organizing communities to also think about power, because without power, whatever level of organizing we’re doing as a social movement won’t amount to enough,” Adunbi said. 

An important part of that power is paying closer attention to non-federal level races, such as local boards of education, to ensure that Black communities aren’t being left behind, Adunbi said.

Rackham student Eshe Sherley, another panelist and doctoral candidate in history, discussed how various groups of people connected in protest after the police killing of George Floyd this past summer.

“One of the biggest opportunities we have in front of us right now is just the unprecedented mobilization that we see across different groups of people in this country (and) beyond,” Sherley said. 

Sherley said Black studies writers are crucial to activist movements.

“(Writers) are central right now to the development of the strategies of many of the movement organizations that we might point to as particularly crucial in this moment,” Sherley said.

Like the Civil Rights Movement, unity between various racial groups played an important role in activism this year, Sherley said.

“The question is: How can this energy be something that drives us for the long haul, not just for the summer, not just for an election season, but building up a powerful force of people who want to see things change?” Sherley asked. 

Stephen Ward, associate professor in DAAS and in the Residential College, discussed the history behind Black Power movements. According to Ward, the three streams of protest that transformed into today’s activism are civil rights groups that advocated for racial integration, new activists galvanized by the 1966 Black Power movement and the “independent Black left” that did not associate itself with the Civil Rights Movement’s goals but existed during the same period. 

“Black studies was born in struggle with local communities, and we should remind ourselves of that ingredient of Black studies at its inception of its relationship to communities,” Ward said.

PG Watkins, an organizer and organizational strategist from Detroit, discussed the accessibility of Black studies. According to Watkins, the language used in Black studies is often inaccessible for people.

“Can we be in spaces and be explicit? Can we be direct? Can we be honest all the time about the conditions we’re dealing with so that we can adequately address those tensions?” Watkins asked. 

Daily News Contributor James Gerard can be reached at jtgerard@umich.edu.


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