Africana Studies: “It’s Always Good to Know Where You’ve Come From”

Charles Martin-Stanley stopped by to chat about why he decided to become an Africana Studies minor in his senior year. He explains, "I didn’t plan to take any Africana Studies courses in college because my parents made sure I learned about African-American history as a child. In the summers when I was in grade school, I had to read books about Black American heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks. I believed I had all the knowledge I needed about African-American history, but I was wrong. I have always been interested in making the world a better place. When I was in high school I wanted to be a lawyer or some type of social justice activist. This is primarily why I decided to pursue Sociology as a major. When I noticed that race continues to be a huge social justice issue in America, I thought it would be smart to take some Africana Studies courses. Although I didn’t choose to have an Africana Studies minor until my senior year, it all worked out because it is a very good compliment to my current major. I am discovering that my minor in Africana Studies is providing an invaluable foundation in critical thinking, research, writing and analysis which are skills that allow me to explore sociological issues on a deeper level. The interdisciplinary nature of my minor has enabled me to look at issues from multiple perspectives.

The first Africana Studies course I took was Blaxploitation during the J-term of my freshman year with Professor Novian Whitsitt. I discovered during this course that Blaxploitation is a film genre from the 1970s that targeted the urban African American audience. This class really opened my eyes to the racial oppression that the African-American people in America have faced over the years. It was even more interesting because I could critically analyze great movies and learn about the culture and experiences of blacks during this time period. I still remember terms such as buck, jezebel, and mammie. A buck was the stereotypical angry black male slave. The jezebel was the young beautiful black female slave who was very enticing, and the mammie was the heavier set black woman slave who would cook and clean in the house. This stereotype can still be seen on the Aunt Jemima syrup bottle. Movies like Shaft, Foxy Brown, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baaaaaaaad Assssssss Song are now so much more important to me because I understand the messages they were sending about African-American life in the 1970s.

I also took a course titled the Black Arts Movement during the second semester of my freshman year. In this class we read a lot of poems and plays by black poets during the Civil Rights Movement. We learned about the Black Power Movement and analyzed poems that talked about this time period. It was really interesting, and it helped me explore my own identity as a young black man in America. For my final project in this course, I created a video documentary titled “The Power of the N-Word”. I am in no way a film director, which is why I enjoyed this project so much. I interviewed both black and white adults and students on questions involving the power of the n-word and its meaning and the influence it has in society today. I still have the video and it was both informative and fun. This was probably my favorite project in a class and it wasn’t even in my major.

In conclusion, I am glad I took the African Studies classes I did because they complement my major in so many important ways. The Africana Studies minor has allowed me to explore the historical, cultural, literary and artistic expressions and contributions of people of African descent worldwide through an interdisciplinary approach. My Africana Studies courses and my Sociology courses have taught me about racial hierarchy and white privilege. These are not concepts you are exposed to in high school or in many college courses. I am currently taking African-American history because I honestly believe it is important to know where you come from. In order to make greater strides toward equality and social justice we need to first educate ourselves on the full history of America. When we educate students about social justice issues, we can tear down social systems like white privilege and racial hierarchy. This is why I am pursuing an Africana-Studies Minor at Luther College.