The State of African American and African Diaspora Studies: Conference Overview

This is a follow up to yesterday’s quick blurb about the IRADAC Conference. The second day of the event held yet more items to explore, and I will take the time to elaborate on some of them here. If I have not stated so, the overall purpose of this conference was to assess the state of Black studies and its future.

At an event like this with many panels running concurrently, it is impossible to speak on all of them. So I will sum up the ones I attended. The morning panel  that caught my interest dealt with the musical contributions of Black Americans and how they have been appropriated. Panelist Francesca Amico spoke on how “covering” was a way in which white rock and roll artists would take songs from Black rhythm and blues artists. Little Richard had his songs “covered” a.k.a jacked by Pat Boone on several occasions. Interesting how appropriation worked back then, and the conversation that followed this presentation on contemporary examples was good as well.  An informative morning panel indeed.

The afternoon panels were engaging as well. The early afternoon discussion on the place of Latinos in the African Diaspora focused on different elements. One was recognizing and embracing the Americas, not just the United States as part of the Diaspora. As stated by one of the attendees 90 percent of Africans were brought to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies.  Another element focused on was the musical links between African and Latin American cultures. Snippets of works by Eddie Palmieri were played. Nice.

The late afternoon panel was a discussion of the struggles of labor and radical political activism of African Americans in the 1930’s and the 1970’s. #Writerbias  These are time frames that I am interested in deeply, because they show key turning points, in my opinion, of the trajectory of the civil rights movement and many of it’s goals. Panelist David Goldberg  spoke on the historical reality that labor unions often barred Black people from joining them. This is known by many labor historians. What I found interesting about this panel is that African Americans often would organize their own grass roots labor initiatives without the blessing of the official civil rights leaderships.  This is a topic I will look into a bit more, as it has the potential to provide Black America with some contemporary answers. The privatization drive and the escalating war of words against public sector workers is an issue that Black leadership at some point has to deal with. But, that is a topic for a whole other post.

As for the rest of the event, and especially the closing plenary some powerful statements were made. Prof. Tricia Rose of Brown University and author of Hip Hop Wars emphasized the necessity of reaching the youth about Black studies and engaging them in language that they will understand. That includes embracing technology as well. Finally, outgoing chair of the Schomburg Howard Dodson summated with an assessment that may cause some discomfort. He said: “We are still living colonial lives in a post-colonial world” Deep.  How do you even respond to that?

All in all, this was a good event, and it was rewarding to attend. Shoutout to all the folks I reconnected with, and the others I met for the first time. Hopefully the conversations held will lead to actionable solutions to the challenges faced by Black/Africana studies. Thanks for reading. Until next post.. peace!

-Marc W. Polite

P.S.  Charles Barron announced that the Freedom Party’s founding convention will be the weekend of Feb. 12-13th at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. Be on the look out for that.



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