We Meet at the Intersection: A Global Approach to African American Studies

The African American Studies Program at Boston University is a global program. Global has become a buzzword in today’s world of globalization but here the meaning is still fundamental and it is a guidepost for the program’s approach to African American studies.

When I first came into the program I took the idea that this was a global program to mean that it was simply international in scope. I took it to mean that the program concerned itself with more than just black people in the United States, but that it also meant Africa and the Caribbean. Certainly these things are true, but I quickly came to understand that a global and historical academic approach is the study movement across time and across space. There is so much more to the study of African Americans than the United States, Africa and the Caribbean. African American Studies is inclusive of the present and of the past, of Africa, and of Europe, of the colonizers, and the colonized. It is the study of change in landscapes and in populations from antiquity to the present. Every approach in this department must be intersectional because that is what it means to be global.

I took a course with Dr. Linda Heywood called “Women, Power, and Culture in Africa”. The class was of course about African women, but the notion of a global approach was very present in the course. We talked about definitions of power, and markers of culture from the 16th century through the sixties. We thought about how Cleopatra and Winnie Mandela, who lived in very different times and places, were connected to one another. We could make these connections because our analysis of all of the women and cultures we discussed was intersectional.

Another course on the topic of Black Radical Thought with Dr. Allison Blakely also showed me the scope of a global view towards history. In that class we studied not only radicalism in the United States, but also radical thought in Europe. We studied how the radical ideas of different time periods effected and were propelled forward by a black presence all over the world. One of the most important ideas I took away from that class is that African American history is not the story of American slaves and their struggle for redemption; that is just a part of a story that began long before the transatlantic slave trade, and in every corner of the world. That story is still being written today.

In the other history classes and literature classes that I took while at BU these ideas were nurtured and expanded. My view of my own history grew exponentially as a direct result of a global approach. I didn’t know what it meant when I began, but I’m grateful that the professors of AFAM are adamant about teaching this history from the root.

In the AFAM department I learned that we are never as divided as a unilateral study of history might suggest. Politics, oceans, and time connect us, they do not divide us. A global approach illuminates the idea that when we look to the root, we find commonality and a more sincere, complete, and human view of the historical.

Naeemah Kitchens, GRS ’13
July 17, 2013