Episode 1 (Segment 3): Challenges and Dilemmas of Black Studies

Episode 1 (Segment 3): Challenges and Dilemmas of Black Studies


As a relatively new and still developing discipline, Black Studies faces many challenges, dilemmas
and paradoxes that scholars, students and academics must grapple with. Among them: Given
that black studies is both a response to and a means of addressing social inequality how
we get around the fact that social inequality is largely a barrier between black studies
those whose needs it is intended to address? How do we achieve and educational impact on
a critical mass of people in the face of disproportionate access to higher education? What is or should
be the relationship between black people inside the universities and those who may never make
it that far? How is it possible for Black Studies departments
to remain institutionalized in higher education and still preserve their own set of core values?
What is the cost of integration — being seen as “legitimate” in the eyes of the establishment?
Does institutionalization and mainstreaming of Black Studies compromise a Black Studies
agenda especially given that black studies places an emphasis on solutions to group problems
in the context of a social climate that values individual success as opposed to group liberation?
What about gender? If Black Studies was established as a means to address to the disservice of
Euro-Centric, male dominated thought and social practice, patriarchal male dominance within
Black Studies must also be addressed if Black Studies is not to fall victim to this same
type of disservice. Patriarchal male dominance is part of problem that I’ve referenced earlier
in terms of the political vision of Black Studies and the Black Power movement. If Black
Studies and Black Power are response and remedy to Euro-Centric notions of power, then how
do we respond without simply becoming a mirror image of the oppressor? If the goal is to
be equal with whites, does that mean adopting the same notions of power? Top down? Male
dominated? Or can we develop notions of power that are independent of Euro-Centric and oppressive
colonial models of power? What is a responsible Black Studies research
agenda? Who has the power to decide? Who sets the priorities and determines the means to
carry them out? Lastly, Black Studies programs were developed
as a challenge to what remains a western dominated Euro-Centric vision of higher education, yet
it is these very institutions where Black Studies resides. A problem with Black nationalism
in general, is that given that it was established as a means to develop autonomy and self- determination,
how was that possible given that Black Studies in higher education relies exclusively on
allocations from established institutional budgets?
Consider the case in 2008 of Karen Salazar. The Los Angeles School teacher who was fired
for being too Afro-Centric. AG: Protests in support of dismissed Los Angeles
School District high school teacher Karen Salazar have increased this week. She is a
second-year English teacher at Jordan High School in Watts. Last month, she was told
her contract would not be renewed, because she was “presenting a biased view of the
curriculum” and “indoctrinating her students with Afrocentrism.” Her course material included
board-approved texts like the writings of Malcolm X and Langston Hughes. Last week,
a student took issue with the negative characterization of Salazar’s teaching.
STUDENT: She encourages her students to continue on. She gives them the push. She doesn’t
give up on her students. She says, “OK, you’re struggling in my class. I will take time off.
I will help you after school.” Most teachers don’t even do that. And the fact that she’s
teaching us about our culture and things that are relevant to us, that’s what they’re
afraid of. They’re scared of a teacher who does that, because that involves critical
thinking. They don’t like students who question or to think critically. They just want students
to absorb everything and then to regurgitate back to them.
AG: Jordan High School officials refused to comment when we contacted them and said the
issue was an internal matter relating to personnel. But the case of Karen Salazar is not unique.
… We turn now to another story that could have a chilling effect on education in Arizona
public schools. A legislative panel in Arizona endorsed a proposal in April that would cut
state funding for public schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings
of Western civilization.” The measure would also prohibit students of state-funded universities
and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or in part on the race of their
members. Critics say the bill would essentially destroy the state’s Mexican American or Chicano
studies programs, as well as student groups such as the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano
de Aztlan, or MEChA. … Karen Salazar, tell us the latest.
KS: Hi. I guess the latest, as you said, yes, my contract has been denied for renewal, so
effective June 30th, I will be out of a contract from LAUSD. The latest would be that about
three to four weeks ago, I received my official evaluation from the school, and it was actually
a satisfactory evaluation. It was a positive evaluation. Unfortunately, they never gave
me a copy of that evaluation, even though I signed it. So after, you know, pressing
the administration to give me a copy of that evaluation for weeks, and I had the union
press them, as well, this week I was given an evaluation. Unfortunately, it was not the
evaluation that I signed. It was not the evaluation that I signed. It was actually a different
evaluation, a completely different form. My evaluative marks of satisfactory had now been
turned into unsatisfactory. AG: And their major beef with you?
KS: The major beefóoriginally, they told me that the reason for not renewing my contract
was that I was presenting a biased view of the curriculum. They later told district officials
that I was indoctrinating students with Afrocentrism. Later, they said that it was due to an over-teached
position, too many English teachers at my school. Now, the latest is they’re saying
that I’m not teaching state standards. AG: … Karen Salazar, can you talk about the
charge that your teachings were too Afrocentric? Talk about what you taught.
KS: Sure. There was actually one lesson in particular that’s been extremely controversial.
I used a three-page excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which is an LAUSD-approved text.
It’s widely used around the country, in other countries, as well. I used a three-page excerpt,
standards-based. They never denied that it was standards-based. But the administrator
who observed my classó AG: When you say “standards-based” and “LAUSD,”
Los Angeles United School District, but LA “standards-based”?
KS: Standards-based for the California Content Standards for English Language Arts.
AG: Go ahead. KS: So it was a standards-based lesson. The
administrator who came and observed my class later wrote in an evaluationóthis is a written
evaluation that goes into my fileóthat I was brainwashing students and imposing extremist
views on them, based on this lesson. So that’s one of the controversial lessons, I guess,
that I am being accused of indoctrinating students with Afrocentrism with. I did have
a mentor teacher observe the same exact lesson that same day, just coincidentally, because
she is my mentor teacher. She comes in periodically to observe my lesson. And she took away something
completely different from that lesson than what the administrator did.
AG: How many times were you evaluated compared to other teachers?
KS: Well, this year alone, I’ve been evaluated at least fifteen times. Comparatively, the
average evaluations for teachers is between one and three times, so, you know, it’s substantially
more. AG: Do you have any recourse to reverse your
dismissal? KS: At this point, we are workingóstudents
are organizing with the union. We’re working with the Association of Raza Educators. We’re
working to pressure the district to review this decision both at the school board level
and district official level. AG: Today is graduation?
KS: Today is graduation, yes. AG: Will you be there?
KS: Yes, I will. Is it possible to challenge a western style
curriculum with its emphasis on tests, quizzes, and individual achievement with alternative
African centered approaches that favor group discussion and peer to peer mentoring — is
it possible to put forward that challenge from within the very westernized institutional
setting in which Blacks Studies resides? These are the challenges that Black Studies and
this program, African Elements, will be addressing. That does it for this show. Thank you for
joining me and be sure to check in with me next time for a look at the significance of
Black Studies. Is Black Studies only relevant to Black Students? What does Black Studies
have to add to academia as a whole? Why should Asian, Latino, or White students engage Black
Studies? We’ll address that next time on African Elements.

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