Lecture Notes: Conserving Du Bois

Africana Studies is insurrectionary. It is premised upon the assumption that Black people are human, and thus have cultures, as Du Bois would say that need to be, must be conserved. Anything rooted in assumptions that are not bound by Africana cultures, is Africana “content” studies. These kinds of studies exist—they have a right to, I suppose. But we are after much larger questions. We are after questions raised by Du Bois—the spiritual godfather of the discipline—in his paper given in the late nineteenth century for Alexander Crummell’s—his spiritual godfather—American Negro Academy. If there was a Bible for Black intellectuals, Du Bois’s essay might begin the New Testament. Not because he was some Messiah, but because he was an exemplar that confronted Western modernity in ways that extended the ancestral wisdom that made his life possible. As James Stewart wrote thirty years ago in the Summer 1984 special issue of the Journal of Negro Education, there is perhaps no better exemplar than Du Bois.

Like DuBois in this article, we empathically suggest that ways of living better might be pursued from African cultural logics. Ideas we must conserve, or face spiritual, and likely physical death. Du Bois’s foundation for knowing however is rooted in a culture that survived plantation slavery to essentially spearhead contemporary movements for societal change—the Black radical tradition. Africana Studies, thus, flows from a deep engagement in not only understanding the systems that structure Black people as nonhuman, but resisting them. If we are to claim this tradition, there are certain assumptions, certain ways of existing, certain commitments, we must have. If we are to claim this tradition, our work must look different than those who do not share our intellectual and spiritual foundations. Accession to norms not befitting our ancestors is to risk the loss of our Soul. As Vincent Harding suggests, when are clear about this, our job is clear: to speak truth, the truths of our own existence. Access to African traditions of good speech, provides us the tools we need to apply those standards to this current mess. For, this is Africana Studies, an intellectual insurrection.

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