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Former AAAS Director Michele Elam discusses the value of an African & African American Studies education.

Why African & African American Studies?

By Michele Elam


Let us show you how race studies, in general, and African & African American Studies in particular, can profoundly impact your academic career, your social and political perspectives, your personal relations, your worldview.

To make my point, we need look no further than Barack Obama’s March 18, 2008 speech, "A More Perfect Union," at Philadelphia's Constitutional Center, in which he argued that now is the time to look more deeply and analytically at race beyond "spectacle," as he puts it, which is what, unfortunately, “we did in the OJ trial — or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina — or as fodder for the nightly news." In that Philadelphia speech, he insists we replace racial spectacle with substance by examining the historical tensions and legacy between whites, blacks, and other ethnic minorities, as, in part, a function of systemic socioeconomic imbalances that have been most recently aggravated, he argues, by unchecked corporate self-interest. In this way, he takes a conversation about his biography, especially his racial identity or racial allegiances, and both widens and refocuses it to consider race's intersection with issues of class or privilege. He often does so strategically in order to prompt cross-racial and ethnic alliances. For this reason, he refuses to go "beyond race," though he is often characterized as transcending race. As Obama puts it directly in the Philadelphia speech, "race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now." [From "Obama’s Mixed Race Politics" in PDF]

Over fifty prestigious and award-winning faculty from over twenty disciplines participate in African & African American Studies. Our Program is highly interdisciplinary and integrated into all fields of study across campus and across the curriculum; affiliated faculty offer cross-listed classes in every realm of intellectual inquiry, from Business to Sociology to Art and Literature. AAAS offers a field of study that explores the experiences of people of African descent in Black Atlantic societies, including the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Courses in the program explore and analyze the rich, complex, and distinctively African American social structures and cultural traditions that Africans in the Diaspora have created. Students are exposed to the historical, cultural, literary, political, economic, and social development of people of African descent in the Americas.

We aim to provide students with an outstanding, rigorous, and engaging intellectual experience in which students acquire analytic skills grounded in a traditional discipline as well as interdisciplinary skills of investigation and research. African American Studies offers training of special interest to those considering admission to graduate or professional schools and careers in education, literary studies journalism, law, business, international relations, politics, psychology, anthropology, social science, theatre, performing arts and cultural studies, among many others. It is fitting that we pursue these goals in conjunction with Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, to underscore the connectedness of, and intra-ethnic dynamics between, African Americans and many other groups and peoples.

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