African and African Diaspora Studies and Latin American and Caribbean Center celebrate Black History Month

Written by Guethshina Altena/ News Director

Taking only a month to celebrate black history marks the black human as someone who is different, according to Percy C. Hintzen who feels ambivalent about Black History Month.

“It’s like during the times of slavery, the master would say ‘I am going to give you a special day where you could sort of celebrate yourself and I am going to participate in those celebrations,” Hintzen said.

“[Through this] we are going to ease you from the burden of your enslavements.” Hintzen says it is like a special accommodation and he is not sure that is the best message that one should be sending.

“There is no German history month, no English history month, no French history month, because the world belongs to the Germans, the English, the French and so on,”Hintzen said.

Hintzen, the director of African and African Diaspora Studies, also understands the cultural significance of Black History Month.

“It allows us as black people to understand our representation. We are able to represent ourselves to the world as human beings deserving of worth, human beings deserving of recognition, human beings deserving of acknowledgement,” Hintzen said.

Through his position as director of African and African Diaspora Studies he supports Black History Month by partnering the African Student Organization, the Caribbean Student Organization and the Black Student Union. Hintzen thinks the black diaspora is an articulation meaning an expression of the socials of black people, not only to their humanity but to their significant and central contribution to everything that we hold to be modern.

“Our department doesn’t necessarily represent but what the department does is to speak to the realities, engage, research and teach about the realities of the conditions, places, expressions, understandings and contributions of persons who are of African descent wherever they are, both in Africa and elsewhere,” he said.

The African and African Diaspora studies program offers many graduate degree programs such as a Master of Arts and Ph.D in Global and Sociocultural studies, in AADS and Atlantic history, in AADS and International Relations.

Hintzen believes that colorism is global issue. There are different manifestations of colorism and there are different explanations for it.

“With respect to persons of African descent, it certainly relates to the hierarchy of color that have emerged out of European thoughts, which allocates the worth and consciousness and rationality and capacity for reason of persons based on their gradation of color, ” he said “Where color becomes a signifier of the civilized and human subjects.”

Hintzen said that it is often believed that persons of African descent are moving from a stage traditional savagery to a stage of civilization. Persons who are black, understood to be black or identify themselves as black are perhaps one of the most diverse group that there is.

“[For instance] Someone who comes here say from Haiti without the necessary skills and qualifications, someone who speaks creole but not french.” He said “Such person becomes confined to little Haiti and may satisfy a number of black stereotypes such as the inability to speak properly or function in modern society and the restrictive environment in which they can’t move geographically nor socially.”

Hintzen explains that the immigrant Haitian person lives in a fundamentally different world from an African American who has gone to Yale and Harvard and who is a CEO position in a big company and exercise a phenomenal amount of power.

“Their paths would never cross, they wouldn’t be able to recognize themselves in each other. They would not see or understand the world in the same way,” Hintzen said. “So what would connect these two people together? It’s the sense of whatever you are and whatever you accomplish, it is tinted by the fact that you have emerged from a state of savagery that is associated with blackness.”

Hintzen said that he envisions that in a couple decades, the month of February will no longer be needed to be recognized as Black History Month because the world will recognized black humanities as one of the “creators of the world.”

Hilary Jones is an Associate Professor of History in the department of African and African Diaspora Studies. She started working at the University in the fall of 2013 but her teaching career began about 14 years ago.

Jones is currently teaching a course of African Civilizations and another course that she developed with professor Alexandra Cornelius titled “Blacks in Paris: Africa and the black Diaspora in the City of Light.”

“When Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the study of Afro American life and history, he did so because he understood that the black american story had merely been a footnote in the telling of the narrative of the United States of America,” Jones said.

“In doing so, it was a way to bring awareness but it was a way to generate research, to encourage others to take seriously the study of African american peoples, their pasts and their accomplishments,” she said. “When we fast forward to today, we are still working on that same mission and aiming to globalize the study of black people in the world.”

Jones believes the situation of colorism creates a rainbow of color types all of whom identify as black americans. “I think that [colorism] is an issue, I don’t know if it is a sitting issue but I know that it is an issue in part and that each one of those circumstances is particular to the society in which it exist” she said.

“I think that Black History Month is something that should be respected and also taken seriously by everyone in large part because you can’t understand the history of the US without understanding the African american experience and their roles in it,” Jones said.

Liesl B. Picard is the Associate Director Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC).

“Generally speaking, like Women’s History Month and Hispanic History Month, support for Black History Month seems quite strong across diverse communities, groups and organizations and associated programming is usually varied enough to appeal to people from all walks of life,” Picard said.

Picard believes that dedicating time and effort in support of such initiatives is important and she believes that it can make a difference. “However, I would also argue that in order to truly transform the general public’s understanding of and respect for different communities and their experiences, education and exposure must extend beyond any one given month,” she said.

According to Picard, in the US, we ‘celebrate diversity’ and like to reflect on how far we have come, but we must also be honest about far we have yet to go.

Every single day provides us with opportunities to further educate ourselves and others, demonstrate civility, make positive contributions to better our world, and speak out against hate, discrimination and inequality.

“For me personally, it is about the choices we make, how we treat one another and what we do to support the common good on a daily basis that determine real and meaningful progress for all,” Picard said.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons.

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