The Ethnic Studies I Like

There is a book titled The Fate of Africa by author Martin Meredith. It traces the history of Africa from the post-World War II era until today. It’s a great, great book. Usually, it’s very hard to write about Africa because there are so many countries, they are so different, there is so much variety within each country that readers begin to drown in names, places, dates, and events.

Meredith, though, structured the book so beautifully that you never get confused. The writing is superb. It’s very accessible and would work for people who know nothing about Africa as well as for those who have a solid background. It’s an absolute gem of a book from an author who is in love with his subject and can transmit that love in his writing.

So here’s an idea. Why not ditch all of the inane anti-cis-het-shmet snowflakery and all that utterly stupid social-justicey stuff and teach this book as an ethnic studies course? It’s 600 pages, and you can definitely do it in a semester. Do 30-40 pages a week and discuss the readings in class. It doesn’t get more ethnic than Africa, with its multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups. And it’s not like one can think of a life path where knowing about Africa would be a bad thing.

I mean, why not? People don’t know nearly enough about Africa in this country. The continent barely gets mentioned on the news. And it would be great for students to stop navel-gazing for two seconds and discuss something that’s not about their petty dramas and silly little grievances. “Ethnic” doesn’t have to be limited to the topics that preoccupy rich American snowflakes who live on Twitter.

The creators of these ethnic studies proposals keep telling us how anti-colonialist they are. But that’s a lie. The whole world is just a pretext they use to bitch about their stupid hurt feelings. As an exercise in anti-colonialism, how about talking about something – like a whole continent – in a way that doesn’t constantly refer back to you? How about discussing Africa not to make some point about yourself but simply for the sake of learning about Africa? Why not shut up about your extreme woundedness for two seconds and learn about the world for a change?

Wouldn’t that be the greatest lesson in ethnic studies anybody can think of? Other people exist. It’s not about you. Not everything is about you. It could be a great thing for high-schoolers to figure that out.

This is the kind of ethnic studies I like. Sitting there, feeling self-righteous and microaggressed against by life is neither ethnic nor studies. It’s a very American pastime that interests a small group of wealthy people and wannabes. There is no greater lesson in tolerance and diversity than to realize that you are not the center of the universe and that other people and places are infinitely interesting because they exist and not because they can be used to make you feel important.

P.S. It doesn’t have to be Africa, of course. Let’s do Eastern Europe. Or the Basque Country. Whatever. Let’s do one region each semester for three years. It’s the principle, not the geography.

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6 thoughts on “The Ethnic Studies I Like”

  1. Aren’t you talking about history and geography as disciplines — which the neoliberalized and neocon education system wants to get rid of? Ethnic Studies is about difference (and power) within the nation state, I think

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    1. There is no history and geography taught anymore. At least, judging by the results. Students do more than enough navel-gazing in the rest of the courses. Why not have just one that’s about somebody else?

      Anybody who is rich enough to care about the “structures of oppression within the US” can go on Twitter and get all the education they want in this subject.

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      1. Well, not really — it’s a part of US history that takes work to learn. I remember when Ethnic Studies came in and it was because nothing but WASP history (and literature / culture) was taught in the regular departments. There’s lots to say about ES badly done, etc., but you’re talking about history of Africa which of course it is hard to convince a history dept. to hire in because they want so many US and Europe experts

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  2. I think our “Africana studies” program at my university has a lot of content like this. I took a year’s worth of African history classes from a great professor in that department. I don’t like that a set of intelligent, distinguished professors are shunted off into “Africana studies” instead of the history, literature, etc. departments, but I think they have strong connections to those departments (or maybe they are members of the departments and I’m confused; I’m not a professor so this stuff evades me.)

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      1. Yeah, that’s why I’m a little irritated they’re shunted off into that department. Imagine if we had as many African history classes as European history classes. And I think our university is better than average in this; I don’t want to imagine what it’s like elsewhere.

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