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Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

African Proverb

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will

– Frederick Douglass

The most pathetic thing is for a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave

– Malcolm X

Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.

– Ancient Egypt

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right.

– Dr. Martin L. King, Jr

What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of their oppressors?

– Owen 'Alik Shahadah

We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.

– Chester Higgins Jr.

Leave no brother or sister behind the enemy line of poverty.

– Harriet Tubman

Opportunism: A Threat to Black Studies

Mark Christian
By Dr. Mark Christian 10-2006

Very little contemporary research has been conducted into the problem of “opportunists” in the field of Black Studies.  However, it is a serious threat to the development of the discipline and there should to be a concerted effort toward grappling with this particular negativity.  What is opportunism in Black Studies? 


The question relates fundamentally to those persons in the discipline who have no genuine connection to the philosophy and practice that brought about Black Studies in the turbulent 1960s, which was led by student protest for Black history and culture to be taught in the universities of North America.


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In the second edition of Maulana Karenga’s Introduction to Black Studies (1993, pp. 480) he alludes to this type of Black Studies scholar in the field: “They entered Black Studies not because they believed in its principles or supported its academic or political objectives, but simply because of its personal benefit to them.”  He goes on to state that many of the opportunists made their way into Black Studies because they could not get into the traditional or mainstream fields due to institutional racism.  It is ironic that many of these opportunists have actually earned a living from the struggle of Blacks committed to the development of the discipline, yet have never had an attachment to its struggle for academic excellence and social responsibility.  Rather, they have been instrumental in denying its growth and development.

It would be difficult to find this preponderance of opportunism in another field of study.  For instance, would it be possible for a person with a degree in sociology to teach in an English department?  Would it be possible for someone with a degree in psychology to teach in a department of history?  No, most probably not.  Yet regardless of the fact that one can attain either MA or Ph.D. degrees in African American or Black Studies we still have almost anyone in the social sciences and humanities allowed to teach or affiliate themselves with Black Studies.  All they need is to have a “Black topic” in their academic profile and that usually secures them the right to teach a Black Studies course!  It is quite astonishing when you think about it in an intellectual sense that this can occur in contemporary times.

But the problem is deeper than what can be referred to here, indeed more research into this question is necessary to estimate the damage done to the discipline by opportunists who have neither a right, qualifications-wise, nor a genuine commitment to the discipline.  The National Council of Black Studies and the other major Black professional academic organizations ought to develop a strategy for eliminating opportunists from the discipline.  Right now opportunists abound as chairs of Black Studies departments, and search committees, across the breadth of the USA, “policing” the discipline.  Moreover, if this continues to be a problem then it will probably mean the inevitable demise of the discipline.

There is no doubt that Black Studies currently commands a global enterprise whereby the scope and range of studies and expertise in the field is quite profound.  However, like any other discipline in the academy there needs to be an organizational framework that discusses the intellectual foundations and development of the paradigm.  I would conservatively estimate that if a pop quiz were to be administered on the origins and philosophy of Black Studies to a third of the current chairs or directors of programs they would miserably fail.  Without being facetious, this is a serious situation that demands attention and action. 

Further Reading
Robert L. Allen. ‘Politics of the Attack on Black Studies’ in The Black Scholar. 6 (1) September, 1974: 2-7.
Molefi K. Asante. The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1999.
Mark Christian. ‘African Centered Knowledge: A British Perspective’ in The Western Journal of Black Studies. 25 (1) Spring, 2001: 12-20.
E. Franklin Frazier. The Black Bourgeoisie. New York: Macmillan, 1962.
Maulana Karenga. Introduction to Black Studies, 2nd Edition. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1993.


"white" depends for its stability on its negation, "black." Neither exists without the other, and both come into being at the moment of imperial conquest.
Franz Fanon

You cannot measure an African success with a European ruler
Owen ' Alik Shahadah


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