For centuries African Americans have been indoctrinated to subsist in a cultural and historical vacuum by their oppressors who would seek to bar them from ever making the connection to their illuminating past. This systematic agenda of mis-education and lies by omission has made possible the subjugation and enslavement, in body and mind, of the African American by his oppressors. In his essay “The Study of the Negro,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson sets out to ruminate on why the African American has been misled in his ascension to human equality and dignity and how he can remedy the dismal state of his affairs.
A thorough reading of Woodson’s pioneering work indicates that we should study the experiences of African-descended people to gain knowledge about ourselves and other cultures as well as to take back accurate traditions and histories that have all but been discredited or misrepresented. Furthermore, only through this systematic study of their meaningful contributions to history can African Americans elevate themselves to empowered enlightenment.
One reason to study the experiences of the African American is to instill in him a sense of purpose and place in a world that otherwise intends to keep him perpetually in the dark.
Undoubtedly the aim of his oppressors has been to convince him that his history is unimportant so as to deprive him of the sense of pride that is so necessary to feel wholly human. By espousing that “he has no worthwile past, that his race has done nothing significant since the beginning of time, and that there is no evidence that he will ever achieve anything great” (Woodson 6), his oppressors can be sure that the African American will continue down the path of mis-education that so allows for his subservience to a system that cares nothing for him.
However, “if you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race. ” (Woodson 6) The core purpose of African American studies is to take back from obscurity that piece of the historical puzzle without which the African American would be amidst an endless identity crisis. By studying the origin of his people, the African American, who “has not yet learned to think and plan for himself as others do for themselves” (Woodson 7), can take control of his own destiny rather than taking as truth “an abundance of information which others have made accessible to the oppressed. ” (Woodson 7).
The culture of indoctrination cultivated by the oppressor would have that “the Negro should cease to remember that he was once held a slave, that he has been oppressed, and even that he is a Negro. ” (Woodson 7) Thus, it is plain to see that the African American’s oppressors have too much to lose by promoting the truth. Indeed, it would require them to admit their transgressions and to concede the countless meaningful contributions made by the African American to modern society.
Without “a serious examination of the fundamentals of education, religion, literature, and philosophy as they have been expounded to him” (Woodson 7) by his oppressors, the “Negro joins the opposition with the objection that the study of the Negro keeps alive questions which should be forgotten. ” (Woodson 7) Perhaps the most essential lesson to be learned from an effective, systematic study of African American history is that the contributions made by African Americans are far more numerous than any oppressor could ever know.
It is with a pig-headed pride that they conceal the fact that “the history of the modern world was made, in the main, by what was taken from African people. ” (Clarke) Without knowledge such as this, it would be impossible for the African American to take pride in himself and to seek the true identity he has been in search of for centuries. “A race is like a man. Until it uses its own talents, takes pride in its own history, and loves its own memories, it can never fulfill itself completely.
” (Clarke) African American studies can help in understanding other cultures as well as our own by challenging and correcting the misrepresentations of Africa and Western Europe and their cultural legacies. What has been laid aground as history by the oppressor does not serve to benefit the African American but instead to keep him dependent on a system rife with underlying prejudice against his people.
History is written in the image of the writer so, consequently, the African American must take up the reins of authorship himself and guide his own destiny. That is precisely why we should study the African American experience, to produce a platform on which he can take back what is innately his. After all, to be cognizant of where one is going, it is necessary to be aware of where one has been.