WHO ARE WE?

Categories and Definitions

The following conceptual categories will guide our discussion of the ways that humans in general and Africans in particular have used their abilities and memories to create living spaces. Each category is always present in human interaction: being able to distinguish between them as they relate to the African experience in recent human history will aid immeasurably in helping us understand the difference between Africana Studies and the simple study of materials involving Africana.
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Our Framework

1. Social Structures: Who Are We to Others?

This category asks the question, “what was the social, economic, political and/or cultural environment that Africans found themselves living under during the period under study?” Students must develop their ability to recognize the various types of social relations that African people found themselves in with regard to other Africans as well as with non-Africans.


2. Governance: Who Are We to Each Other? 

This category asks the question, “what sets of common rules and/or understandings did Africans create to internally regulate their lives in the situation under study?” The historian Jan Vansina has written that all common societies create forms of governance to unite different communities into a larger whole. He goes on to say that such a whole will presuppose common goals, legitimacy based on a common worldview, a framework for resolving individual and social ills and common leadership as well as common cultural tastes. 

3. Ways of Knowing/ Systems of Thought

(Passed Down Through the Ages) This category asks the question, “what kinds of systems did African peoples develop to explain their existence and how did they use those systems to address fundamental issues of living?” Making students aware that Africans developed their own systems of thinking about reality will allow them to ask how Africans in the U.S. (or throughout the diaspora) have retained elements of their African identities while adapting new experiences and cultures to the challenge of living. 

4. Science and Technology 

This category asks the question, “what types of ideas about how nature works (science) did people develop, and/or what devices did people create to shape their natural, animal and human environments?” Answers to this question will differ depending on the people being studied, and students should be encouraged to identify the relationship between culture, science and technology. 

5. Movement and Memory 

This category asks the question, “how did Africans during the period being studied preserve memories of where they had been and what they had experienced, and how did they pass these memories to future generations?” This subject is often reduced to studies of written documents such as “slave narratives,” “folk tales,” or other categories similarly associated with history. 

6. Cultural Meaning-Making 

Closely related to the category on Movement and Memory, this category asks the question, “what specific types of music, art, dance and/or narratives did Africans create during the period under study?” Unlike their search for answers under the previous category, students should be encouraged to do two things: search for examples of African cultural production for the periods and subjects under consideration and provide contemporary examples of Africana cultural texts and practices that demonstrate elements of African meaning-making. 

7. "How Do It Free Us?"

Borrowing from Sonia Sanchez’s 1974 Play, Uh Huh, But How Do It Free Us?, we should filter all of our ways of knowing and process our course of action through the lens of freedom.