During my sophomore year in Columbia College, I dutifully completed my Contemporary Civilization reading, sometimes half-heartedly, but with an interest to begin understanding the thoughts that shaped the modern world. As I read the Lectures on the Philosophy of History by Hegel, I came across a sentence that has stuck with me to this day. Hegel’s brief opinion on Africa was as follows: “It is no historical part of the world. It has no movement or development to exhibit.” As my professor began breaking down the theories of zeitgeist, I found myself continuously returning to the absurdities of Hegel’s claim that an entire continent had nothing of import to contribute to world history.
I am aware that Hegel is one of Contemporary Civilization’s’s more bizarre philosophers, but the fact remains that CC proved his point about Africa: We glossed over the writings of an entire continent and centuries of opinions that influenced the world. From the perspective of the Contemporary Civilization student, apparently nothing had ever happened in Africa besides slavery so that W.E.B. Dubois could write about America. As a person of color, I felt a voiceless sense of shame. If I came from a people with nothing to say, how dare I come to this institution and attempt to establish myself within the white world of academia?
While it is understandable that Contemporary Civilization covers a very small group of critically important Western European writers, it seems somewhat unfair that the “high points” of the Western canon leave out most of the communities on this Earth. That’s where the Global Core requirement serves an important purpose. But the Global Core isn’t enough, especially when so many of us take our two classes only to satisfy the requirement.
Every American schoolchild learns about our nation’s forefathers and the European history backdrop to the Revolutionary War. But when will we have the opportunity to learn about Mansa Musa, Haile Selassie, or the Buffalo Soldiers? And if we have come to college to learn new things, how will any of us, regardless of color or ethnicity, understand our place in the world without knowing what the rest of the world might look like? How can we, as an institution, pride ourselves in a world-class education that ignores the rest of the world? And even if we sought to learn about members of the African diaspora, we would still have to go through the Institute for Research in African American Studies, the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies department, and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies department to find what we were looking for.
But we can unite the African diaspora through studies of literature from writers of African descent throughout the world. We can rediscover the voices of those who have historically been silenced or have faded into the background. This is why i have revived the African Diaspora Literary society on campus.
Without these elements of history and current events that are not highlighted by current academia and media, we run the risk of missing out on fundamental pieces of our own history. The story of the African diaspora is deeply intertwined with the story of the Americas and Europe and fundamentally influences how we think of other peoples of color throughout our global system. The African diaspora is a resilient group of people who, despite great hardship and relocation, has woven its own tales from the pieces of the scattering. Through the literature of different groups, we can observe the ways that various communities of color are alike and yet distinctive.
But this studying is not just for black people only. It is for anyone with desire and interest to hear the other side of the African’s story that is often hidden or not included in the mainstream narrative. Everyone can benefit from hearing the voices of all people. And there is always more to the story.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in music. She is the president of of the African Diaspora Literaty Society.
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