This story has been updated.
At least four Republican-led states are considering whether a new African American Studies course is in compliance with its laws that restrict lessons on race, following Florida’s ban on the proposed course last month.
Officials in education departments in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Virginia are reviewing the advanced placement course to decide whether it goes against new state laws that restrict how issues of race and ethnicity are taught in classrooms.
The College Board, a nonprofit organization that also oversees the SAT, administers the Advanced Placement course, which delves into 400 years of Black people’s contributions to literature, politics, science, and other aspects of American life, according to the program description. Sixty high schools nationwide are participating in the pilot version of the course.
After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration rejected the course, calling the content “inexplicably contrary to Florida law,” the College Board released a statement that condemned the state’s ban. However, the board also released a revised course curriculum, removing contemporary authors and topics such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ life, and the Black feminist movement.
Removing contemporary literature removes foundational texts of Black studies, said Stefan Bradley, professor of Black Studies at Amherst College. In turn, it limits education on the lived experiences of Black people.
“When you talk about Black feminist theory, or you talk about any of those things, it’s fair game. There should never be a question of why we should learn about these things because they’re occurring in the community,” Bradley said. “What [the controversy is] talking about is who gets to be American and which of us deserves to be included in the American narrative — and Black people deserve to be in the American narrative.”
Amid national efforts to restrict education about race and ethnicity in classrooms, rejection of the AP course adds to Black children’s inequitable access to opportunities in school. Already, Black students are not enrolled in AP courses at rates comparable to their white and Asian peers. Outside of AP courses, less than 9% of high school history class time is devoted to Black history in the U.S., according to a 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
For that reason, supplementing children’s education is often necessary to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Black history. Capital B asked four scholars of African American studies to tell us what works they think are most critical to give students a foundation in African American studies outside the classroom. Below are their top selections:
Malcolm X, Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley — “Still so relevant in understanding the ways in which Black men and women are treated as second-class citizens. What I love so much about this autobiography is that Malcolm’s Autobiography humanizes him while explaining how white racism shaped his views. Malcolm’s evolution after his trip to Mecca shows how we all evolve with new information.” — Dwonna Goldstone, director of African American Studies Program at Texas State University
Nathaniel Norment Jr., The African American Studies Reader — A comprehensive list of essays and opinions by Black scholars on the foundation of African American studies. The book expands on the history of the discipline, how the curriculum should be taught, and the challenges of African American studies with a particular focus on higher education.
Abdul Alkalimat, The History of Black Studies — The author dives into Black college students’ activism in the 1960s that led to the creation of Black studies courses across the country. He writes about the intellectual history, social movement, and academic profession of Black studies, and how Black people established the field before it became institutionalized.
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk — Du Bois weaved themes of race and religion throughout this work to share the economic, political, and social challenges Black people faced at the hands of white people in 1903. The limitations placed on Black people as a result of the legacy of racism, sexism, and classism is still relevant in today’s society.
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
“Because Black history and slavery have been sanitized in an effort to — allegedly — placate the feelings of white students, all students should read Jacobs and Douglass. Both autobiographies detail the experiences of enslaved men and women, and in the case of Jacobs’s narrative, how enslaved women are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by white slaveholders.” — Goldstone
James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew — “Written in 1962, Baldwin’s A Letter to My Nephew explores his thoughts about his nephew’s future in a country with a horrific history of racism. This piece is still so relevant today as those in power continue to pass policies that restrict the teaching of Black history in this country. I mean, if we don’t know Black history, how can we explain why some groups have historically been left behind?” — Goldstone
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God — Coined as one of the most important works of the 20th century, Hurston tackles the importance of gender roles, women’s rights, and self-discovery through the lens of the main character, a Black woman in her 30s who struggles to find her identity. The book tackles the influence of Black culture on community, relationships, and society.