An academic dilemma I had for, like, two seconds

The conclusion I arrive at may seem obvious to you when you read it. Or, depending on who you are, it might seem crazy unrealistic. In response to the former, I will say that I still think that the thought process by which I arrived at the conclusion, is worthy of documentation. In response to the latter: I think you ought to fight with somebody who isn’t trying to make a career out of imagination, and who doesn’t believe that imagination is the foundation of the future.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a series of thoughts that turned into something of a short-lived crisis. The crisis had two triggering moments. Firstly, I got into a heated argument about education in my African history class, and I remember vehemently reiterating that I would rather not have felt like I had to come all the way to This Country for college, just to get what I wanted out of higher education. Secondly, there was a discussion in my Africana Research Methods class, where students were asked what percentage of a black population would constitute, for them an ideal demographic at our PWI college community. (And yes, I know that the question is inherently paradoxical. I didn’t come up with it, so don’t ask me why we were discussing it.) These events, I think, occurred on the same day, and my reflections upon them landed me, quite suddenly, at the conclusion that I am a fraud.

First, I will walk you through how I got to recognize my fraudulence, and then, how I disabused myself of it very quickly.

I am in my second year of college, as an Africana Studies major with a disciplinary focus in history. And, as much as I can help it, I am fulfilling all my history requirements with continentally African history courses. (Context: because of that extra “a” at the end of Africana, my history requirements could alternatively be fulfilled with African-American, Caribbean, or any kind of Black history. But I’m intentionally choosing continentally African.) Now, when I first took an African history course in my first semester of college, I experienced, throughout the span of the course, a vast range of strong emotions. Much of it was excitement, intrigue and enthusiasm. Some of it, however, was irritation. Not at the content itself (that was to come later, in the history class I’m currently taking. Lord, I could rant about this one all day), but at the fact that I was now learning the most I had ever learnt in detail about my home continent, after I had left it.

But there was another texture of emotions. I could describe them at best approximately as relief and gratitude. This was all for the fact that I was being taught history by an African man. By a 100% Bibini, West African man. I realized then that I would always, always want African history to be taught pretty much strictly by continental Africans, no matter where they are offered.

Two semesters later, when this professor went on leave, it finally hit me that he was, in fact, the only 100% Bibini African professor in the entire college consortium, bonus points for having been born on the continent and lived there his entire childhood. (The adulthood spent in France is where things start going wrong, but this story is for another day.)

While he was on leave, the class he offered, the one that had been a major factor in changing my whole college trajectory, was not offered, because he was the only one who could teach it, and he wasn’t there. None of the freshmen, therefore, had the opportunity to take any African history courses that semester, and it’s worth noting that their class contained the largest ever number of continental African admitted students. Issa tragedy. (By the way, this course had been taught before the professor’s arrival, thankfully by Black folks, just not by a continental Africans.) This is where I started asking myself why there was only one 100% Bibini continental African professor in the entire consortium. And I truly believed it would be the coolest thing if there were more. I can’t believe I believed that. What a fraud!

I think it was exactly during the aforementioned conversation of “what would your ideal Black demographic look like?” that I deeped the extent of my fraudulence. I’m fairly certain other people in the class started calculating how many more African-Americans they wanted to see, but that’s not how my mind immediately interprets “Black”. Of course, I was thinking of people like myself, continental Africans, faculty and students alike. In the middle of my calculations, I thought to myself, “And why in heaven’s name, Akotz, are you so happily speculating upon increasing the continental African demographic in, of all places, This Country? You dey craze? You that you’re annoyed that a person like you has had to travel all the way here to study African history, you want to give people like yourself more reason to have to leave the continent? W’abɔdam? SMH. Fraud.”

Allow me to clarify the conflicting sides of the dilemma: on one hand, I wanted more African content accessible to African kids and made available to them at the very least by African faculty; on the other hand, I did not want any more brain drain of my beloved content. I mean, we’ve had way more than enough brain drain since centuries before 1833 – and we’re in twenty-freakin’-eighteen!

(Just because I know by experience how people’s brains work on this internet distin, let me just say this: only a fool would think I just implied that there are no – or even few – smart Africans left on the continent, either in or out of school. If you think this is what I’m saying, your thinking is wack, and I invite you to critically examine it before you start insulting me in your group chats and DMs, na m’abrɛ mo.)

But, at the same time, you can see that this is not a dilemma at all.

I started thinking about the surprisingly large list of people I know (note that most people I know are continental Africans) who have intentions of entering academia. I thought to myself, “In which country are you planning to obtain this PhD? And in which country will you get employed to use it?”

The reason my dilemma lasted only “two seconds” was that I nearly instantly knew what my ideal was: I want the absolute and best places, efficient, informative, affordable systems for African education, to be on the continent. I want a world where it is absolutely uncontestable that for anyone of any ethnicity whatsoever, the most sensible place to engage Africa, academically or otherwise, is on the continent. (The best place to engage African diaspora history, in my ideal, should be necessarily equivalent in all the places folks of African descent are situated. So like, if you want to study Caribbean history, you ought to know that if you’re not on a Caribbean island, you’re not getting the best version of what you could have had.) I’m very much over my Afro-Francophone beloveds consistently flying over to That Country for education, and my Afro-Anglophone babes trooping to This One and the Other One.

And even more than those dreams, I want a world where it is common knowledge that the best places for Africans to be educated – formally or informally, within or without academia, in any and all disciplines – is on the continent. So much so that Africans will use the same energy that they currently use to talk about black kids getting into Harvard, use the very same energy in future to question what exactly people need Harvard for, when what’s on the continent is several, several times better.

So yeah. My answer to the “What’s the ideal black demographic in this college community?” question, for me, is deadass zero.

That is all. (For now.) Spider Kid out!

(By the way, have you read If I Could Kill My Feelings? The school Mario and Violet went to, the Kuukua Annan Institute, was un/consciously born from these ideas. ((In the background of my mind, a voice yells, “MIT? Never been diagnosed with that disease.”)) And if you’ve read some On the Ceiling stories, you might guess why a mechanics & technology school would be named after Kuukua Annan.)

-Akotowaa

2 thoughts on “An academic dilemma I had for, like, two seconds

  1. Interesting. A similar example in a less politically-charged context. If one were to take “American Studies,” the default best place would be America and the default best teacher would be American. By “default” I mean what people mean when they say, “all other things equal.” There are great American Studies programs abroad and great teachers therein who are not American. Such programs and teachers nicely expand options for students who are interested in them. But it would be unusual for an American to go abroad to take “American Studies.” I take your point to be that it would be nice if the educational infrastructure and cultural mindset were in place to make it equally unusual for Africans to go abroad for “Africana Studies.” (I don’t know if the analogy casts any light on the Africana Studies issue, but thought it was interesting and worth a try 😊) Gary

    1. Yes, especially about how unusual it is for an American to go abroad to study American studies. There’s an educational disparity in the academic world that it seems we’ve been ignoring.

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