This past semester (Fall 2017), I enjoyed school for the first time in like six years. It’s quite surprising, and/but it doesn’t change the fact that I would drop out if given enough freedom (and given about 10 million dollars in addition so I know it’s real).
First of all, I had all professors of color, which in itself was phenomenal. But that’s only a side note.
I like knowledge. But I like knowledge to be useful for me. My goals, you see, have not changed. I still want to be one of Ghana’s littest novelists, and I still want to spend my life writing African-centered stories. If you will remember from my blog posts about a year ago, my aspirations are the reason I decided to be an Africana Studies major. The current way I assess whether the knowledge I am acquiring is useful for me is asking whether or how well I can use it to write the kind of stories I want to write. Since I am particularly in love with African histories, the whole Africana Studies distin makes sense. Thus, it pleased me how much it seemed all the classes I took in Fall 2017 were specifically designed to work towards my interests. Let me break it down.
1 of 4: I took an Introduction to Africana Studies course. My favorite read of the class was the book Reversing Sail by Michael A. Gomez. I thought it was a fantastic overview of African-related history, and I believe it gave me adequate tools to start finding out what I want to find out more about. Of course, most of the things I found most interesting were things the class didn’t discuss at length, because, of course, the class wasn’t full of story-loving West African kids. (But how for do?) I genuinely feel like I learnt in that class. Even though it demanded a lot from me, and the readings were long. (BTW, I actually did the readings, OMG?!) Also, my professor was incredibly compassionate and invested not only in the class’ subject matter, but also in her students’ wellbeing. Phenomenal.
2 of 4: I took a religious studies class that explored how African-Americans relate to “the problem of evil,” and their interactions with “the problem of evil” in Western thought. Here, too, I learnt a lot and read a lot of things I didn’t even know I wanted to know. I will admit that most of the time, in the class, I couldn’t figure out how the discussion related to the designated topic. Sometimes I didn’t have a bloody clue what the hell we were even talking about, but whatever, man. Perhaps my favorite read for that class – or shall I say, favorite discovery? – was the slave narrative of the Nigerian Olaudah Equiano, but I’m sure the opportunity will present itself in time for some many other, random things I learnt to prove useful within my life.
One interesting thing to observe about this class, just by the way, is just how rocked some people were by some of the topics we discussed, like theodicy, the question of whether God is a white racist, and a bunch of other fun stuff. Particularly a Christian friend. I feel like I kept expecting to be rocked too, but legit every single time there was even a hint of theological obstacle, whatever I already understood about Jesus and Christianity made everything make satisfactory sense to me. I did not struggle with my faith this semester. Jesus is still bae. I suspect a lot of the sense I found and continue to find in Jesus as well as the theology I hold has been contributed to by all the Christian literature I’ve read this year. Especially notable is CS Lewis’ Signature Classics collection, which I purchased mid-year. I’ve almost finished working my way through all the books, but I’m not that smart and Lewis is a genius, so best believe I’ll keep returning to them as and when I see fit. I also, like, read the Bible, go to a Church that makes far more sense than any church I’ve ever been to, and engage with much art by Christians who have sense. But that’s just by the way.
3 of 4: I took a film class about exile. This, technically, is unrelated to my major – but only in terms of formal requirements. You see, the films treated in that class came in three strands: the African continent, Latin America, and the Asian diaspora. We spent, I believe, the longest amount of time on the African continent. So, I was really enjoying myself, dealing with stuff from Ousmane Sembène, Patrice Lumumba, Djibril Diop Mambéty and the like. I think my favorite read of that class was the short story “Tribal Scars” by Sembène. It was so lit, and the kind of story I’d genuinely love to tell, even remix. Ah, and because it was a film class, I’ll throw in my favorite movie of the class: “Hyènes” by Djibril Diop Mambéty. It’s like a Senegalese remix of an European writer’s work: the play “The Visit” by Friedrich Durrenmatt. But it’s also so much more than just a Senegalese remix. I think Mambéty’s work is generally brilliant.
All in all, I was excited to engage with African art and stories and history and even politics in this class. And found myself being extremely grateful that it was so un-Americentric. Loved it. I didn’t love the fact that it was at 8 am, and far from me, and an uphill bike ride. ☹
4 of 4: An intermediate French class. Let me be real: I only took this class because of language requirements. Believe me, I had been planning to stay about three planets away from this torturous language after high school ended – but then I decided I have way too much I plan to do between now and graduation, to be spending my time learning a new language. Besides, nearly all the Mandarin Chinese I spent four years acquiring has left my head, and the horrible experience of boarding school is to thank for that. So, French, the language I had spent averagely fifteen years studying and still flopping at, had to do.
My professor, first of all, was Haitian, so praise be to God for that. And in all honesty, I feel I learned more proper French in this one semester than all the fifteen years prior combined. That’s tragic, when you think about it, and when you think about what it implies about the way French is taught in Ghana, but that’s a topic for a different day.
My favorite part of that class was how not France-centric it was. I believe the designated textbook was written by a francophone Black man. So, for instance, a lot of the assigned texts for comprehension or composition assignments were about, like, Caribbean, African or Indochina territories that had serious French influence on them. I don’t think I read any text by a white French person for that class. There was much Blackness involved, though. So, although it was unintentional, the African-centered content of that class fit perfectly into my agenda.
My favorite read for this class was the small novel, “Un Papillon dans la Cité” by Guadeloupean-French author, Gisèle Pineau. =)
So yeah, those were my four classes of the semester. But a post about school isn’t complete unless I’m ranting about something, and I have so much to rant about all the time, when it comes to academia!
For one thing, I will never, ever be comfortable with how an African would have to leave her continent to go somewhere and learn about her continent (because the one college she could even conceive being able to study at without going insane from the non-functionality of the institution is rather unequipped for people whose main academic focus lies out of STEM or business. I ain’t name-dropped no one). If colonialism were a person, I’d have been regularly delivering some sexy bitch-slaps since like, 2012, which is when I think I started waking up. What nonsense! Anyway, this isn’t even my main problem.
My real issue isn’t that I had to leave my continent to go to an unnecessarily expensive school to acquire the knowledge I desire; it is that I have to go to (an expensive) school in the first place. I genuinely felt that a lot of the things I learn in school, especially about history and stories, should have been common knowledge in the places I came from, or in countries closer to me. I’ve gotten so frustrated with this issue that it forced the poem “College Libraries.” out of me. I believe it’s a conscious plot of the Enemy to lock some things particularly important for the African’s knowledge up within academia so that we have to give them money to get it back. I want to respect Africans in humanities that fight to get into academia so they can change the nature of the voices within it, but then again, I don’t believe they should have to fight for a damn thing, and I don’t believe the voices are so easily changed. And just look at how much it costs to study here! I. Cannot. Deal.
So no, I refuse to be grateful to the Enemy for all the knowledge I’m acquiring, because they stole it, and I’m just about bleeding through my nose to get it back. Foolishness.
Anyway, always at the back of my mind is the fear that I’m taking “irrelevant” courses or doing an “irrelevant” major, even though I myself know for sure that this is the best academic trajectory that can properly feed into the stories I want to write. Despite this, there’s still fear, though. And the fear is only exacerbated by all the people who keep asking me if I’m going to use my Africana Studies degree to become a lecturer. I’m so tired of that question. Plus, it makes me feel like an idiot who is making awful decisions with her life. But how for do. If I am forced to do this thing I don’t want (school), let me at least use it as a tool to acquire something I can use (African-centered knowledge). It’s not like I didn’t already know poverty is part of my destiny.