Letter: Brown U. Too Focused on Africana Studies

by Stephen Beale on October 13, 2009

The Brown Daily Herald today published a letter to the editor from three members of the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, questioning the ongoing push to expand Africana Studies and raising concerns over the hiring of postcolonial scholar Chinua Achebe:

We were surprised to recently read that Brown University is planning to expand Africana Studies (“In hiring, hallmark of a broader push on Africa by University” Oct. 6).

We have to wonder what could possibly lead Brown administrators and faculty to think they have neglected this area. Brown has a Department of Africana Studies with 14 full-faculty members — not counting seven visiting and affiliated professors. In addition, Brown has the Third World Center, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Africa Group Colloquium, and the University recently sponsored the Focus on Africa speaker series as well as the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. All are related to Africana studies.

We are especially concerned over the hiring of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe to the faculty of the Africana Studies Department. Achebe is known for denouncing British author Joseph Conrad as a “bloody racist” and claiming his book Heart of Darkness “celebrates” the “dehumanization” and “depersonalization” of African people.

The University should consider more creative ways to teach its students about the classics of Western literature than calling them racist. Students deserve to appreciate great books on their own merits, without having them cut down into caricatures of European colonialism.

Prior to this letter, The Herald had published four articles on Achebe – two news stories, one editorial, and one guest column – none mentioning his famous criticism of Joseph Conrad or his controversial views on European racism.

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