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Post-Election Lessons from African Diaspora Research

Published: Wednesday, 16 Nov 2016
Author: Joy M Whitten
Department: Latin American Studies Center

A display of badges in the office of the African Atlantic Research Team (AART) visually testifies to the over thirty years Professor Jualynne Dodson has researched and taught on issues of the African Diaspora.   At MSU, she leads the AART that fosters interest and research in issues related to African descendants and other racial ethnic communities of the Americas.  The team draws inspiration from Dr. Ruth Simms Hamilton, a late MSU faculty member and founding director of the African Diaspora Research Project.  The AART members work to expand Dr. Hamilton's legacy.  They have travelled throughout the world to facilitate and present on related topics.  This past summer, Dr. Dodson presented at the International Sociological Association conference in Vienna and the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race in Trinidad.  In recognition of this and other components of her work, she was awarded the 2016 A. Wade Smith Award for Teaching, Mentoring and Service by the Association of Black Sociologists.

When asked about the importance of her work, especially in light of the recent U.S. presidential election, she offered this perspective: 

I have been studying religion and culture of African descendants in the African Diaspora for many years and have lived that reality for even more years.  In listening to the recent presidential campaign, I automatically thought of implications it had and has for this global population of African descendants, forcibly dispersed to locations we now inhabit, in the Americas and beyond.  As it became clearer that Mr. Donald Trump would probably win the election, I began to consider implications for me and others of the African Diaspora, especially for those in the Americas.  A most important consideration was that African descendants who came before me, endured much worse situations and circumstances than the election of a white male president of the United States.  Indeed, we and others have endured worse than a white male president who holds and articulates ideas that advocate that African-Americans, Spanish-speaking migrants, disabled persons of all hues, women, the media, some veterans, those whose gender identity differs, Muslims of all nationalities, and those United States citizens who try to speak in inclusive language, are less than clear-thinking members of our society.

But that's not what impressed me.  Holders of the office of U.S. president have spoken in worse terms of my cultural community, and others of the African Diaspora.  No, I was more reminded that this is normal occurrence for those who reside and have resided in the Americas' portion of the African Diaspora.  We have lived through attitudes, language, regulations, laws, and social practices that evolved from such ultra-nationalistic and bigoted verbiage.  This means that our collective memory includes historical experiences on how to survive and prevail [in] the latest resurgent expressions of exclusionary postures represented by the 2016 presidential election.

I'm not saying that I like the fact that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States, but I refuse to cry, march, change my daily patterns, be depressed, or foresee a bleak future.  I am the latest of seven (7) generations of African descendants who have worked -- with low or no pay -- to build my country and the modernity it represents.  I will not be thwarted because I was not on the winning side of an election process that European-American men established for themselves.

No, me and my generations will be here long after the Donald Trumps find that in this U.S. democracy it is more than a notion to bring back the coal-mining industry; to invoke exceptional vetting for those who wish to immigrate to the U.S.; to return our nation to an understanding about women as singularly biological-dependent-functionaries; and to restrict movement of U.S. citizens who revere Allah, the Prophet Mohammad, or any other sacred entity.  No, we're not going back!!!

At the same time, I'm most concerned that the rhetoric of the campaign, specifically that by the president-elect, has inspired and emboldened our younger citizens to misperceive that they have permission to use language and [actions] that target gays, Muslims, immigrants, racial ethnic persons, and other non-white/European U.S. descendant individuals and groups.

Most students and young adults have not yet developed a full understanding and appreciation of the beauty and necessity for inclusion and tolerance for all humanity. Many are close to that goal but within nations of the African Diaspora of our Americas, there now is an active model on how to divide a population, including using the young!  This concerns me because I've seen what Hitler was able to accomplish!!