Cultural relativism means to me of the idea that cultures are ought to be analyzed based on their own distinct context and merits instead of being judged or faced with condescending decades-old ethnocentrism. Unfortunately, African American culture has always been underestimated, underfunded and being looked at with ethnocentrism and eurocentrism throughout the years due to mainly years of shackled racism that we have been imprisoned with. In the segregated US, African Americans’ lives were interconnected with whitestream bias and were taught in schools that they didn’t have any history or any valued historical achievements. Despite all that, many great individuals have fought the trends and swam against the current for the sake of cultural relativism, justice, and fairness, etc. resulting end of legal segregation, the establishment of African American studies in university-level education, civil rights movement etc. For instance, Melville Herskovits, the Jewish-American pioneering anthropologist who played an indescribable role in the roots of academic field of African-American culture. In this essay, I’m going to talk about many historical heroes including Melville Herskovits, W.E.B Du Bois, Dr. G Carter Woodson etc and their significant wholehearted contributions to the gradual and revolutionary steps towards the establishment of African Studies program in educational higher institutions throughout the country.
In the film HERSKOVITS AT THE HEART OF BLACKNESS, scholars analyze the massive impact of Melville Herskovits’ contribution and how he continues to motivate around our modern perception of cultural identity. Being a non-black person, Herskovits’s work was a major breakthrough indeed that helped to promote ethnic equality in our segregated society. Important to note that he was the first prominent scholar to announce that African American culture in America was “not pathological,” but “rather inherently African”, and that it had to be perceived within that context without judgment. In other words, Herskovits demonstrated here the prime example of cultural relativism. According to the PBS Independent lens, his 1928 book The American Negro and The Myth of the Negro Past fundamentally challenged formerly held racist assumptions about black people in America. Herskovits founded the first interdisciplinary program at Northwestern University in African studies in 1948. He also formed the African Studies Association later. As the first formally established program of African Studies in the country, it has grown from only several courses into a massive curriculum of African courses in the social sciences and humanities. Over the years, the alumni of this program have been essential in expanding methodologies in linguistics, oral history, anthropology and sociology, African gender studies, etc among others. And they continue to be influential leaders in the academic world.
Many other movements by different individuals preceded the establishment of the first American Studies program in 1948. W.E.B Du Bois is certainly one of them. He is the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. He managed to combine scholarship and social activism with regard to his organization’s affiliations in several ways. During his time as well his upbringing, he observed how people of his kind were treated poorly by the white supremacists as a result of the infamous Jim Crow laws to the point that there was no mention of African history in schools. He co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to promote equal rights of African Americans. Du Bois was determined to fight for the reform of the biased educational system at the time with the intent of providing African Americans with equal and fair opportunity to advance in the real world. he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He accomplished this by becoming the president of the African Negro Academy (ANA), which was founded to promote education for African Americans.
The formal study of African American history is deeply rooted in the work of another great intellectual, Dr. Carter Woodson. Woodson is actually known as the ‘Father of Black History.” He popularized the “Negro” history movement in several ways. His level of knowledge as a resource, as he informed the people about his knowledge and created different scholarships. His scholarships were not accepted due to his “pragmatic philosophy of Black history”. He started ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History). The meetings of the organization took place in multiple locations, such as black churches, community centers, colleges, and universities, etc. and allowed people of different educational levels to participate and engage in the organization. Woodson created Negro History Week, which was known to be one of the most effective ways of expanding Black history. This allowed for misconceptions to end and allow people to learn more about Black history. Woodson also published Negro History Bulletin, which was written in a simple language, allowing black scholars to have easier access and having less whitestream.
In conclusion, academic works of Herskovits, Du Bois, Woodson etc. and many other heroes advanced promoting social, economical, political and especially academic justice of African Americans throughout the country. For far too many years African American scholars were discredited; students didn’t have access to higher education in African American studies. The current generation is usually aware of the Civil right movement of the 1960s’ led by Martin Luther King Jr. Though many great intellectuals have contributed academically in uncountable ways towards a more fairer society without divisiveness based merely on skin color.