UVU needs an official African American Literature class. Usually, it is unconvincing to argue for anything by saying, “everybody else is doing it” but, the fact is, the majority of universities in the country have a class offered with this title and the fact that UVU does not is unsettling. There have been courses that just teach African American literature at this school but the course titles have been “Multi cultural Literature Studies” and “Studies of the American Novel” etc. It takes quite a bit of courage for professors to take on these courses, choose the reading material and make it exclusive to African American Literature.
One professor in the English department has brilliantly done this quite a few times and is often met with resistance from students who say things like, “This course is required for my major and I want to study AMERICAN literature, not African American literature.” Because, of course, African Americans aren’t American.
The first day of some of these courses consist of teachers having to justify their reasoning for course material. Some students have said, “I don’t think I should be required to read this because I don’t know how I can relate to this material.” As a black woman on this campus, I’m often intrigued by this argument because having to read classic literature written by white people all of the time, I never presuppose that what I’m reading is “unrelateable.” If it was, I would have dropped out of school a long time ago.
I was surprised when one of the white people in one of these classes said, “I’m taking this class because most of my friends aren’t white…I’m kind of the black sheep of my family.” As though taking a minority literature class is outside of the norm and a blatant act of rebellion. Someone else said, “I’m in this class because I’m not from here and I want to get out of the Utah bubble.” Again, this dismisses the fact that within the Utah bubble are minorities numbering in the thousands. If one doesn’t know them or hasn’t seen them, or defines the bubble by whiteness, one is doing a great disservice to one’s own self.
Some people think that the solution to the lack of exposure to minority literature should be solved by having a course that “samples” different cultures by reading a little bit from authors representative of their genre. This solution misses the boat entirely. One of the problems of racism is the reduction of an entire kind of people to a meager and unapologetic stereotype. The idea that one author can wholly represent all others of their race and be presented to specifically, white people, and represent what their race happens to think is an absolute farce. It’s a hard cross to bear to be the academically elected “Moses” liberating the white folks from ignorance because they can now throw your name around and prove they aren’t racist. The only way to lighten the load on authors who always feel these pressures is to widen the scope of exposure.
When one goes to a book store, there isn’t a section that is called, “white literature” because that would include everything. It would include romance novels and how to manuals and children books and reference guides and poetry. Problems would inevitably arrive if we tried to categorize what white literature consists of. Should it mean that the author is white? Should it mean that they are talking about the ‘white experience?’ What is the ‘white experience’ exactly? The absurdity of this question shouldn’t be any less absurd when one considers “the black experience” but somehow people use this phrase surpisingly often. Should white literature be a particular way of talking? What if the author was born in Africa but has white parents? What if they are African American but have white skin and identify more with whiteness than with blackness whatever those two things mean?
Minority literature encounters the same problems. The scope of the themes and the thoughts and the kinds of writing are just as diverse and it is counterproductive to lump them all together.
Having a class that is officially called, “African American Literature” or “Latin Literature” or “Asian Literature” would also attract the kinds of people who need and desire to study these tropes. One might think, “no one NEEDS to study ____” but in fact, there’s a dire need for minorities to congregate and talk about the literature and engage with each other. Finding others like you is an important part of surviving and excelling in college.
There’s simply no reason for these courses to not be offered. To graduate with a degree in English and not have to take an African American Literature course is to miss out on an astounding opportunity to experience what literature does best which is to destabilize the distinctions between what “self” is and what “other” is. Having a course on certain kinds of minority literature would help facilitate the understanding that “others” might not be as “other” as some think.
By Felicia Joy – Asst. Opinions Editor