Black History Month panel discusses culture

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Speakers at the Labels panel pose for a picture. Credit: Celeste Simmons

By: Celeste Simmons| Published Feb. 11, 2016

Pan-African Student Union kicked off its Black History Month celebration witha panel discussion called Labels on Feb. 2. The conversation explained how different cultural groups are labeled, and concluded that one’s cultural history is the reason why he or she acts and thinks the way he or she does.

Held in the Miron Student Center, the panel consisted of Dr. James Conyers, director of Africana Studies minor, Dr. Dennis Klein, director of the Jewish Studies minor, Dr. Xurong Kong, directorof the Asian Studies minor, and Dr. Suzanne Bousquet, Dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences.

“We invited the minors to talk to us about becoming a minor and what it means to study the history of these minors,” said Krystal Noyan, president of Pan-African Student Union.

The panelists began the discussion with an introduction to their programs and immediately after, Klein raised a question that asked how people in dominant cultures relate to people from minority cultures around them.

“That relationship hasn’t been clear, it’s been complicated. One advantage of all of our programs is that we, in our own ways, being to interrogate those relationships,” said Klein. “Through these minors, you can begin to find out the origin of these problems.”

Soon the discussion escalated into thought-provoking questions. Students in the audience spoke vehemently, and some of them were not even Kean students. Crystal David, a recent graduate from Seton Hall University, said the conversations surrounding Africana Studies is important.

“Africana studies is very broad because there are Africans in every part of theworld” Said David. “And for me knowing that, I love being black so why not learn the history behind it and find out how I got to where I am.”

Dr. Conyers said that Africana Studies helps individuals understand society’s current political and racial climate. Over the past year, people across the United States have rallied together to protest against racial inequality.

An online movement that uses hashtags such as #naturalhairisdope and#myblackisbeautiful has been formed to promote self-love within the black community.

“Most African people in and out of the continent do not have a historical memory of who they are and do not have any African language,” said Conyers. “It is essential for us to have an understanding of our history.”

Conyers raised concern about how some people perceive Africa and urged individuals to have a deeper understanding of their culture.

“In most people’s minds in the subconscious, even to this very day, Africa is a place of jungles, cannibals, savages, and nothing civilized, no core civilizations,” said Conyers “Egypt is not the only great African river civilization and much of African history is still to be written.”

Conyers warned that if individuals do not have a true understanding of your background and people, then they will not be able to make sense of who they are today.


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