Dr. Kush K. Bhardwaj, a former African American studies professor at University at Buffalo, gave a TEDxBuffalo talk in Oct. of 2017 called, “Does African American Studies Matter?” and believes what he discussed in his talk is even more relevant now.
Bhardwaj, who currently works as an assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Medaille College, believes that the formalized African American studies in the K-12 curriculum lacks cultural relevance, and students don’t necessarily learn what black people have gone through and continue to go through.
Bhardwaj notes that the key to proper education in African American studies is contextualizing the story. To clear the distorted lens through which many view black people, it’s important to listen to primary voices, and read literature written by black-centered sources about the black experience.
Discussion about the black experience can’t start with slavery. It needs to go deeper – it needs to show how Africans got to the U.S. and what they endured, Bhardwaj said.
Through this context, George Floyd’s story is not just an isolated incident, but is one incident of centuries of similar treatment. This shows in the context of other firsthand experiences including Philando Castile, Rodney King, W.E.B. Du Bois, Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant.
“It’s not about cultivating or exploiting white guilt,” Bhardwaj said. “It is about a reconciliation of what has happened, what is happening, and what will continue to happen, unless the perception in the lens is cleared.”
To help continue and strengthen this type of education, Bhardwaj says it’s important to vote in order to hold community leaders, educators and government officials accountable – so black people can be viewed and treated fairly.
“[It’s important to listen and turn] it into transformative action in the form of actual demands and plans to put things in place,” Dr. Bhardwaj said. “There needs to be a sustained attack on ignorance.”