For California State University, Dominguez Hills alumnus Thabiti Asukile (Class of ’95, B.S. Africana studies), learning to read critically revealed deeper, more comprehensive insights into American history – including contributions of great African American thinkers.
In learning more about American history, Asukile, who has an M.A. in African American studies from Temple University and a Ph.D. in American history from University of California, Berkeley, discovered a wealth of black intellectuals who had been forgotten or intentionally marginalized.
“Today, it’s hard to know who the black intellectuals are, because they aren’t talked about in the media. Academic scholars know who they are, but the average American doesn’t. Black scientists…black thinkers aren’t really talked about,” said Asukile.
While the media emphasizes blacks in sports, entertainment, crime and pathology, Asukile says there are relatively few uplifting stories about the accomplishments of black people in literature and many other fields not typically considered intellectual.
“Martin Luther King, Obama, Eric Holder, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Davis, are all intellectuals. But often they aren’t thought of as great thinkers,” said Asukile.
Azukile, who minored in Asian Pacific studies at CSU Dominguez Hills, wants to change that, not only through the coursework he teaches, but by urging young people to learn about those who make significant contributions to society in many different fields, whether they are African American, Latino, Asian or people of any other ethnicity.
The Internet makes finding information on great African American thinkers easier than ever and Asukile says there are many reasons to proactively seek books and articles about them.
“Teaching black history isn’t going to happen in K through 12. [Educators] go from slavery to the civil rights movement, straight to Obama. Black history is getting watered down and commercialized. The original work of Carter G. Woodson has been lost, as [Black History Day] became Black History Month,” said Asukile. “Oprah Winfrey just talks about her favorite novels.”
Contributing to available literature on African American thinkers, Asukile has authored several books and articles on distinctive blacks from various eras and fields. His latest, an article published this month in The Western Journal of Black Studies, “Joel Augustus Rogers’ Race Vindication: A Chicago Pullman Porter & The Making of ‘From Superman to Man’,” discusses a book self-published in 1917 by Rogers, a self-trained writer who is credited with popularizing African history in the twentieth century.
Further examining the works of Rogers, Asukile authored works including “J. A. Rogers’ ‘Jazz at Home’: Afro-American Jazz in Paris During the Jazz Age” in The Black Scholar (Nov. 2010), “The Harlem Friendship of Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) and Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927)” in the Afro – Americans in New York Life and History journal (July 2010), and “Joel Augustus Rogers: Black International Journalism, Archival Research, and Black Print Culture,” in The Journal of African American History (Fall-Summer 2010).
Exploring the irony of President Barack Obama’s election campaign conundrum – not being able to address race- Asukile wrote the journal article, “The Barack Obama New Era: Race Matters More Than Ever in America” in The Black Scholar ( February 2009.
Just as Asukile hopes to inspire critical thinking among students, his own undergraduate education while at CSU Dominguez Hills was fostered by professors who had the ability to look deeper into America’s history and discover truths. He credits Clement Udeze, emeritus professor of history, the late William Little, former chair of Africana studies, and Donald Hata, emeritus professor of history.
Hata discussed his own history with Asukile, helping prepare the then undergraduate for his graduate school experience and guide him to a career as an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati McMicken College of Arts and Science, where Asukile teaches African American, African Diaspora, and African American Intellectual history.
“Thabiti Asukile was in this 30s when he came back to college, with an unusual dual concentration in Africana studies and Asian-Pacific studies. He was one of my hardest working students,” said Hata. “After graduation from CSUDH he pursued graduate studies and by sheer hard work and personal grit, [he] got himself accepted into the very tough history doctoral program at UC Berkeley. … He is well published in scholarly journals; his name is known to historians, and his saga reflects CSUDH’s positive role in our students’ success in tough graduate programs across the nation.”
And so, a young Africana American great thinker enters the historical record.
As part of Black History Month, Dateline Dominguez is profiling a few of the accomplishments and contributions of African American students, faculty, alumni, and academic departments, as well as special events marking the month on campus. For more Black History Month 2012 coverage, go here.