“We are a people of beginnings, of culture, of strength. Not always have we given in to the empty threats and scare tactics of the powerless ones,” the New Orleans poet Sunni Patterson reminds us in her spoken word poem “Solutionaries.” The Department of Black Studies at UCSB recognises and strives towards the capaciousness of her assertions. We were forged in the wake of dissent and protest when, in 1968, Black students organised with the broader civil rights movement against the systematic exclusion of the study of the African diaspora in US universities and the concomitant intellectual and political disenfranchisement of Black students and students of colour. The university gave in to student demands, and the subsequent mandate of our department is one wherein resistance, emancipation, and radical thought fundamentally undergird our mission.
In our department, both the scholarship and teaching of our faculty are oriented towards cultivating alternative histories and archives that form new knowledges and therefore previously unimaginable ways of being, welcoming Black futures that complicate perceptions of temporality, space, and possibility. We believe in originality, improvisation, and that the work you do in the world truly matters. We maintain a ferocious commitment to social life. As such, we aim to foster students who want to have more civic responsibility while also developing and sustaining their critical thinking, students who wish to find solutions for themselves, to learn by doing, and to ask one more question rather than be satisfied with answers.
Utilising interdisciplinary methodologies, we pay critical attention to the experience of Blackness, and then use it as a way to analyse other phenomena. We also affirm that Black Studies moves boundaries. Thus, the concept of “a discipline” and “being disciplined” is one we view as particularly challenged by the very idea of “Black Studies,” a field which centres very strong antidisciplinary assumptions and interventions that challenge binaries. This requires a particular sensibility and sensuality around detail that calls on students to critically engage the breadth and depth of knowledge available within Black Studies.
These abiding aims acknowledge that Blackness operates as a vector for the complex global processes of decolonial abolitionist democracy. It’s a process for critical ontology also involved in a conversation of new globalisms based on historical consciousness. By this, we mean that blackness is never only about Black people, even as it centres them. It is that which can act as a window--not only onto the larger world, but our worlds. We see black epistemologies, intellectual histories, and knowledge formations as undoubtedly transformative, not just for Black people but also for creation of a politically and socially just world. Central to this commitment is an attention to the various meanings, positionalities, and modes of engaging difference (i.e., gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, and subjectivity).