The Future of African American Studies: A Conversation with Professor David Ikard


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Hananeel Morinville

For many years AP students have reported to College Board that they would like a course that centers Black history and culture. College Board responded by creating “AP African American Studies,” according to David Ikard, an African American Diaspora Studies Professor at Vanderbilt who helped develop the course. So it surprised many when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rejected the course. 

The newly proposed AP Course is not African American History but rather African American studies – it’s interdisciplinary and includes African American music, culture, art, theater, in addition to and history but history is not the sole focus. Dr. Nikki Taylor, Chair of Howard University’s History department said that the AP course offers “a solid understanding of how African Americans have shaped America, its history, laws, institutions, culture and arts, and even the current practice of American democracy, sharpens all knowledge about our nation.” Put simply, African American history is American history and this course simply explores the vital contributions, achievements, and even progress African Americans have made. 

Professor Ikard explained that Black people have a story that’s far greater than what they have faced at the hands of White America such as slavery, Jim Crow, violent voter suppression, and redlining. “The story of Black people in America is far more complex and a lot richer than what White people have done to us. It’s not just ‘White people have oppressed Black people.’ That’s part of the story but it’s not the main story.” According to Ikard, Governor DeSantis is threatened by it because “he’s a White supremacist… what he is clearly concerned about is that telling these truths about White people will challenge the White-washed narrative of American greatness that centers Whiteness and imagines that White people are innocent. DeSantis is trying to safeguard a certain narrative on Whiteness.” The AP African American Studies Course sets the record straight about the ways Black people have existed in certain areas. 

Oftentimes, the American school system shortens Black history and culture. It’s white-washed and not given enough significance. For instance, Dr. King is often taught as someone who was well liked when he was the most hated man in America. Black history is partially given significance during Black History Month but it is impossible to cover centuries of history in twenty-eight days. In a month, only select topics and people can be covered such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King, or the Little Rock Nine. With the AP course, students will have a full academic year to discuss and learn Black history and its complexities.

Ikard stresses that White students advocated for this course. “This is what scares DeSantis – the conscientiousness of White students. They are not afraid to learn about Black history and culture and this is a major deviation from the White supremacist script that shines a spotlight on White innocence.” According to Ikard, the only people who will be harmed by this course are White supremacists. “White supremacy has depended on controlling the narrative of history and self-determination. Whiteness is always centered and the contributions of African Americans are diminished or erased.” AP African American studies recenters the conversation to be about what is missing from the historical and social record. It will show the horrific nature of White supremacy.

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney, is ready to file a lawsuit on behalf of Florida students if DeSantis blocks the course. For years, several states have introduced legislation regarding how to discuss race and American history in public schools. Florida has succeeded by passing the “Stop Woke” act, which lets parents sue teachers and school districts over violating state-set limitations for how race is taught in classrooms, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which forbids the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for certain elementary school students. Ikard says DeSantis is setting a precedent but not in the way he anticipated. His efforts are backfiring and rallying Americans to take a stand against what he is attempting to do. 

Ikard is optimistic about the future of this course knowing the largest demographic of students pushing for this course was White students. “We will learn who we are as a people based on how this plays out.”