In a Twitter leak, Professor of Sociology Fabio Rojas, among many others, found out that his textbook would be cut from the proposed curriculum for the College Board's AP African American Studies course. The College sat down with him to discuss the leak and what cutting his research, as well as others', could mean for the students who would take this course one day.
Spotlight: Fabio Rojas
College of Arts and Sciences (College): I wish we were meeting to speak for a happier reason than your textbook being removed from the curriculum of the AP African American Studies course.
Fabio Rojas (FR): Well, it means that it’s having enough of an impact that people are talking about it and paying attention to it, so I’ll take that. That’s good.
College: Do you know how your book was initially going to factor into the proposed curriculum?
FR: That’s a good question, because the original draft of the AP African American studies curriculum has not been released. I only knew about the cutting when some people close to it leaked it on Twitter and it became a kind of cause célèbre – people started talking about it, it became a thing on the internet. I became a meme last week.
It could have been that the book was mentioned in terms of the foundations of Black Studies, like where the discipline comes from, how it evolved. It may have used a couple of sentences from the book but the book is a research monograph. It probably was discussed in a sentence or two or as part of the bibliography, explaining where the discipline comes from. That would be my guess but only history will tell when we see it years from now.
College: What do you think students will miss with your foundation material cut?
FR: What they’re missing is an explanation for why you need Black studies. The whole purpose of the book was to discuss the history of the field, its development at educational institutions and its goals, and this is very important for Black studies or African American studies because it’s a field that’s always been challenged since the beginning. People always fighting it, resisting it in some ways. And the current dispute with the state of Florida is probably just another chapter in that much longer story.
To understand that there was a political struggle, African Americans have not been treated well in the history of this country, and this is an attempt to reclaim their voice, to put it at the center of the discussion, to create a field of study where that is the primary focus – that will probably be clipped or highly reduced without including that material.
College: In your opinion, why do you think so many topics were abridged or removed from the curriculum?
FR: My understanding is that a lot of the dispute had to do with one section of the curriculum. In general, people did not oppose a Black studies course or an AP credit. Rather, the dispute was over bringing modern topics into the discussion – and this makes sense. If something is recent, the people who are on either side of the issue are still alive, they’re going to be very invested in it, so there may be resistance.
A lot of the people who were cut from the curriculum fell into a couple of categories. Number one, they were people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. And that makes sense because that’s a recent political conflict.
Also, some people associated with areas of study such as intersectional research, a branch of social theory which focuses on how different kinds of inequality interact with each other [were cut]. That is considered a contentious topic. And it makes sense, it’s recent social theory and it touches on recent forms of inequality, and some people might be sensitive about that.
This also includes people who are talking about queer studies, Black liberation theology, intersectional theory, and I suppose the history of the field, because Black studies is a radical field by its very existence. In my book I call it a counter center, a counter weight to the white mainstream.
Rather than having a scholarly debate or to say, ‘Hey, there could be alternative ways you could teach this,’ this was probably a bit of theatrics. To say the least. But I’ve always advocated free speech and open dialogue. I do not believe these ideas are beyond reproach. The ideas that were cut can certainly be debated, critiqued, and discussed.
College: Do you feel that an AP-level course on African American and/or Black studies would be incomplete without some discussion or some review of Black Lives Matter as a movement?
FR: I think there’s an argument to be made because it is the largest social movement of the last 10 years in America, maybe the only movement of a similar size or impact would be the Tea Party. I think it’s fair to say that any accounting of American history from 2015 to 2020 would be incomplete without some discussion of Black Lives Matter, especially in the context of Black studies or African American studies. Because many of the arguments they have made rely on the ideas from Black studies in some way.
For example, there’s a school of thought that says that anti-Black racism is a central component or feature of American society. Once again, we can debate that, but it is a scholarly opinion. That was brought to the forefront by protests, and in an article I published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, I was able, with my research collaborators, to show that Black Lives Matter protests actually increased the attention paid to anti-racist words, vocabulary, and discourse.
It's very truthful to say that BLM is part of the story. They are pushing the culture, and, you can debate it, critique it, but they’re part of the story and I think by not including them you would have a very incomplete story to tell.
College: For students who would want to take this course and have a more complete understanding of what was left out of the curriculum, what would you recommend to them?
FR: A lot of these resources are freely available. For example, you can read online about bell hooks and what their ideas were, or about sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, whose writings I teach in my graduate course, and my undergraduates get exposure to her writings.
Florida is only one state and we have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and we should use what’s in the Constitution to get the debate going.