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For the first time in my life I heard a whole 80-minute lecture on Marcus Garvey this Thursday in my political science course on revolutionary change. It was more than two sentences composed of the words “Back to Africa” and “Black is Beautiful,” and not once did I fall asleep like I usually do in this class. Garvey isn’t a figure in my own personal heritage as a Filipino/American, but I was alert and writing down every word during this lecture because of the fact that it’s a rare opportunity to get some knowledge related to people of color in traditional departments in a non-surface level way. Not once have I ever learned so much about Marcus Garvey, and I really appreciate my professor—a very old, white man who has studied Mussolini, Marx, Hitler, Stalin, and all kinds of crazy European revolutionaries his whole life—for considering Garvey in a highly intellectual way and placing him on the same platform of academic significance as he does these other figures we have been learning about in class. Certainly his lecture on Garvey was not of the perspective one might probably get in an African-American Studies or Ethnic Studies course, nor is his political/academic mission the same (not to say that all scholars of color have a similar political vision), but it was refreshing nonetheless to hear a white professor say something good about a black man (and not in a tokenizing way), and actually say that studying Garvey’s ideas and practice is just as important as studying European ideas and practices.
But I have to ask, why does a lecture on Garvey or any another intellectual of color have to be a treat? Something hard to find?