On February 20th, LSA’s month-long “Humanities Afrofutures” series continued with a panel titled “The Future of Black Studies.” Moderated by chair of the U-M Department of History and DAAS Richard A. Meisler Collegiate Professor Angella Dillard, the panel included five U-M faculty members, all of whom have backgrounds in a variety of different fields. Panelists included three members of the DAAS faculty: professor of American Culture and Afroamerican and African studies Jessica Kenyatta Walker; professor of philosophy and Afroamerican and African studies Kristie Dotson; and department chair Matthew Countryman, as well as Aaron Coleman, a poet, translator and professor of Comparative Literature; and Kira Thurman, a professor of musicology and German studies.

With the diversity of academic backgrounds represented on the panel, there was a wide variety of approaches to the subject of the future of Black studies. They were each given an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about how their specific interests might be used as a lens to speculate on what the continuing evolution of Black studies will look like. Countryman discussed two key features of black studies: reaching a global understanding of Blackness, and understanding the intersectional aspects of the field, such as sexuality, gender, class, and locality. He highlighted the importance of gathering Black narratives in local communities, giving his work with the Black Washtenaw County project as an example.

Dotson, a third generation black studies major, talked about the ways to make Black studies into a home. For her, Black studies had always been a place where she felt comfortable, both in physical spaces and academic ones. She would love to see others feel that same sense of comfort, and find places within the field where they can “just be.”

Walker’s answer to the question drew on her interest in food and American Culture. She started by talking about the fact that the revolutionary Black agriculturalist George Washington Carver was a vegan, a detail which is often overlooked. She explained that veganism's recent rise in popularity is something that can be better understood by paying attention to these past practices. Understanding and highlighting Black pasts will help to advance the field of Black studies, she stated. Walker also touched on the importance of intersectionality in the future of Black and food studies, including topics such as sexuality and gender identity in relation to food.

The panel concluded with a few questions from the audience, and then a final question from Dillard, who asked the speakers what brought them hope for the future of Black studies. Some answered with things specific to their fields, such as new initiatives in cultural translations of Black and African poems. Countryman concluded his thoughts by saying, “Black people give me hope.”