Before I left home for work on Monday, I received an email about an essay in The Independent Florida Alligator titled “UF African American Studies course title sparks controversy among students.” When I read the headline, I was surprised about the title, because when I agreed to the interview, I thought the article was going to highlight the goals and objectives of the AFA 4225 Blacks in Florida course. The Alligator has a right to publish essays on any topics, but this essay examines how the “Blacks in Florida” title reflects its historical context and why it's not a controversial title.
During the Jim Crow Era, whites referred to African Americans as colored or Negro, and not Black. In the late 1960s, Black Power activists encouraged African Americans to use the term Black and not Negro. During the 1920s, Marcus Garvey, President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), demanded African Americans to capitalize the “N” in Negro. Black Power activists understood the power of naming and many had adopted an African name, challenged African Americans to stop referring to themselves as Negro and castigated white people (liberal or conservative) who referred to African Americans as “the blacks.” During the 1970s, one could hear the term “the blacks” on television shows such as, “All in the Family.” Whenever Archie Bunker shared his opinion about African Americans to George Jefferson, Bunker said, “You know Jefferson, the blacks...” then completed his thought with a racist stereotype.
According to the UF course catalog, AFA 4225 Blacks in Florida “addresses the history and themes of Blacks in Florida between 1492 and 1975.” Because the course material ends in 1975, UF adopted the course between the mid ‘70s and early ‘80s. “Blacks in Florida” is not a controversial title because it is an African American Studies course and our faculty would not allow any course to use terms or titles that excludes or offends African Americans. This is why the course is not called “The Blacks in Florida” or “The Negroes in Florida.” By the late 1980s, a growing number of Black people started to use the term African American, but many African Americans use the term Black, African American or both. One may disagree with the title of the course Blacks in Florida, but a disagreement about a title of a course does not make it controversial.
Dr. David Canton is director of the UF African American Studies Program.