African Diasporic Activist Scholarship: Beyond the Enlightenment, Toward the Democratization of Science

The African Burial Ground National Monument is as much an edifice to the democratization of knowledge as it is to sacred space for the sanctity of black lives. New York’s African Burial Ground Project (1992-2009) took seriously the observable fact of intrinsic scientific subjectivity to enable its ethical choice to work on behalf of a descendant community’s research concerns regarding their past (the clientage model of public engagement). That Project did not default to the untestable but common notion of neutral knowledge as its authority and shield. Historically, black scholars have seen such notions as neutrality perform as a manifestation of the construction of Whiteness, arrogating to that group authoritative tools by which to ascertain universal, natural truths; truths which often empower the powerful and denigrate ‘the other.’ Recognizing that all research is socially-positioned (as Frederick Douglass argued it should be), the main branch of African diasporic intellectual traditions has deliberately informed restorative justice, historic vindication, and the human dignity of Blacks against an often dehumanizing and exclusivist White academic mainstream. These intellectuals simultaneously value and adhere to rules of evidence and experience to inform their critical humanism, social, and biological science approaches. The African Burial Ground, profound in its local historic and political setting at the turn of the 21st century, has also been a watershed of a new form of archaeology and historic interpretation, now codified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, embraced by publics, and contested in the academic world. The discussion of this session revolves around the site’s impact on archaeological practice, academe, public education and memorialization.

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