[The 90’s raw: James Early on Afro-centrism]

This tape features raw footage for the award-winning series The 90's. Eddie Becker interviews James Early, Director of Cultural Studies and Communications at the Smithsonian Institution. Early talks about the subject of Afro-centrism in America and the Smithsonian's work in promoting different cultural perspectives in hopes to promote their integration into modern American society.

00:00Copy video clip URL James Early begins to talk about race relations in the U.S., stating that African-Americans are the “yardstick” to see how far society has come in terms of acceptance and tolerance. “If you have black skin it is most difficult for you to make progress in this society. Other groups who have other shades of skin or who suffer the content of racism irrespective of their skin color seem to be able to make noticeably more quantitative progress in the society than African-Americans have had to make or have been able to make. So that’s a problem that still haunts us and will haunt us it seems to me well into the 21st century.” Early goes on to talk about the Civil Rights movement. “The Civil Rights movement really broke open American apartheid.” He goes on to say that the nature of racism was devastating and that society is still feeling the after effects.

04:56Copy video clip URL Early talks about the negative effect of both the Reagan and Bush administrations, saying they have “undermined the social gains of the 1960s.” Early talks about both administrations’ lack of attention to the racial problems that have hurt society as a whole. “We have a government system that has basically steered society away from dealing with those problems.” Early goes on to talk about the historical discrimination of people of color and how his department’s work at the Smithsonian combat that discrimination by showcasing different cultural perspectives. “Cultural equity really is about valuing these intrinsic perspectives of other cultures and understanding that each culture has its own historically evolved standards.”

13:57Copy video clip URL Early talks about the effect he hopes his department’s work at the Smithsonian will have on society. “Where I hope it’s going is that it will empower people to become their own resource. I mean, I’m not interested in living in a society where you’ve got to have someone always twisting people’s arms to do the right thing.” “We’re at a period right now where we’ve raised the issues with people, we struggle with people where necessary, and we help them to identify the breadth of organizations and human resources that are out there and facilitate introduction to those people so that they can then begin to build relationships on their own.” Early goes on to say that there is segregation even in the intellectual and museum communities. He goes on to talk about the need for the world to evolve from a primitive state.

18:59Copy video clip URL Early advocates focusing on culture instead of skin color. He goes on to talk about the political aspects of the Euro-centric supremacist orientation of America. Early moves on to address the attack on the Afro-centric curriculum in the academic world. He states that there is a sharper attack on Afro-centrism than other cultural worldviews and curriculum. Early talks about this issue for several minutes and highlights the ways of combating the problem and determining the elements most useful to help one live in society.

26:26Copy video clip URL Early takes Becker on a short tour of the Experimental Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum. Early describes the exhibits showcasing a variety of different cultural vantage points. The two spend most of their time in the Puerto Rican portion of the exhibit. Early talks about some of the similarities he draws from Puerto Rican culture to his own African-American upbringing.

38:05Copy video clip URL Becker and Early visit the gift shop, where Becker shoots the items available for sale.

39:05Copy video clip URL Cut back to Early in his office who talks about the origins and definition of the term “Afro-centrism.” He states that the term has developed as a response to the prevalence of the Euro-centric viewpoint at the academic level. He promotes the study of African-American history and the inclusion of African-American culture into the nationwide curriculum. “There’s an attempt to separate those people [important historical figures] from the ‘dark continent.'” He also emphasizes the need for young African-Americans to know that their culture provided positive contributions to society. Early goes on to talk about the variances in the Afro-centric perspectives, but states that all perspectives are devoted to a democratic impulse of locating one’s humanity in the context of one’s own history. Early goes on to talk about a conference he attended where Bush administration drug czar Bill Bennett and other associates were combating the idea of incorporating Afro-centric viewpoints into the American educational curriculum. Early closes by commenting on the stridency against Afro-centric viewpoints and states that if “black people are able to open up this democratic space, look out! Rest assured that all of the other voices who have been excluded are going to now step forward into that space created by African-Americans and as they should, utilize it to further push forward the democratic process.”

49:27Copy video clip URL Tape ends.



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