Learning about the African-American Experience

Image courtesy of mcdaniel.eduImage courtesy of mcdaniel.edu

Dr. Richard M. Smith, of the Sociology department, wants his students to understand the history of African Americans, their culture and influence on American society, and their current experiences since they played a significant role in the creation of American society while overcoming the challenges of racism and segregation.

“I am very passionate about talking about the great influence that African-American culture had and continues to have on American society,” he said. “Because of current events, the continual negative backlash against African-American progress, and having an academic as well as personal understanding of the African-American experience, I feel it is important for students to take the [African American Culture] class.”

He has been teaching classes about race and ethnic relations since he became a McDaniel professor, and is excited for the opportunity to teach this special topics class about African American culture.

Smith also enjoys tying in race to his other classes. For example, in his Religion and Society class, he gives a lecture about the connections between race and religion.

The African American Culture class is different than the other classes he teaches because he is “able to focus on how African-Americans were co-creators of American society and not just contributors.”

Since African Americans went through slavery and legalized segregation in the past, he feels like it is important for students to get a good understanding of how African-Americans were able to maintain their communities despite living within a racist society. He also wants students to understand the “strategic and systemic racism African Americans still experience and how they continue to overcome these problems.”

“Racism still exists but [it is] different than in the past,” said Smith. “Today it is covert and systemic and in some ways accepted.”

In each class, a student presents a self-selected spotlight issue involving African Americans. The student asks discussion questions to get the class thinking about different events that impact many within the African American community. For example, one student discussed the racialized debates surrounding the actions of Cam Newton and the influence he has had on football as an African American quarterback.

Since Smith was an undergrad here at McDaniel, he has seen improvement in student racial diversity, but diversity among faculty and administration has stayed the same. He believes a possible reason for this is McDaniel’s location and distance from a more diverse community.

This class fulfills the Social Organization category for Sociology majors or minors, but students outside the major are also able to take it as an elective.