In the far corner of Borzello Hall, surrounded by mountainous stacks of texts ranging from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” to “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” Professor Kwame Zulu Shabazz is carving out a niche for himself within Knox’s Africana Studies Department.
The Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies hasn’t always worked in the classroom: From 1994 to 1997, Shabazz served in the U.S. Marine Corps. There he encountered an African-American Muslim who introduced him to the canon of the Afrocentric Movement. This encounter profoundly altered Shabazz’s personal trajectory and inspired critical reflection upon his status as an African-American.
“I realized that there was something wrong with U.S. foreign policy, and I became quite critical of [it],” Shabazz said. “At the same time I discovered Malcolm X, and Malcolm X talked a lot about African identity … and so I became very passionate about understanding my connection to Africa.”
Shabazz conducted much of his graduate work in cultural anthropology at Harvard University, but he balks at the idea of identifying solely by the discipline.
“By training, I am a cultural anthropologist, but by conviction I am a scholar of Africana Studies.” Shabazz said. “My life’s work and my politics have been centrally about Black Studies and the agenda of Black Studies.”
Born and raised in Inglewood, Calif., Shabazz’s interests and research necessitate thinking on a global, rather than local, scale. Much of his work is wrapped up in Pan-Africanism: what it means to be of African origin not just in the United States, but internationally. This interest necessitates a considerable amount of travel, often to the African continent.
“Any time I get a chance to go to Africa I’m excited,” Shabazz said. “In America, African-Americans are often deemed marginal in terms of their experience, in terms of their culture and in terms of their identity. Africa is where I feel more human.”
During the upcoming winter break, Shabazz will travel to Ghana to pursue a research opportunity inspired by an encounter with Malcolm X’s nephew in Boston. He hopes to investigate Malcolm X’s journey through Africa and various Muslim nations, as well as the United States’ government’s reaction to his efforts and its possible involvement in his assassination. Through interviews, he intends to capture the civil rights leader’s internationalist aims.
“I think the most compelling piece of what he was saying is that black people all over the world, and moreover people who are oppressed, have a common agenda, a common goal. And that goal is liberation. And we have to work together to make that happen.”
At Knox, Shabazz hopes to support the internationalist efforts already at work. On Oct. 15, he is collaborating with M.E.Ch.A. to stage an event to mark the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. He hopes the event, which will include a presentation and discussion upon the subject of “Blacks in Latin America” will provide an impetus for further collaboration between cultural advocacy groups like M.E.Ch.A., A.B.L.E. and Harambee.
“I try to advocate for students wherever I go. I always want to leave a positive footprint,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz began his tenure at Knox fall of this year. He is currently engaged teaching two courses: Introduction to African Studies and Introduction to Africana Studies. Presently, he is slated for a one-year teaching contract, but he hopes that his relationship with the school will last longer.
“I love teaching,” he said. “I love sharing my passion for Africana studies with my students, and I love learning from my students.”