This special issue on “Inheriting Black Studies” is intended to model long memory; insisting that this is a core component of the intellectual protocols that form the meta-discipline we now commemorate amidst 50th anniversary celebrations across various universities. To claim Black Studies as an inheritance is to recognize that we are in possession of something passed on to us from those that came before—knowledge, struggle, modes of study and interrogation; ways of doing and being; but also, recognition of the things that happened, which shape who we are and who we can become. Memory’s insistence in black study has multiple aims—to correct the record, to describe it in the light of human truth, and to prescribe new paths forward lest we repeat the horrors (or some new iteration of them) that have visited themselves upon our past and present. Memory is a fact of blackness in more than one way. It is embedded in black flesh; a constant reminder, even to non-black people, to remember slavery. This is part and parcel of a shared, global antipathy for black life—this insistence on memory.

The authors assembled in this special issue, most of whom are junior scholars, have taken time to remember and situate their scholarship within the lineage(s) of intellectual protocols that we inherited from scholars that came before us. Following 1968, scholars created Black Studies protocols with a new level of intentionality; modes of study that we can look back on and interrogate how they have marked the scholarship we are able to produce today and the questions we continue to work through. While the world (and the academy) insists that we demonstrate novelty, always, we know that there continues to be first questions that drive Black Studies.[1] These are perennial questions; those that persist precisely because anti-blackness continues to be a structuring antagonism of the known world. How does it feel to be a problem? What’s the relationship between stolen people and stolen land? Is acting in the interest of capital always at odds with the project of black freedom? Or simply—Why Black Studies? We study these questions, and others, through the voices of Black people because we know that there are things that can be known from a black perspective that cannot be known from any other perspective.

The contributors in this volume resist the urge to be taken over by the charm of novelty and invention. Instead we reflect on inheritance and the traditions that work through us. We name and hone the protocols we have picked up from the Black Studies tradition to confront questions that have chosen us; those that mark us; and the ones to which we turn and face simply because it is necessary. All the while, we work and gather in communion, to study; our footnotes as a Black Studies burial ground. We visit with those that have passed on, whose spirits and ideas live on through the tools they left behind for us to perfect and reconfigure. The mere memory of them insisting that the master’s tools were not the only ones deployed for building and disassembly.

[1] Keith D. Leonard, “First Questions: The Mission of Africana Studies: An Interview with Hortense Spillers,” Callaloo 30, no. 4 (2007): 1054–68.

Guest Editor:

Jarvis R. Givens, Harvard University

Joshua B. Bennett, Dartmouth College