How Africana Studies Shaped My Growth as a Black Person
Alumna C. Jana Prudhomme '19, who received the Africana studies departmental award for excellence, explains the major’s profound influence on her life.
I chose to concentrate in Africana Studies because of its value to my personal development. I grew up in small, rural areas of the North Country of New York, and in a white family, so I was disconnected from Blackness on multiple levels. Even though it is a primarily white institution, Hamilton College was the most racially diverse place I had lived. In my first year, I began to notice how uninformed I was on the diversity of Blackness, the history of racism in the United States and elsewhere, and how I, as a Black woman, fit into it all. I experienced many trials by fire during my time at Hamilton, which made me realize just how narrow my formal and informal education had been thus far. Africana studies helped me take control of my future by giving me tools to understand, and language to talk about, the racism in my life.
I think when most people ask me what I majored in, they expect me to talk about my career plans. For me, though, Africana studies was really a "re-education." I cannot stress enough the importance, for both Black and non-Black people, of having language to recognize and critique racist systems. Growing up, I could not even understand or explain the racist things happening to me, even as they affected my well-being. It may sound unbelievable that a Black person can grow up so ignorant to their own experiences, but this was what it was like for me in an environment with virtually zero Black influence. While Hamilton is by no means a perfect institution, I am extremely grateful to the Africana Studies Department, its professors, and especially to the other Black Africana studies majors, who have all contributed to my realization of myself and reconnection with my Black identity.
What I have learned as an Africana studies major will serve me well in professional endeavors, but I made it a goal upon graduation to first reconnect with my family in Brazil. Africana studies was a large initial stepping-stone in my personal growth as a Black person. Now, rounding on my sixth month living with my Afro-Brazilian family, and finalizing paperwork for dual citizenship, my personal growth has been unprecedented. I have become closer with an entire half of my biological family (and myself) that I had lived without for the majority of my life. I often self-deprecatingly think of myself as a “late bloomer” when it comes to my Black identity, but now I have pride in focusing on my re-education and self-discovery. I see now, that even at 23, my ever-learning life is truly just beginning.