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Democracy Matters in the 21st Century HBCU Writing Classroom: AfriWomanism as a Political, Pedagogical Tool

Reimagining Historically Black Colleges and Universities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-665-7, eISBN: 978-1-80043-664-0

Publication date: 26 May 2021


According to Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, whose best-known contribution to critical thought is his theory regarding hegemony, education “serves a directly important function in maintaining hegemony…[for] [i]t is a vehicle by which consensus is maintained and the knowledge of the ruling bloc (the majority ruling class) is legitimated” (Gross, 2011, p. 66). Although Gramsci's theoretical work was initially situated within the Fascist-dominated Italian legislature in which he aimed to understand how the ruling class maintained power over the proletariat (oppressed groups), his concept offers a lens through which social critics have been able to understand the prevailing superstructures of power in Western capitalist societies. This chapter, therefore, relies on Gramsci's theories to develop an argument (and writing pedagogy) regarding the democratic ability of the historically Black college and university (HBCU), for I contend the HBCU, particularly its first-year composition classroom, is a space where students can practice and propel democracy, thus countering the hegemony that insists on oppressing Black and Brown people.

While the HBCU, as defined by the 1965 Higher Education Act, is a by-product of the superstructure and is thusly grounded upon and legitimated by what bell hooks terms “the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” therefore functioning as institutionalized spaces for constructing and maintaining hegemony, HBCUs, explains Eddie S. Glaude Jr. in his 2016 Democracy in Black, are “institutions that both cultivated their (Black folks') civic capacities and served as a space to transmit values that opposed the value gap” (p. 125). In other words, Black folks have had to create “safe spaces” like the HBCU, to exist in their full humanity within an oppressive America whose white citizens devalued their being, and therefore, their American citizenship. Although the HBCU is legitimated by the hegemony, the HBCU, I argue, remains a space where the democracy America has yet to realize can be learned and practiced, especially if teachers, particularly within first-year composition programs, employ counterhegemonic curriculums and practices like the AfriWomanist approach to teaching I offer here.



Thank you to Dr. Kathy Hytten, of the University of North Carolina Greensboro, whose Race, Equity, and Education course informed and inspirited my thinking about democracy. Her contributions to this essay cannot go unmentioned.


Bryant, K.N. (2021), " Democracy Matters in the 21st Century HBCU Writing Classroom: AfriWomanism as a Political, Pedagogical Tool", Crosby, G.B., White, K.A., Chanay, M.A. and Hilton, A.A. (Ed.) Reimagining Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Great Debates in Higher Education), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 135-147.



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