Written Assignments

The Meaning of Civil Rights


Web Resources for This Assignment

Tokugawa Japan
Read about the history and culture of the African Diaspora, particularly that in North America.
Critical Race Theory
A short essay on critical race theory which you should read before doing this essay.

African-American Culture   You are normally taught historical events in a "culture-neutral" setting, particularly events that involve foundation political, social, or scientific ideas. For instance, when you are taught the history of science, you are taught about the development of empirical science in Europe during the Enlightenment as if it had nothing to do with European culture at the time. If only people had been smarter in the Middle Ages or in other parts of the world, they, too, would have discovered and developed empirical science just like the Enlightenment Europeans.
   Not so. Everything a culture does is rooted in a world view. Everything is a product of culture. Empirical science came about when and where it came about because of cultural practices and a world view specific to a particular time and place. Every concept and every idea that you walk around with has an origin in a particular culture at a particular time. Because these concepts and ideas are so familiar, they seem to you to have simply come into the world with water and the atmosphere. One of these concepts that you take for granted as a universal is civil rights .
   The notion of rights has been around European culture since the seventeenth century—the concept is deeply rooted in modern European notions of individualism and the selfish nature of individuals. Civil rights, however, is a very recent invention and the movement which defined it, the civil rights movement, is deeply rooted in a particular culture, a particular world view, and a particular time. For all practical purposes, the notion of civil rights originates in the African-American experience as it developed from the seventeenth century onwards. Understanding modern civil rights, which is perhaps the greatest African-American contribution to political culture, requires understanding the unique world view of African-Americans.


The Assignment   On this assignment I'd like you to examine the notion of civil rights and relate it to the African-American experience or to other cultural products of the African-American imagination: African-American Christianity, millenarianism, family, or social structure. In your essay, you will need to start with a paragraph long definition of the concept of civil rights. In order to do this, you will need to do a little bit of research. Find out what this concept means, for you use the term constantly even though you've never come across a definition. In your second paragraph, you are to explain the concept of civil rights in the context of the African American experience or cultural products as listed above. You may choose to use the on-line textbook or to do your own research into African-American family structure, social structure, religion, or millenarianism.
   As a conclusion to your essay, though, I want you to engage with the current critique of civil rights. In critical race theory, American society is regarded as fundamentally racist and that the civil rights movement really failed to make a dent in that racism. Read the short essay on critical race theory and try to argue, from what you know about the African-American experience, whether or not civil rights was a successful or unsuccessful phenomenon. Where, from the African-American point of view, should we go from here?


Discussion   As always, this is a discussion quiz. You can respond to people's answers either a.) in terms of the definition that they give for civil rights or b.) their application or understanding of African-American culture.


You should submit your assignment
using WebUniversity
at http://webu.wsu.edu.



Your Name:
Your email address:
Title of your submission:
Submission: