Scholar of African history says his Jewish background didn’t stop him from writing about Muslims and Africa

Historians in the News
tags: African history, Charles L Geshekter

Charles L. Geshekter is a professor emeritus of African history at California State University, Chico.

Diversity, according to campus dogma, provides real educational benefits. Counting and mingling students and professors by race, ethnicity or gender is supposed to broaden perspectives and enhance classroom learning.

Maybe that’s true in the academic departments built on identity politics. But what critical perspective does a black academic bring to microbiology, civil engineering, or pre-1700 state formation in Ethiopia that a white scholar cannot? What distinctive viewpoint does a Hispanic professor rely on to explain French colonialism, the Afro-Asian history of banana cultivation, or Muslim slave systems that a black instructor cannot?

I taught African history for 40 years at California State University, Chico. When I criticized the overtly divisive racial preferences and gender double standards I witnessed on faculty hiring committees, I was vilified as an “enemy of diversity.” This was rich in unintended irony.

Raised in an orthodox Jewish home in west Baltimore, I graduated from the University of Richmond (founded by Southern Baptists), completed my master’s at Howard University (the country’s pre-eminent historically black college), earned my doctorate in history at UCLA, then taught at a modest liberal arts college. I was once married to a Catholic woman. Hostile to diversity?

As a Jewish American historian of Africa, I specialized in Somalia, a country that’s 99% Muslim. I visited Somalia 10 times, conducting research and teaching at the National University in Mogadishu. Somalis always welcomed me with hospitality and collegiality. ...

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