Interdisciplinary Studies in African American Research (Written in November 2009)

Howard University

Interdisciplinary Studies in African American Research

Submitted to

Dr. Mark E. Mack


Intro to Biological Anthropology


Nick Westbrooks


Often times, we notice that different academic disciplines are closely related to each other. In the concept of interdisciplinary studies, educators and students combine different disciplines. The results lead to new discoveries and answers to problems and questions. Anthropology professor Dr. Fatima Jackson, engages in interdisciplinary studies in African American and anthropological research. Last Thursday at the freshman seminar colloquia, Dr. Jackson explained what she does with interdisciplinary studies and why.

In her presentation, Dr. Jackson discussed several topics so I will highlight the key topics I found interest in. The professor started off the presentation by discussing why interdisciplinary studies are important. The main reason was that the human race is facing problems. Along with people suffering from sickness and other health conditions, our genetic variability doesn’t fit the 19th century racial categories. Although humans may look quite different in relation to race, the biological differences are relatively small, and researchers have to look very carefully to find any differences. Dr. Jackson practices interdisciplinary studies to solve such problems as these.

The next topic of interest was the relationship between the human genotype and the normal filters humans deal with on the daily basis. In order for our genotype to be expressed, it has to pass through the three environmental filters: abiotic, biotic, and sociocultural. Abiotic and biotic environmental filters include diet, subsistence, occupation, body form, toxicants, humidity, altitude, radiation, precipitation, and pharmaceuticals. The sociocultural filters are language, religion, ethnic identity, socialization, and class structure. All of these environmental filters in turn influence the human phenotype.

After that, Dr. Jackson described the Ethnogenetic Layering approach. This approach addresses human variation and health disparity issues. Like Dr. Jackson stated at the beginning of the presentation, using race as the model alone is too general. It is inaccurate to generalize the entire human race from observing only one individual race. Furthermore, the Ethnogenetic Layering approach “helps to better understand the role of population sub structuring.” Identifying and assessing the biological, cultural, and bicultural risks, the origins of and the reasons for certain may expose health disparitie

Two of the specific health disparities that were addressed during the presentation were hypertension and stroke. The areas of West and West Central Africa were sodium deficient; so the inhabitants of that region were unaccustomed to having salt in their diets. Then, these same Africans were forcefully brought to the Carolinas where salt was plentiful. The elevated sodium intake in the black diet led to more cases of hypertension and strokes. The curse of high blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases in the black population still exists presently. Through the use of the Ethnogenetic Layering approach, this discovery was made.

Other key topics Dr. Jackson discussed were Ethnogenteic Layering in relation to breast cancer in African American women, the major historical African cultural influences on African Americans, and converging lineages. Converging lineages was interesting that it identified the relationship between the cadence in blues music and Muslim prayer. This was my first time ever being exposed to this type of information, and it was enlightening. Speaking as a person who has not focused on interdisciplinary studies, I can see the importance of it. I feel that no matter what a person’s academic concentration is, he or she should practice some type of interdisciplinary study. It is practical because everyone should and should want to know where he or she came from and why humans have gone through certain biological and cultural variations. I have no interest in science, but learning about myself intrigues me. I can use what I have learned as a weapon against the dominant culture. Eurocentric “thinkers” have tried to give us false information about our past. They tried to tell us that blacks were not the first people. They tried to credit the Greeks for achievements the Egyptians made. Now they’re trying to make us question the relevance of HBCU’s. Unfortunately, many people who are ignorant to the truth accept false information. On another note, Dr. Jackson being both a Muslim and an anthropologist is fascinating. In her own unique way, she has broken the barrier between religion and science. Her explanation is that God is responsible for all of the evolutionary phenomena that have occurred. The bottom line is that interdisciplinary studies, especially in African American research, are absolutely necessary, relevant, and should be included more in academic curriculum.