UW-Madison Assistant Professor of African Cultural Studies
Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

Expanding the Parameters of Black History Month
Dr. Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué was born in Cameroon West
Africa.
was really difficult growing up trying to straddle the line of who am I. Ultimately I decided, ‘I am who I am. I am both.’”

And as she grew up, Mougoué engage others on what it means to be Black and African American, especially because the two are not always synonymous in some
people’s perspectives.
“That was definitely a struggle for me growing up, fitting in as an African American while also keeping my connections to the African community,” Mougoué said.
“Going to graduate school and taking African history, these are a lot of the issues that I continue to work with in my personal life and also in more of a conversation. I
remember talking with colleagues who are African American. And we would always talk about, ‘What does African American history and our identity look like? Are
they homogenous? What does it mean to be Black?’ And so for me, it was really comforting when you have these conversations with African kids, there are different
ideas about what it means to be Black, what it means to be a Black American. There is not one definition. So for me, I see myself as someone who is both African
and a Black American as well because I have my own unique identity. And I contributed to this larger Black identity in the U.S. It’s so diverse. It’s not unified. In
Michigan, I quickly learned that what it means to be Black is much different than in Texas.”

Mougoué feels comfortable no matter where she is.

“One of the things that I did when I moved to a new place, ‘I ask, ‘Where are all of the Africans,’” Mougoué said with a laugh. “I wanted to know the history of the
African community in Madison, where they are located and where they are from. The African store here is owned by a Senegalese. I’m used to going to African stores
owned by Nigerians.
And yet as a native of metro Detroit, she also seeks out the African American community.
“I’m a big fan of Milwaukee,” Mougoué said. “I’ve been there twice. And to be really honest, I very much enjoyed it because I could see a very big difference
between Madison and Milwaukee. I just feel the very stark differences.”

As a cultural historian, Mougoué is inclined to seek the detail and notice the differences in communities. For instance, while people may think of an “African
community,” Mougoué knows that its makeup varies according to where you are in the United States.

“If we look at the map of the continent, depending on where you are in the U.S., you have different populations that will dominate different areas,” Mougoué said. “For
example, in Minnesota, there are a lot of East Africans, a lot of Somalians and Ethiopians. If I want to be in East African groups, that’s where I want to go. If you look
at Houston, Texas, it’s mostly West African. And when I say West African, I mean Nigeria. There’s a whole section in Houston that is full of Nigerian stores and
restaurants and shops. Cameroonians are everywhere, but we tend to populate more of the East Coast, Maryland, for example. We’re also in New York and
Washington, D.C. Of course we are in Atlanta as well and also in Houston. When I think about where Cameroonians dominate in terms of their numbers, it’s definitely
the East Coast.”

And there are further distinctions in terms of why Africans are here beyond being enslaved and brought to America against their will.

“Groups of Africans have long migrated to the U.S.,” Mougoué said. “Scholars particularly look at the 1960s as the time period where you have this massive influx of
African-born migrants to the U.S. Of course, you have scholars who have done different studies with different groups of Africans and looked at the diverse leaders
for why they came to the U.S. You have some groups of Africans who came because of the civil strife. You have others like my own father who came because they
got an educational offer and opportunity. And of course there are other groups who are seeking better economic chances.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

Dr. Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué has a perspective that sees things from both ways in terms of
Black History. Mougoué’s father moved to the U.S. in the 1980s from Cameroon, West Africa to
make a better life for himself and his family. It took almost a decade for Mougoué’s father to get
a foothold and bring his family to the U.S. And growing up in the Metropolitan Detroit area,
Mougoué, lived a dichotomy of sorts, trying to figure out where she fit in and belonged.


“I have a feeling of duality, particularly growing up in the metro Detroit area in Michigan,”
Mougoué said. “My brother and I really struggled with identity, particularly American. And so we
really struggled with asking, ‘Are we African? We were born in Africa. But we have been living
in the U.S. Are we African American?’ Of course it’s a question that comes as we struggled as
well, particularly every day struggles of being an African-born kid who is going to school and
really trying to figure out where you fit in. I always felt like I wasn’t American enough. The
question of being Black wasn’t an issue. But to my African American classmates, it was really,
‘Are you American enough?’ And to my white classmates, it was another question. And so it
And so all of this, education and experience, leads Mougoué to ask, “What does
Black History Month mean?”

“I am a cultural historian of Africa,” Mougoué said. “Here I teach mostly about African
cultures and Africa’s connection to the Diaspora. Because I am a trained historian, a
lot of my work and my teaching is embedded in history. I have found through my
education and what I see in the mainstream media is that there tends to be a focus on
mostly one group of individuals of African descent. So people like myself who came
to the U.S. when we were young, we begin to ask, ‘Where are we in this larger
history? Where have we contributed to Black history, particularly most recent
history?’”

And so for Mougoué, it is important to expand the parameters of what Black History
means to include all of the African Diaspora.

“For me as an African immigrant and a trained historian, I see Black History Month as
a big opportunity to tie Black American history and the history of Africa together
beyond the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that has been talked about,”
Mougoué said. “And so for me, I see Black History Month as a chance to really
illuminate the history through the lived experiences of diverse individuals of African
descent in the United States. And highlighting the diverse histories of diverse Blacks
is important because the Black identity in the United States is very diverse. The
community of African descent is diverse. So for me, we need to highlight different
aspects of these diverse histories and to find the way in which their histories cross
over where they have shared histories. How many of these diverse individual
communities have contributed to Black history in unique, meaningful ways?”

And then there are the times in Black History where Africans and African Americans
have joined forces for the common good.

“If we look at political history, we have the African political elite such as the first
president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah who really collaborated with Black American
civil rights leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr.,” Mougoué
emphasized T”here is also A. Phillip Randolph. Nkrumah collaborated with these
activists in really shaping the idea of Pan Africanism. They fused unity between all
African-descended people globally. This Pan African movement really shaped and
influenced events in Africa and also in the U.S., specifically in the 1950s and the
1960s. The time period is really critical because you have the era of civil rights
movement and it is also the era declining European influence on Africa. You see
individuals of African descent of both sides of the Atlantic working to shape the
political history of their world.”