Carina Ray fuses scholarship and teaching with personal experience

Carina Ray in the classroom

Almost 25 years ago, historian Carina Ray spent her junior year abroad as an undergraduate studying in Ghana. She planned to explore her Puerto Rican family’s African roots.  

Most Ghanaians she met insisted she was white, despite her longwinded explanations about her multiracial background. Eventually, she realized it would be smarter to talk less and listen more.

“I was enthralled by what Ghanaians had to say about their own perceptions of blackness and how race works there,” says Ray, associate professor of African and Afro-American studies (AAAS). The seeds of Ray’s career were planted.

By the time she returned to the University of California, Santa Cruz, to finish her bachelor’s degree, Ray knew she wanted to study what it means to be black in West Africa — from an African perspective. The history of race in Africa was rarely written about from an African perspective, and it became the focus of her PhD in African history at Cornell University.

Today, Ray is one of the most innovative historians of Africa and the African diaspora, says AAAS chair Chad Williams. In addition to juggling teaching, research and publishing, Ray weighs in on current events in op-eds and articles on topics like student activism, war-crimes prosecutions, and revolution in Libya. Recently, she was a guest on a podcast for viewers of the ABC pseudo-reality television show, “The Bachelor” and its spinoffs, addressing the deadly history of interracial rape allegations.

“University scholars have to move beyond the small audience of fellow academics that tenure requirements force us to write for in very specialized ways. We risk becoming irrelevant otherwise,” Ray says. “The questions I’m interested in are meaningful to more than that small group of people. I have a duty to ensure that my research is made accessible, especially to those whose history it tells.”

Read more about Carina.

Categories: Faculty
Date: December 20, 2017