Tejumola Olaniyan

Tejumola Olaniyan (April 3, 1959 – November 30, 2019) was a Nigerian academic. He was the Louise Durham Mead professor of English, and African languages, and literature, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Olaniyan has approximately 35 of his works in over 100 publications, and all in one language. He died of heart failure on November 30, 2019 [1].

Early lifeEdit

Olaniyan earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Ife in Nigeria in 1982. Three years later, he received his Master of Arts degree there. Olaniyan attended Cornell University where he earned an MA (1989) and PhD (1991).[2] Sandra Smith Isidore, a former member of the Black Panther Party, became Olaniyan's mentor and introduced him to the history, the ideology, and the personalities of the Civil Rights Movement.[3]


Olaniyan's main interests were: Africa and its diaspora; African-American, Caribbean, and African literatures; criticism, post-cultural studies, history, theory and the sociology of drama; and pop culture (art, music, and architecture). His works included Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics (2004, 2009; nominated for Best Research in World Music by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in 2005) and Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African American and Caribbean Drama (1995). He was co-editor of African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory (2007, with Ato Quayson), African Drama and Performance (2004, with John Conteh-Morgan), and African Diaspora and the Disciplines (2010, with James H. Sweet). Olaniyan practiced different approaches, which allow others to experience new perspectives. He stated, "My deep interest is transdisciplinary teaching and research; my goal is the cultivation of critical self-reflexivity about our expressions and their many contexts."[This quote needs a citation]

Olaniyan focused on the post-colonial African state. In this research, Olaniyan explored pop culture while trying to depict the state's "elite" cultural aspects. His research encompassed music, architecture, literature and political cartooning. Understanding how the State influences these practices helps in composing a cultural biography of the postcolonial African State. His larger goal was to resolve the social crisis through increased understanding.[4][5][6]


"Uplift the Race!"Edit

"Uplift the Race" is an in-depth look at films such as Coming to America and Do the Right Thing. This article discusses this idea of 'uplifting the race' and how the portrayal of this appears in films. The article begins with a quote from Eddie Murphy who basically says the white majority has created a system in which powerful black men feel the need to whisper 'white' in their own office. Olaniyan then discusses a quote from Michael Foucault[7] that describes the situation Murphy talks about in his quote. Olaniyan quotes Paul Rabinow[8] from "Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Post modernity in Anthropology" on the power of representation. Olaniyan states that Rabinow is saying "To be in control of (the means of) representation is therefore, to be in a position of power: that is, to be in control of the production, promotion, and circulation of subjectivities".[9] Olaniyan finds it interesting that in popular opinion, both films failed do that.[10] He discusses how Coming to America 'others' the African people. First, he discusses how the forest and house scenes support this exoticized idea of Africa. He suggests that the film shows Hollywood's idea of Africa's 'civilized' culture. He discusses the role of black women, claiming that they are the "scenery". He then discusses how Coming To America freezes African culture in a "one-dimensional frame" whereas Do the Right Thing gives its audience an unexpected and unapologetic view. Lee[who?] displays three-dimensional characters. In the end, Lee fails because he loses sight of the goal of 'uplifting the race'. Olanyian says that they both failed due to their representations of women. He felt that both failed to see the intersectionality of gender and race, therefore not uplifting the race.


  • Racial Subjectification – A state in which others see one individual as having no use. The subjectified individual is viewed as not having value to add to the lives of those around them, nor to society as a whole. Olanyian uses this term throughout "Uplift the Race!", when speaking about the subjectification of colored individuals. In that context, racial subjectification can be understood as the concept that people of color can be, and have been granted a status as equal subjects in society in relation to white Americans, but if they are seen as nothing more than just subjects, than they are without instrumental worth. This term is instrumental throughout Olanyian's discussion of the racial divide and the questioning of racial uplift.[11]
  • Race/Racial Uplift – A description of the responses of black leaders, activists and spokespersons to the racial discrimination marked by the assault on civil and political rights of African Americans. Many of these leaders feel a need to defend the good intent and honor of African Americans, while also countering negative black stereotypes. Olanyian mentions race uplift throughout "Uplift the Race" and questions why it is a favorable mode of response to racial subjectification. The author questions why race uplift is 'privileged' as a response to the unequal power relations in America. In Olanyian's discussion of Coming To America and Do The Right Thing, he presents the idea that racial uplift can actually lead to 'othering' of African Americans.[12]
  • Othering – Othering is defined by wordnik.com as "the process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien." It is an egocentric viewpoint in which a person sees themselves at the heart of society and the different or others to be less-important and less-connected to the group. This undermines social progress. Olanyian discusses othering, claiming that racial uplift others the African Americans it is trying to help by dividing them from their leaders.[13]
  • Coevalness – Multiple things of the same time, duration or age. The purpose of coevalness is to provide authenticity, acknowledgment that something does exist.
  • AppropriationBell hooks states that appropriation violates another culture by creating a "fake" or a cheap imitation therefore always falling second to the original. Olaniyan says that appropriation denies the native "other" and denies coevalness in the sense that it establishes an authoritative idea (a "dominant gaze"). This poses the questions of whose ideas are dominant and therefore more important. Furthermore, whether this dominant idea provides a fair representation and whether the author's word dilutes the idea's authenticity.[14][15]
  • Power of Representation – This power comes from the ability to create one's own reality. Participation enables original constructions and better understanding of the result. Furthermore, participants can create their own reality. Controlling one's representation is a position of power. The power conferred by controlling representation is transformed into a metaphorical and symbolic domination.[16]


  1. ^ Gabriel, Mary Ellen (2019) Campus mourns Teju Olaniyan, renowned scholar of the African Diaspora UW News/
  2. ^ "Tejumola Olaniyan". University of Wisconsin-Madison English Department. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  3. ^ Steve, Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular song recording. USA: The Scarecow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-8296-6.
  4. ^ Olaniyan, Tejumola. "English". University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  5. ^ Olaniyan, Tejumola. "African Cultures studies". University of Wisconsin- Madison. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  6. ^ Olaniyan, Tejumola. "Tejumola". Wikinet. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  7. ^ Foucault, Michael (1979). Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Alan Sheridan. pp. 208–226.
  8. ^ Rabinow, Paul (1986). "Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Postmodernity in Anthropology". Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography: 234–261.
  9. ^ Tejumola Olaniyan (1996). ""Uplift the Race!": "Coming to America". "Do the Right Thing" And the Poetics and Politics of "Othering"". University of Minnesota Press. pp. 91–113. JSTOR 1354613. .. to be in control of
  10. ^ Friedman, Jonathan (1987). Beyond Otherness or: The Spectacularization of Anthropology. TElos 71. pp. 161–170.
  11. ^ Schraub, David. "Racism as Subjectification". Academia.edu. University of California Berkeley School of Law. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  12. ^ Gaines, Kevin. "Racial Uplift Ideology in the Era of "the Negro Problem"". National Humanities Center. University of Michigan. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  13. ^ "Wordnik". Wordnik. "Othering"- Othering is defined by wordnik.com as "the process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien." In simple terms, Othering can be understood as a viewpoint in which oneself is placed as the central figure in society, while those who differ from you are considered "the Other." The act of Othering a group provides the individual(s) conducting it with a sense of majority identity, while imparting on the Other a minority identity. This process of forming a self or group identity has a negative connotation and impact on the Other-ed group. Othering or viewing a social group in this way is undoubtedly debilitating to the social progress of the group, which Olanyian's discusses in his article "Uplift the Race!" Olanyian discusses Othering in terms of racial uplift. He alludes to the idea that the idea of racial uplift Others the African Americans it is trying to help by putting them in their own separate sector that, is below that of the black leaders fighting to defend their status in society. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  14. ^ "Subversion, appropriation, intertextuality". Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  15. ^ Hooks, Bell. "Desire and Resistance". Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  16. ^ "The Meaning of Representation".