You go to school, you study about the Germans and the French, but not about your own race. I hope the time will come whe_n you study Black History too.
— Booker Taliaferro Washington —
Quite possibly the most significant disappointment that I repeatedly encounter as an educator revolves around how little my students know about the African-American experience. It does not take long for them to convey that they have never been exposed to a single-morsel of the African-American experience during their K-12 educational experience outside of Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My heart breaks a little bit every time the students relate that they have read The Diary of Anne Frank yet never engaged classic African-American books such as:
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X/Alex Haley)
- The Mis-Education of the Negro (Carter G. Woodson)
- Assata (Assata Shakur)
- Black Boy (Richard Wright)
- Go Tell it on the Mountain (James Baldwin)
- The Third Life of Grange Copeland (Alice Walker)
- The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. Du Bois)
- Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
- The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
Put simply, the vast majority of African-Americans are unanchored, unaware, and often totally ignorant to the rich traditions that are their rightful inheritance. Equally troubling are those who have been mis-educated, if not brainwashed, to believe a fictitious historical narrative that is materially unsupported and contradicts much of what history points us toward.
To my shock there are many of my peers who have earned several graduate degrees who have never heard of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, or Assata Shakur. I often consider such individuals trained in their profession, yet not educated. Far too many of our youth are unfortunately following a similar pattern that makes the earning of money the ultimate goal of life. This pursuit of individual enrichment sits at the core of much of the misery that African-Americans experience.
Far too often the African-American pursuit for material prosperity comes at a steep cost to the entire group as it causes many to focus solely upon their chosen craft, a preoccupation that routinely leads to multiple illiteracies in regards to how politics, economics, and education affect the African-American community.
Most African-Americans intentionally turn a blind-eye toward the obvious connection between cultural, political, and economic illiteracy and the depths of African-American suffering. Put simply, many Blacks fail to accept the reality that they are inextricably linked together.
One of the most daunting aspects of American race relations is that the Capitalist system calls for the rich to exploit the poor and the strong to prey upon the weak. Such priorities have facilitated every group, except for one, to develop strategies to not only increase their power, but also use their resources to defend their community, their citizenry, institutions, and most importantly develop ‘cultural continuity’.
Make no mistake about it; every group has studied the African-American community as it is the most likely place that they are able to increase their economic base when needed. Unfortunately for African-Americans, they are the one group that does not conduct research upon others, not even themselves, with a singular purpose of strategically increasing their politico economic power. It is the foundation of their impoverished state and lack of collectivism.
There is only one logical path out of this situation, the transformation of group priorities and value systems that accentuate one primary goal, the transformation of African-American minds in urban enclaves throughout this nation until we have achieved a tradition of ‘cultural continuity’ that makes our focus upon the uplift of the African-American community our only reality.
There is only one path to such a development, we must dedicate all of our resources to educating our own, meaning every man, woman, and child, with a liberating curriculum that makes the development of politico economic resources to uplift the community our primary goal. Just as importantly, every citizen must operate from a position of ‘socially responsible individualism.’
No longer can we allow our children to learn the ‘classics’, meaning white classics, while not being exposed to the lengthy roster of notable Black authors. Often, it is the absence of African-Americans in the school curriculum that causes so many of our children to tune their instructors out. At some point in the educational process, our children realize that what they are learning has no utility to their lives. Put simply, it is ludicrous to believe that African-American children will engage school curriculum that provides scant understanding of Black History/Literature/Sociology/Government. Although Anne Frank’s story is riveting and should be considered a classic, it is no more important than The Autobiography of Malcolm X and definitely not as applicable to the African-American experience.
Unfortunately for African-American students, contemporary educational institutions are more concerned with standardized tests and ensuring accreditation than providing a relevant education. Today’s educational system is less about creatively educating children with a curriculum that is relevant to their lives and more about uniformity. The primary problem with uniformity is the reality that authentic African-American voices are left out when discussions of ‘what should the children know’ are occurring. There is little hope that a liberating culture could be developed and maintained without a complete overhaul of the educational diet are children are consuming. I will close this piece with a quote by Dr. Amos Wilson who eloquently explains how ‘cultural continuity’ is important, but also how it is maintained.
Cultural continuity is maintained by educating children in the ways of their culture. And they are educated in the ways of their culture to MAINTAIN their culture, to advance its interests, and ultimately to try to maintain its very survival. That is the fundamental reason people are educated. What does it matter if you learn physics and computer science and everything else and you cannot defend yourself against a military assault by Europeans or a germ warfare assault? A knowledge of computer science, a knowledge of law, a knowledge of all of these other things matters not at all if you are unable to use that knowledge for your self defense. If Bush (any “alien” or “alienated African” sitting on European or alien thrones) decided to wipe the face of this earth clean of African people there’s not an African nation that could defend us against these people.
And as long as we are not educated to defend ourselves against these people then we are being incorrectly educated. Nothing else matters. Ultimately then, INTELLIGENCE MUST BE DEFINED IN TERMS OF THE DEGREE IN WHICH IT SOLVES YOUR PROBLEMS! The nature of education today prepares you to solve THEIR PROBLEMS and not your own. That’s why you study THEIR books, you go to THEIR schools, you learn THEIR information, THEIR language, THEIR styles, THEIR perceptions, so when you come out of school you can do a humdinger of a job solving Europeans’ problems, but you can’t solve your own. And then you DARE call yourself “intelligent?” C’mon. That’s the height of stupidity. – Dr. Amos Wilson
James Thomas Jones III, Ph. D.
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2015.