Tag Archives: Black Education

Reclaiming a Fading Legacy: Why I Make My Students Read Assata aka Counterbalancing an Irrelevant American Educational System that has Failed Black People

During my initial lecture in my freshman survey course, a course that invariably includes upperclassmen who have avoided addressing mandatory history requirements, I purposely attempt to pique their interest in the subject matter as a preemptive strike against the malaise that the subject matter of history generates in their minds. If nothing else, this introductory moment allows me to gauge their understanding of African-American history.

When I address the volatile identity politic driven 1960s, my area of expertise I might add, I highlight several notable Black Powerites by asking those assembled in front of me if they know anything about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, or Carl Hampton? Puzzled and bewildered looks appear on the faces of my young charges. Without fail, it is not until I reference the name Assata Shakur that the hands of a few students who are eager to share that they know who this revolutionary sister is confidently raised. For most, this is their moment, the one opportunity to prove to me that they do know something about African-American history; unfortunately, it is a moment that will definitively prove how little they do know. Invariably, some non-descript student eagerly announces to their classmates that “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head and sigh as once again, my students have confused their Shakur’s. In one swoop, this particular student has erased the legacies of both Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Assata Shakur, our revolutionary sister who remains exiled in Cuba. Experience has taught me that this is a common misstep among my students.

The above mistake occurs so frequently that it has caused me to ponder the following question; what does it mean that the vast majority of my students do not know about Assata Shakur. What does this troubling historical illiteracy say about black educators, the American educational system, and the black community?

One does not need to be a pessimist to reach the conclusion that the fact that African-American children have no real understanding of Black History means that the American educational system has no utility to Black America. Dare I say that sizable portions of this antiquated and non-representative institution have no utility whatsoever when measured against a much-needed effort to liberate Black America socially, politically, culturally, and economically.

I fervently believe that the process of inquiry and intellectual curiosity are critical components of the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities for Black America. Such conclusions force me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses on a repeated basis as it is a succinct articulation of the cost African-American revolutionaries have paid for their commitment to liberate their people around the globe.

I am confident that you understand that as a black educator, I consistently wrestle with matters of education and the development of a relevant education on a consistent basis. I am not ashamed to share that the alluded to moments of reflection engender a slight depression. The alluded to depression is a direct extension of the realization that the irrelevant curriculum that teachers, regardless of race/ethnicity, are forced to teach has created bountiful crops of African-Americans who are not only guided by a pervasive ignorance regarding African-American history, but also are quick to attack anyone that raises issues such as Race, racial inequality, prejudice, discrimination, or racism. Their complicity with their own oppression has been manufactured in American school houses.

In the end, the question of who will teach our people about the heroic struggle persons of African descent have undergone around the globe remains. The only reasonable answer to this query is that enlightened African-Americans must recommit themselves to educating our people “by any means necessary.” In many ways, we have no other choice if we are to survive. Failure to take definitive action in this matter ensures that we will continue our tradition of being economically exploited, socially inappropriate, and politically inept; places that I hope you would agree we have occupied for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

“We Sick Boss?”: The Unfortunate Tendency of “Educated Blacks” to Value White Schools over H.B.C.U.’s

Considering that I am approaching the half-century mark, I hope that most people understand that there are some viewpoints that I will never abandon. And when I say that I will NEVER abandon them, I mean it. In regards to many of these issues, I cannot envision a scenario where my perspective will ever change on substantive matters such as how I measure professional success. Although I am aware that many consider my refusal to budge a character flaw commonly referred to as stubbornness; I consider it a sign of integrity.

The above topic of how I measure professional success served as the battleground for a contentious battle between myself and a former collegiate classmate. Although we are both African-American Studies Professors, our viewpoints could not be more divergent.

As is our usual routine, a rather mundane discussion transformed into a significant disagreement regarding how professional success should be measured. This disagreement began the moment that I took significant issue with his belief that after toiling for years at a small religious-based black college his arrival at a “prestigious” white university signaled that he “had finally made it.”

I must tell you that my anger increased as this “brother” denigrated H.B.C.U.’s while lauding predominantly white institutions. To be honest, I felt as if I were stuck in the middle of an unaired episode of The Boondocks, I knew better. My mind could not resist bringing forth the imagery of Malcolm X who took those who believed that their decreasing proximity to whites was a valid measure of professional success to task via a crude historical analogy regarding a House Slave and a Field Slave. According to Malcolm, the House Slave loved his Master so much that if the Master got sick he would ask, “What’s wrong boss, we sick?” There is little doubt that my former collegiate classmate not only identifies with whites, but also has integrated their value system and priorities into his worldview. Put simply; they are his measuring stick.

This matter led me back to a quip that famed educator Jane Elliott articulated. “If you want to get ahead in America, act white.”

Despite my most fervent attempts, I have not been able to shake the conflict mentioned above as it reveals so much about a class of Black America who have been given significant opportunities, yet have failed to “stay the course” and work toward the liberation of those individuals and institutions that have yet to arrive. It is no stretch to assert that such individuals are of no utility whatsoever to the Black Community as they have been ‘brainwashed’ by an educational system and socialization process that will never cease its denigration of Black America.

What a waste of opportunity. They should be ashamed of themselves, however, such realizations escape them.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2017

 

Where Are the Black Nationalists Today?: How Malcolm X Would Answer That Question

As I am confident that you can understand, February 21st, the date of Malcolm X’s assassination, will always be a particularly challenging day for those who still revere the Black Nationalist Titan. The alluded to admiration is little more than a public recognition that Malcolm X’s political life remains the gold standard for “what a black man ought to be and ought to do.” It is this recognition of Malcolm as our “black shining prince” that forces me to expose my students to his revolutionary legacy repeatedly. Experience has taught me that my best intentions to discuss the legacy of Brother Malcolm with my students will invariably leave me disenchanted by their lack of knowledge and what it says about the flawed education occurring within today’s Black America.

In many ways, my angst regarding yet another generation of African-American youth having neither exposure nor comprehension of Malcolm X is heightened because it definitively proves our failure to apply one of his most basic admonishments regarding who should have access to the minds of black children. In his usual style, Malcolm X sternly admonished Black America that “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.” When one considers the current absence of knowledge and understanding found in the latest generation of African-American students, it is clear that the unwise educational philosophies of so-called African-American leaders have proven them to be the fools that Malcolm’s brilliant quote cited.

The alluded to black leaders have apparently failed to understand even the most basic lessons of racial uplift that Malcolm propagated throughout his political life. It is this failure to adhere to logical positions such as Malcolm’s directive that it is crucial that the black man and woman adopt Black Nationalism and focus all of their energies on controlling “the politics of their community, the economics of their community, and the educational base of their community” that has helped create yet another generation of African-American youth devoid of an understanding of their past, their current status, and what needs to occur in the future.

Make no mistake about it; a confused and unanchored citizenry is one of the many consequences that will be visited upon any people that fail to control the politics, economics, and education of their community. The implications of Black America’s collective failure to control these variables are displayed on a daily basis by the woeful state of today’s Black America.

This matter brings us to an all-important question of why have these things occurred? Although it is a harsh and daunting conclusion, it appears that the African-American threshold for pain and misery is unconscionably high. Put simply, the miserable plight that Black America has seemingly always existed within is not bothersome enough to cause them to learn and then apply basic Black Nationalist principles such as political solidarity, economic collectivism, and providing their children with an education that addresses their particular issues and problems.

The consequences of this failure should make every African-American cringe. At this present moment we are being exploited for our economic resources by any group that needs them, black political leaders have repeatedly proven ineffective at every turn, and even our intellectual class has turned their focus away from educating and liberating our people for money and prestige from white institutions. Consider for a moment that few black academicians are even attempting to address the large politico-economic problems affecting their kind.

I often return to Malcolm’s quote, “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children” because it succinctly explains this mess of a community that we are currently witnessing. If Proverbs 23:7 (As a man thinketh, so is he) is valid, it is not difficult to understand why it is increasingly rare to encounter young black people interested in working for the uplift of their community. The best explanation for this occurrence is that they are neither receptive to nor are receiving Black Nationalist ideas from parents, teachers, mentors, or professors.

It appears that our failure to “hold the line” and make the development and protection of the black community our greatest priority haunts us in an unconscionable manner. Consider for a moment that in a national climate where racial bias is most certainly on the rise, much African-American youth are seeking to deny the existence of racism. The alluded to persons foolishly advance an idea that if we just refuse to acknowledge the existence and detrimental effects of prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, and racism in the black community that these vices will magically disappear.

I am confident that if he were alive today, Brother Malcolm would angrily state that “these things are predictable when you allow your oppressor to educate your children. These very children have no choice but not only to adopt but also assist in the further destruction of their community. They have become just what you are. A Negro that is not only totally out of his mind, but also not in possession of enough courage or sense to take a single step toward solving his problems.” Despite my most fervent attempts to come to a different conclusion, I know in my heart that such a statement does characterize who we have become. And for that reason, we should all be ashamed and disappointed.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

WHY HAVE ALL THE BLACK CHILDREN READ THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK AND NOT THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X?

During my nearly twenty-year teaching career in the field of African-American Studies, I have learned many lessons regarding Only a fool Malcolm  Xthe process of education, meaning its potential impact upon the minds, imagination, aspirations, and psyche of my African-American students. Quite possibly the most disconcerting aspect of it all is that so many of our children know absolutely nothing about the path that their ancestors have traveled not only on the North American continent, but also their existence prior to the arrival of Europeans along the West Coast of Alkebulan (Africa).

Years of experience has taught me that the ‘average’ African-American is better versed in the history of those who have historically enslaved or colonized their ancestors than they are regarding their own people’s history. Although I am not a conspiracy buff, there is no other way of looking at the process that has led our people to such a pitiful state than to consider it an intentional design. From my perspective, the engagement of our children in the standard K-16 educational process is bound to leave them devoid of any significant understanding of their incredible past.

To be absolutely honest with you, I actually dread the initial class meeting of every semester because I know that it is bound to leave me absolutely heartbroken, disconcerted, and troubled on a soul level. The typical initial meeting date between my students and me invariably spirals out of control when they are introducing themselves, it is truly an effort to gauge their understanding of African-American history and literature that I ask them to either name me their favorite author or favorite book.

I do not think that it is unreasonable to anticipate that when pressed to reveal their favorite authors that the African-American richard wrightcollegians assembled in front of me would cite some combination of Alice Walker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Maya Angelou, W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, J. California Cooper, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, Gloria Naylor, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paule Marshall, Nella Larsen, or Ntozake Shange. Words cannot convey the sadness that covers my soul when my students not only fail to name any of the aforementioned authors but also reveal that they have never heard of them, let alone engaged their brilliant works.

Considering that the aforementioned sad and sordid tale that positions my spirits into a place that closely reflects Louis Armstrong’s classic recording St. James Infirmary occurs every semester, I use a simple query that illuminates the innumerable cavernous flaws that are apparent in their educational experience. The alluded to query is a relatively mundane one of, “How many of you have read Anne Frank?” Invariably, every hand rises. I then ask the overwhelmingly Black audience; “Now which of these texts, The Diary of Anne Frank or The Autobiography of Malcolm X do you think is more applicable to your life? The story of a Jewish girl hiding in a closet or the one that follows the life of Black man in America who to this day is revered by your people?” Nary a word is ever uttered.

I have learned that there are certain assertions that must be forthrightly stated when discussing matters such as this, so I am forthrightly stating that I have no problem with students around the globe reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I, along with droves of others consider the text to be significant. Hence, I refuse to advance an argument that challenges that text as being a dispensable part of world literature. Unfortunately, African-American stories are not extended the same respect.

Those who discount the dangers of promoting one story of human suffering over another, fail to recognize education’s impact upon baldwinthe mind. Considering that humans learn everything that we know or at least what we think that we know through personal experience or life lessons, our entire reality is subject to external stimuli. Put simply, what we are exposed to during the educational process goes a long way toward us making sense of the world around us. Hence, matters surrounding curriculum should not be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, those making critical decisions regarding curriculum have constructed a system that produces children, including African-American children, who have a deep disdain, if not blatant hostility toward African-Americans. If permitted the opportunity, I would love to ask the committees and decision-makers that illogically hail the worth of Anne Frank’s story while maintaining the worthlessness of The Autobiography of Malcolm X the following questions.

  1. What is your rationale for including the diary of Anne Frank on the must read list and not The Autobiography of Malcolm X?
  2. Why do you think that Anne Frank’s story is more valuable than Malcolm X’s?
  3. What impact do you think that a K-16 educational experience that is devoid of any African-American books has upon the minds of students regardless of their racial identity or ethnic background?
  4. What does it mean when school districts fail to include any classic stories that center upon African-Americans or the African-American experience?

Although the consequences of African-Americans not learning their history is obvious: low self-esteem, lack of knowledge of self, and eventually being turned off from the discipline of history, if not the entire educational experience in its totality. Unbeknownst to most, African-American children are not the only group damaged when the African-American story is left out of the standard American History/Social Studies curriculum; it damages each child, regardless of racial identity in the following ways:

  1. It allows for the development of woeful ignorance in regards to African- Americans and their historical experience.
  2. Gives the impression that persons of African descent have never contributed anything to society; thereby, allowing for racism to grow like a wildfire.
  3. The lack of any understanding of the African-American experience or contributions throughout the annals of time severely taints any racial discussions.

It is out of a desperate desire to cease the seemingly never-ending racial animosity between groups that I call for those who construct school curriculums to consider the stories of myriad races and groups. History clearly dictates that the only weapon we have against ignorance is education. Considering such truth, it is long overdue for American children, including African-American children, to have access to classic African-American texts and authors, it is the only weapon that we have against racial animosity and angst in the new millennium after all.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016

What Does It Mean When A Room Full of African-American Collegians Have No Idea of Who Richard Wright Is? And What Should We Do About It?

There are moments when I am working with my African-American students that a sudden almost unending sadness overcomes my soul. The only thing that I can liken the feeling to is seeing the children of negligent, drug-addicted, physically abusive parents that from all indications regret the date that their child was born.

I recently experienced such a moment while speaking about the Great Depression, particularly the rise of Communists within America’s borders. I peppered the discussion regarding Herbert Hoover, FDR, and Communist Party USA with references to African-American issues and concerns. I have found this moment to be the perfect opportunity to discuss Richard Wright’s Native Son; a book that I would argue is the quintessential Great Depression era novel.

I was prepared to discuss the nuances’ of Bigger Thomas and draw what to me are innumerable corollaries between the Great Depression and contemporary society in regards to how larger forces often work to shutter opportunities for African-American males throughout the nation. To my shock and horror, not a single student had ever heard of Richard Wright or any of his classic tomes such as: Black Boy, Native Son, Uncle Tom’s Children, White Man, Listen! or Lawd Today.

It would be a gross understatement to say that I was absolutely floored that an entire room of African-American collegians had never heard of one of the greatest writers to put pen-to-paper and discuss the American racial experience.

As I am certain that you can imagine, after the class ended, I retreated to my office and pondered the following queries. What does the fact that every one of my African-American students were ignorant to who Richard Wright was really mean? How far does their collective ignorance extend? Who or what is responsible for what can only be termed comprehensive ignorance of African-American literature, history, politics, culture, etc.?

Quite possibly the most frightening aspect of all is that when one’s life is informed by multiple illiteracies, there is practically no escape from ignorance because the gross lack of understanding of history, extends into politics and of course the two aforementioned illiteracies lead directly to the development of a cultural appetite that voraciously consumes reality-television caricatures of Black life while simultaneously finding legitimate cultural expressions such as an August Wilson play or Terence Blanchard’s Over There unappealing to say the least.

The lack of knowledge of self dooms the vast majority of African-Americans in their pursuit of building what I term a “life worth living”.

So what does it mean that my students have no idea of who Richard Wright is? I am actually uncertain of what it means.

There is a part of me that sides with Malcolm X’s admonishment of ‘only a fool would allow his oppressor to educate his children’ and therefore the blame should be placed before our community as it has allowed our children to become mired in a public education system that has never even pretended to provide a culturally relevant education, while there is another part of me that feels the blame game will only delay our need to address the reality that educating our children is best left to the African-American community.

Ultimately, it matters little what it means and matters much how we address this matter as a community. It was this reality that led me to not only speak about Richard Wright and Native Son in one of my classes, but also assign it to them as an assignment. Such an action may not totally solve their problem of being informed by multiple interlocking illiteracies, however, it is at least a small step toward helping them recover their righteous minds.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III