Tag Archives: Black Education

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

Calling My Students to a Higher Level: The Reason I Kicked 80% of My Students Out of Class Yesterday

Dear Students,

I am quite certain that many of you doubted my initial message to you a mere week ago when I predicted that “you have most likely never met a Professor like me.” I am also certain that the events of yesterday were extremely shocking to you as well.

Although I was fully prepared for the answer of “No” that you provided regarding if you had completed your homework assignment, I am quite certain that you were not expecting my response of, “Please, leave my class as there is nothing positive that will come out of your presence today.”

This communication is an explanation of why I took the extreme action that I did.

Let me first explain that not too long ago I was in the same position that you currently find yourself as an undergraduate student at a fineblack males college academic institution. It was while a student at The Ohio State University that I swiftly learned that education is quite possibly the institution that rests upon the concept of “meritocracy” like none other; put simply, your reward increases as your interest, focus, and diligence increase. It is this reality that made me react in the manner that I did. Your failure to complete your initial assignment presented itself as the initial step down a journey that would unnecessarily result in the ruin of your collegiate career and the aborting of your career/professional aspirations. This is a process that I am naturally compelled to disrupt with every fiber of my being.

Although your generation often behaves as if they are totally unaware of the following fact, your feigned-ignorance of it does not lessen its truth, that truth being the world can be an extremely harsh and unforgiving place for those who do not prepare for it by developing a success strategy.

Make no mistake about it, not only is the world unfair, but also there is no manner in which you, the next generation of African-American leaders, will be able to not be affected by the environs in which many of you were raised; that being an economically depressed, politically disorganized, and culturally dysfunctional community. I know of which I speak because I also hail from what I now understand to be a multi-generational disassembled community.

Although these environs are from whence we hail, I have found via experience that there is nothing in that background that determines one’s future path.

In fact, the reality that your ancestors were not provided an opportunity to pursue the ‘higher-education’ that many of you scoff at and make a mockery of via disinterest and the conscious decision to sinfully perform at what can be termed a less than optimal level should bring unbelievable amounts of personal shame. It is imperative that you realize your debt to the ancestors whose shoulders upon which you stand at this very moment.

As I mentioned during our initial meeting, “you have most likely never met a Professor like me.” Let me explain to you exactly what that means.

You have most likely never met someone whose demand that you rise to a higher level is solely motivated by an unshakable belief that college 1genius and greatness is dormant inside of you; I consider it my job to activate those latent powers. Trust me when I say that it is imperative that we activate your internal gifts as they are the only thing capable of saving not only yourself, but also this nation, and the Race. The only way to activate your God given gifts and talents is through hard-work, focus, diligence, commitment, and the execution of a fully developed plan that moves your vision beyond surviving today.

Please keep in mind that the opportunity to earn a first-class education that is presently within your grasp was paid for with the blood sweat and tears of the ancestors whose shoulders you now stand. And it is for that reason that it is unacceptable to me, your parents, your grandparents, and African-Americans in general, when you allow even one educational opportunity pass you by. Whether you want to realize it or not, we are counting on you to succeed. If you fail, rest assured that we have no one else to send.

It is for this reason that I will continue to demand that you reach for a higher level.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016

Are They Scared to Compete?: The Dumbing Down of African-American Males

I had the good fortune to spend a portion of my birthday (April 30) in the grandest fashion imaginable; I was invited to speak about Malcolm X’s timeless speech ‘The Ballot or The Bullet’ at the Edgar Only a fool Malcolm  XM. Gregory School located in the 4th Ward of Houston Texas . This location is commonly referred to as Freeman’s Town by those who have any knowledge of the Bayou City’s history of terse and rapidly shifting racial dynamics; unfortunately, Freeman’s Town has been gentrified by whites and is now called Mid-Town. The Gregory School, the location of my lecture, holds special significance for African-Americans as it was the location of the first public school for Black Houstonians; the African-American Library is now housed inside of the building.

After completing a well received presentation, a teacher posed the following question to me during the Q & A portion of the program. “What is wrong with African-American males? Why are they fighting against receiving an education? Many of them just sit in my class totally disinterested, even when I am talking about African-Americans. What is wrong with them? Are they scared to compete?”

As you well know, the answer to this query is not only intricate, but also needs to be expertly tailored on a case-by-case basis. Hence, I most definitely disappointed this educator when I refused to offer a one-size-fits-all answer to what is most certainly a convoluted and complex matter.

All that I could reasonably relate was that I had seen similar actions and activities by a wide-swath of Back males in my African-Black Males 7American History courses; courses that focused exclusively upon their ancestors. Now that I think about it, their disinterested gaze and refusal to engage content that was most definitely pertinent to their present condition reminds one of this nation’s most infamous citizens, President George W. Bush.

Although I can neither tell you where I was nor what periodical I was reading, I do remember that I was reading a random news story about former President George W. Bush. The article, told from the perspective of those who knew the former President personally, verified much of what I, and the rest of the world, intuitively knew about him. According to those who intimately knew the former President, the scariest thing about old George was that he had no interest in anything. According to his close friends, his intellectual past contained neither a ‘Eureka’ moment nor an epiphany that sparked his interest in any topic or subject matter. Put simply, according to his collegiate counterparts, Bush was intellectually dull, uninspired, a damn imbecile.

I am certain that you are wondering why I am broaching this topic of President Bush’s well documented intellectual feebleness, it is not flowing from a sadistic desire to ‘beat a dead horse’ by Black Males 3reiterating the intellectual inadequacies that under girded everything that the former President thought or said; rather it allows me to address a similar evil that has reared its ugly head among African-American males. That being, the appearance of a significant portion of African-American youth who are consistently exhibiting a level of intellectual curiosity that would make our former President appear scholarly; put simply, they have no interest in anything beyond some droning popular culture topic, reality show, or immoral event posted on the internet. I cringe when I think of what the world has in-store for this next generation of African-American males?

As a historian, I recognize that the current listlessness infecting many African-American collegians is a historical anomaly. The alluded to disruption began when African-Americans unwisely attempted to assimilate with a hostile, politically organized, and economically formidable ‘white society’. I refer to this moment as being historically peculiar because it fails to reflect one crucial aspect of the African-American struggle, that being our indomitable pursuit of education ‘by any means necessary’. Put simply, stolen Africans, and their descendants, maintained both their humanity and an undeniable belief that “after the darkest night, always comes a brighter day.”

When our ancestors emerged from chattel slavery, the vast majority held few tangible possessions. However they were in possession of the following: (a) an unceasing determination to worship God, (b) a desperate desire to locate lost kin, and (c) a belief that literacy and education were keys to their future progress. Our people attributed much of their oppression at the hands of a horrifically hostile white community to the fact that they lacked a basic education.

African-Americans have longed believed that education is the crucial difference-maker between ‘them that have and them that don’t.’ The vast majority of African-American parents have placed their belief in a simple formula for success; that being, a quality education removes a significant obstruction to success. My grandparents conveyed their belief in this formula when they admonished each of their offspring that education “was the only thing that the white man can’t take away from you.” Such mantras are publicly displayed each time an older African-American joyously smiles when a grandchild graduates from high school or college.

There appears to be an innate understanding among most civilized people regarding the power that a relevant education bestows upon its possessor; how else can we explain the consistent attacks upon African-American education by those who oppose Black progress. I find it fruitless to rehash the many occurrences of whites attempting to undercut African-American educational pursuits; rather, this posting addresses a far more dangerous, and largely unprecedented, foe in the battle to uplift the race via educational pursuits.

To the surprise of many, this yet to be named opponent has successfully resisted the overtures of African-American educators, the foot soldiers in the vicious battle to educate the next generation of Black youth. The alluded to formidable opponent I speak of is the absence of intellectual curiosity, a condition that is currently infecting many of our children. I have found that it is relatively common for many of my students to behave as if I am interrupting their busy day during my lectures. If I did not know better, I would be convinced that they have much, much, much more important things to do than earn, yes earn, not receive, an education.

Undoubtedly, for large swaths of African-American students, certainly not all of them, they see little utility in education, particularly, if it is not directly tied to their acquiring material goods. For many of my students, education’s lone utility is found in its ability to make material goods more accessible. Such a stance betrays the storied history of their ancestors who battled for the right to secure an education for much more worthwhile reasons.

Despite their relative illiteracy, our ancestors had enough sense to recognize that education was a primary building bloc in preventing Black Males 9the political and economic exploitation of their kind from hostile outsiders. Such understanding emboldens me to order my students to turn their cell phones off while in my class and to recognize that the opportunity to pursue an education is a privilege that they did not earn; rather it was gifted to them by their ancestors.

To their chagrin, until they learn this lesson, I will continue to interrupt their day and point them towards education and explain to them the ultimate utility of education, the protection of their community against hostile outsiders who have historically, and still seek to, rob and pillage their community in concerted efforts to provide for their own people.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.

#ManhoodRaceCulture