Tag Archives: Black Intellectualism

The Richard Wright Keynote Address: Why Formal Education Should Never Be Considered A Sign of Knowing Anything About African-Americans

If one considers the axiom that “there is strength in numbers” to be true, it is reasonable to assert that intra-racial in-fighting and disarray is a significant obstacle for Black America. At the present moment, there may be no greater obstacle to black liberation than the tendency of many African-Americans to dismiss education as a worthy goal. My tenure as an educator has taught me that many within our community have crossed lines that could be termed indifferent to intellectualism and entered the realm of hostility.

I often find myself in a contentious debate with a fellow African-American who will seek an escape route from a mental tussle via the stating of, “Well, I may not have the education that you have…” In fact, I have come to believe that such phraseology has little to do with a surrender and everything to with issuing a covert denunciation of a lifetime of study.

Far too frequently I encounter African-Americans who have concluded that the development of the mind is trumped by a haphazard pursuit of material goods and financial resources. If nothing else, Black History Month highlights this questionable priority arrangement and the reality that far too many of our people have little to no interest in a life of the mind. Although it pains me to admit it, experience has taught me that the vast majority of our people could care less about black intellectualism, it is quite simply “not their thing”. In place of a life of the mind, there appears to be an eagerness to envelope oneself within a comfortable blanket of comprehensive ignorance, a spot that many resist exiting at all costs.

Possibly the most startling aspect of this resistance to black intellectualism is that it is found in every segment of our community. To my dismay, the lamentable ignorance that serves as a sturdy foundation for so many is apparent among even the most formally “educated” within our midst. Consider the following incident for a moment.

I was recently invited to serve as a consultant for an educational institution seeking to bolster its Black History Month programming by advising them on who they should bring in to deliver their keynote address. When hired to do this job, I thought it peculiar that an assembly of black educators was at a total loss as to who they should pay tens-of-thousands of dollars to lecture to their students. However, my bewilderment soon subsided as it became obvious that each of the Ph.D.’s assembled in this meeting needed an immediate sabbatical that should have been used to take a few African-American studies courses.

I am confident that you understand that in time, the topic of who they should bring in to deliver the main lecture for that year’s Black History Month was raised. It was from that moment that I felt that I had been hurled into an intellectual abyss where any knowledge of black intellectualism was forbidden.

One male professor asked his colleagues the following question.

Did you know that this is the 60th Anniversary of Richard Wright releasing Black Boy?

This assembly of educators communicated their understanding of that fact by nodding their heads. This communication was quickly followed by the one who issued the initial query with an assertion that

I think that we should invite Richard Wright to campus to deliver our keynote address for Black History Month.

My mind spun as I was befuddled by the assertion. My confusion grew exponentially when this assembly of educators offered non-verbal agreement to the suggestion. My level of disorientation increased as “highly-educated” administrators in charge of million dollar budgets dedicated over twenty-thousand dollars to bringing Richard Wright to campus. I did not know if I should burst out in laughter or tears at this discussion.

There was no denying that this thirty-minute session that laid the groundwork for Richard Wright’s appearance revealed two lamentable offenses: (a) these so-called educators had no real understanding of Richard Wright and (b) their ignorance of black intellectualism extended further than the author of Black Boy and Native Son.

There was no denying that this assembly of educators, a group that had been extended the privilege of shaping the minds and worldviews of subsequent generations of African-Americans, possessed little knowledge of the African-American experience. If they had even a modicum of understanding of Black America, they would have known that Richard Wright had been deceased for nearly fifty years. I asked these black educators assembled within the room the following questions.

  • When was the last time you read anything written by Richard Wright?

  • When was the last time you saw Wright on television giving an interview or lecture?

To my amazement, a few committee members, apparently seeking to display their intelligence and counter what they erroneously perceived to be an attack on their intelligence, related that they had read recently released essays by Richard Wright. One individual went so far as to say that he had seen a recent interview of the great writer. I knew that they were all lying.

The rising tensions in that room would only increase when I revealed to them that it was an impossibility for them to have read something recently written by Wright or to have seen a recent television appearance as the man had died in November of 1960.

As to be expected, many of these highly-educated administrators were furious that I had silently sat and listened to them pledge monetary resources to bringing a dead man to campus. I am confident that you agree that their misdirected anger should have been aimed at themselves.

I can only hope that the alluded to “educators” dedicated their energies toward engaging the rich legacy of black thinkers, writers, and intellectuals that have served as central figures in “making a way out of no way” for a downtrodden black populace that has known no true everlasting friends.

Although difficult to admit, the anti-intellectualism that serves as the foundation for many within our communication, regardless of their educational background and socioeconomic status, reveals its possessors to be as significant an enemy to the liberation of Black America as the most virulent white racist. It is time for us to change the way we view the world, change our priorities, and embrace a legacy of intellectualism that is unrivaled by any other people on the planet. Our failure to do so will only prolong our customary last-place position in this and every society.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2018.

WHERE HAVE ALL OF THE SERIOUS BLACK WRITERS GONE? HOW BLACK AMERICA IS EFFICIENTLY DESTROYING ITS INTELLECTUAL CLASS

Except for a few exceptions, the vast majority of “news programming” aimed at African-Americans should be reclassified as celebrity gossip television as it rarely diverts from mindless non-sense and superficial analysis. Beyond Roland Martin’s News One coverage, Black America is largely devoid of media outlets that provide pertinent information designed to illuminate a path to liberation. I am uncertain if we should blame the Black Press or black people for the current absence of in-depth news coverage aimed at Black America.

The Black Press’ contemporary irrelevance is not only unprecedented but also intertwined with its non-desire to cover significant issues within Black America. Someone needs to inform the Black Press that extensive coverage of church anniversaries and community bar-be-cues instead of political matters and socioeconomic issues affecting Black America makes them co-conspirators in the oppression of their people.

Sadly, the Black press has become so irrelevant to the lives of black Americans that the periodicals are given away for free. If the adage of “that which is given away for free has no value to others” holds true, the Black Press is in a more precarious position that I initially thought.

Make no mistake about it, any marginalized and oppressed population whose only means of communication hinges upon their gaining access to their oppressor’s media outlets is in serious trouble. Not only can they be muted at any moment, but also their most revolutionary voices are guaranteed to be filtered, censored, or silenced.

The above issues facing the Black Press are made exponentially worse by the harsh reality that a significant portion of Black America has developed what could be appropriately termed a ravenous appetite for salacious celebrity gossip and conspiracy theories based upon nothingness. The gravitational pull that popular culture non-sense has upon African-Americans has resulted in not only the decline of the Black Press but also the vanquishing of a long tradition of revolutionary penmen who have always provided daunting critiques and analysis of racism while also pointing the way to liberation.

Although rarely heard from anymore, a cadre of serious black writers still exists within America. Unfortunately for black intellectuals, they have coerced into taking a Faustian deal of (a) working for white companies, (b) subduing the intellectual quality of their penmanship, or (c) remaining entirely independent of white censorship and financial support; I have chosen the final option.

Unfortunately the long tradition of black writers who were heard and celebrated as a result of the courage they displayed while ‘speaking truth to power’ has nearly ground to a halt. In the words of Mos Def, African-American writers have learned an arduous lesson of “freedom ain’t free.” Consequently, financial concerns have prepared the vast majority of black writers for co-optation by the very entities that they should oppose. Ironically, the fall of independent black writers is directly related to the intellectual decline of an African-American populace that succinctly expresses its hostility to black intelligence by refusing to support black scholarship in any written form. Despite all efforts to refute this reality, the unfortunate reality is that Black America in its totality has no interest in increasing its understanding of either its oppression or a path to escape from it.

The resistance of African-Americans to support serious black scholarship guarantees that we will never see another James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Countee Cullen, Maya Angelou, or Toni Morrison, at least not at the same rate that they appeared during the twentieth-century.  Contemporary novelists realize that the tide has shifted away from substantive black literature detailing the beauty of African-American life. Modern black readers shun works such as The Third Life of Grange Copeland (Alice Walker), Beloved (Toni Morrison), Native Son (Richard Wright), or Kindred (Octavia Butler) for ghetto pimp tales and lascivious tales revolving around sexual impropriety. Unfortunately for Black Intellectualism, ghetto urban stories about drugs, crime, prostitution, adultery, and fornication are devoured by black anti-intellectuals as if they are life-sustaining air.

There is no greater sign of the damage that an irrelevant school curriculum and excessive exposure to and integration of a morally reprehensive dysfunctional culture has upon the psyche of Black America than its inability or non-desire to engage black literature and intellectual writings in a significant manner.

It is this transformation of Black America, not the election of Donald Trump, which should frighten African-Americans because it guarantees that the oppression of African-Americans will continue unabated well into the new century.

Ironically, if Manhood, Race, and Culture were not an independent space where I am beholden to no one, I would be unable to address this matter with the truthfulness that I have. I prefer my independence, regardless of the financial costs; and rest assured, there is a steep economic cost associated with that decision.

I understood long ago that white media outlets would never allow a strong black voice such as mine to emerge without censoring it in some form or fashion. The fact that serious black scholars invariably have to maintain some type of relationship with white entities to ensure their material survival should be the epitome of embarrassment to Black America. However, I have found that Black America has neither shame nor embarrassment when it comes time to support black writers who have sacrificed significant portions of their lives illuminating a path to liberation.

The absence of support via the purchase of books, a voluntary donation, or even a quick note makes the road that independent black scholar’s traverse not only lonely, but also incredibly dark and daunting. So on behalf of all independent black writers let me encourage you to offer some signal that you appreciate what we do, because it is hard out here on those of us who have yet to bow our heads and go work for the man.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2016

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