Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Quotes from Mis-Education of the Negro That Have Stood the Test of Time

I have started Carter G. Woodson's classic text, The Mis-Education of the Negro, multiple times. Each time something distracted me from finishing.  I knew, however, given the nature of my work as an educator, that at some point, I would need to finish it, and that time has finally come.  As I read the text first published in 1933, I found myself shaking my head about how relevant many of Woodson's assertions are eighty-two years later.  I started dog-earing pages that contained quotes that struck me as instructive and necessary if Black people are to wage in productive struggle for equality and justice.  Below are my favorites:

1.  "It was well understood that if by the teaching of history the white man could be further assured of his superiority and the Negro could be made to feel that he had always been a failure that the subjection of his will to some other race is necessary the freedman, then, would still be a slave."

COMMENT: In the same way that Jews, Russians, Armenians, and other affinity groups take pains to preserve their culture/history in America, there need to be many more institutions doing the same for the African Diaspora.  The creation of such an institution has been the greatest stirring in my spirit recently.

2.  "How the whites can expect to make of the Negroes better citizens by leading them to think that they should have no part in the government of this country is a mystery.  To keep a man above vagabondage and crime he needs among other things the stimulus of patriotism, but how can a man be patriotic when the effect of his education is to the contrary."

COMMENT:  What blows my mind the most about the lack of justice in the murders of Trayvon Martin, Samuel DuBose, and others is that it pushes Black communities to feel less and less a part of this country.  At some point the powder keg explodes and disenfranchised citizens take matters into their own hands.  I pray that day does not come.

3.  "In this way the large majority of "educated" Negroes in the United States have accepted segregation and have become its fearless champions.  Their filled but undeveloped do not enable them to understand that, although an opiate furnishes temporary relief, it does not remove the cause of the pain."

COMMENT:  The crabs in a bucket mentality is real and must be resisted fiercely.

4.  "The lack of confidence of the Negro in himself and in his possibilities is what has kept him down.  His mis-education has been a perfect success in this respect.  Yet it is not necessary for the Negro to have more confidence in his own workers than in others.  If the Negro would be as fair to his own as he has been to others, this would be all that is necessary to give him a new lease on life and start the trend upward."

COMMENT:  Black communities MUST cultivate and support their own businesses instead of allowing for the continual drainage of our capital.

5.  "If the Negro could abandon the idea of leadership and instead stimulate a larger number of hte race to take up definite tasks and sacrifice their time and energy in doing these things efficiently the race might accomplish something.  The race needs workers, not leaders.  Such workers will solve the problems which race leaders talk about and raise money to enable them to talk more and more about.  When you hear a man talking, then always inquire as to what he is doing or what he has done for humanity.  Oratory and resolutions do not avail much.  If they did, the Negro race would be in paradise on earth."

COMMENT:  The siren song of being a public intellectual is melodic and enticing.  However, it CANNOT distract one from being a worker or be intimately connected to them.  In addition, one must seriously examine whether they are supposed to be the chief or a lieutenant.

6.  "No people can go forward when the majority of those who should know better have chosen to go backward, but this is exactly what most of our misleaders do.  Not being learned in the history and background of the race, they figure out that there is no hope for the masses; and they decide, then, that the best thing that they can do is exploit these people for all they can and use the accumulations selfishly.  Such persons have no vision and therefore perish at their own hands."

COMMENT:  To whom much is given, much is expected.  I take this one personally.  The fact that I've been able to accumulate the credentials that I have meens that I must reach back to pull the next group of kids up the ladder.

7.  "It is all right to have a white man as the head of a Negro college or to have a red man at the head of a yellow one, if in each case the incumbent has taken out his naturalization papers and has identified himself as one of the group which he is trying to serve.  It seems that the white educators of this day are unwilling to do this, and for that reason they can never contribute to the actual development of the Negro from within.  You cannot serve people by giving them orders as to what to do.  The real servant of the people must live among them, think with them, feel for them, and die for them."

COMMENT:  Black communities must be overprotective of who the allow to lead the few institutions over which we have say.  Black, white, or otherwise, there are too many examples of people who have taken advantage of the blind faith of Black people for personal gain and destruction.

8.  "To educate the Negro we must find out exactly what his background is, what he is today, what his possibilities are, and how to begin with him as he is and make him a better individual of the kind that he is.  Instead of cramming the Negro's mind with what others have shown that they can do, we should develop his latent powers that he may perform in society a part of which others are not capable."

COMMENT:  Sounds like a precursor to culturally relevant pedagogy.  In order to make Black children the best individuals that they can be, they certainly can't be schooled to believe that they are inferior, second-class citizens in their own country.

9.  "Negroes do not need someone to guide them to what persons of another race have developed.  They must be taught to think and develop something for themselves.  It is most pathetic to see Negroes begging others for a chance as we have been doing recently.  "Do not force us into starvation." we said.  "Let us come into your stores and factories and do a part of what you are doing to profit by our trade."  The Negro as a slave developed this fatal sort of dependency; and, restricted mainly to menial service and drudgery during nominal freedom, he has not grown out of it. Now the Negro is facing the ordeal of either learning to do for himself or to die out gradually in the bread line in the ghetto."

COMMENT:  Black people must be equipped to be self-determinant.  Our history is littered with tales of how we are most successful when we strike out on our own independent of institutions built on foundations of discrimination and social reproduction.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Moving Beyond McGraw-Hill's Whitewashing of History

McGraw Hill publishers recently put out a history textbook approved by the state of Texas where the trans-atlantic slave trade is painted more as a migration of workers than a culture-stripping death voyage where survivors were forced to jump start the engine of capitalism or die.  It was not until a parent, Roni Dean-Burren, objected to the characterization that McGraw Hill admitted they could "do better" in communicating the facts about slavery in this country.  It is rare the textbook that actually gets it "right" when it comes to describing the ramifications of the slave trade on people of African descent, however this case is among the more egregious.  There are many astute people who lend their brain power to the creation of a textbook, and to believe that something like this is just an oversight is a stretch at best.  I am at the point now where I no longer expect those who guide the institution of education to accurately tell the stories of underrepresented minority groups.  It is simply beyond the scope of their mission.

At its best, American public education was designed to develop an informed citizenry so that the democratic process at the foundation of the country could flourish.  At its worst, public education serves to maintain a status quo of haves and have nots so that the bourgeoise will always be able to depend on the proletariat to do the work necessary to uphold their way of life.  Those who manage to combat the oppressive nature of public education manage to do so by augmenting what is offered in school through alternative methods.  Most notably I think of Chinese communities in America whose children attend weekend schools so that they have a full understanding of their language, history and practices.  I have seen the same model employed by both Russian and Jewish families as well.  There are great African-centered rites of passage programs that need to be scaled up in response to the continued revision of the history of African descendants in this country.  It is the only way the story will be told properly. One of favorite college professors, Dr. Howard Stevenson, would often say in class, "The lion's story will never be told as long as the hunter is the one to tell it."

More important than anything else, this most recent example of whitewashing the history books further motivates me to act and I hope that for all those who have read about this and other incidents, that they will do the same.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Blast Master Can Still Teach

Got the distinct pleasure to see KRS-1 perform at Whisky A Go-Go this weekend, and he did not disappoint.  The Teacha is on my Mount Rushmore of MCs and he showed why as he performed hits that are almost thirty years old and can still move a crowd.  In addition, he previewed songs off of a forthcoming album that display the unique mix of lyrical skill and depth of thought that put KRS in a stratosphere few others occupy.  A couple of other takeaways from watching Chris Parker do his thing:

1.  His voice is an instrument unto itself - Over and over again he told the DJ (his son) to turn the track down so he could showcase the lyrics or the freestyle that he was about to go into.  His voice thundered over the crowd and commanded their attention in the same way that you snapped to attention when he yelled "YOU MUST LEARN!" through the radio.

2.  When you are authentically talented, you will find your crowd - Whisky A Go-Go is far from doing the Tunnel in NYC or other famous spots where KRS made his name, but it didn't matter.  Fans of all sorts came out and sat through some awful openers to hear The Teacha do his thing.  He signed LPs that fans brought, and any other item that people handed him.  Most importantly, he showed that he remains a different breed from rappers who simply try to make a "hit" while saying nothing.  For that, the fans have remained loyal all over the world.

3.  I'm now a Hip-Hop old head - I'm officially of the age where I believe that the music of my generation trumps anything that will be made in the future.  In Hip-Hop that means that the music of the late eighties into the early oughts can't be touched as a body of work.  Are there certain albums/artists that are outliers?  Certainly, but as someone who tries to stay true to the culture that was a large part of my youth identity, I don't see the same kind of creativity of style and message that there was in the golden age of Hip-Hop.

As soon as I can get my hands on the new album Now Hear This, I'm getting it.  KRS clearly still has lessons to teach.  I'll be taking notes the same way I have for the last twenty years.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

They Will Always Let You Know When They're Ready

I try really hard as a parent to talk with my peers so that I can be equipped with strategies so that when "milestone moments" happen, I can handle the situation like it was no problem and keep it moving without getting my blood pressure up.  Sometimes this works, as in preparing for going to a new school or starting out a new sport.  There are occasions like yesterday, however, where you're just not ready for when the kiddos drop an unexpected bomb on you and you're left to improvise like Wayne Brady playing Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I was pulling into the driveway with the ever-growing Lil Man feeling good as we had just worked through a situation where he had missed an after school activity.  Turned out there was some miscommunication and it wasn't totally his fault, but he expected that when I found out, I was going to unleash my inner Jules Winnfield (And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger...)  Clearly I did a good job of reassuring the young man that he had steered clear of danger by fessing up and telling the truth because he felt confident enough to reveal other things on his mind as we hit the driveway.  I should have known I was in trouble when he started with:

"Daddy, there's just one thing I've been thinking about"

To which I replied "What's that buddy?"

"So like when you're having a baby, how does God know?  Like how does it get there to start growing?  How does he know if you want a boy or a girl?

Uh oh.  Those three questions hit me like tranquilizer darts.  I couldn't move.  I didn't even look in the rearview mirror.  My mind was on overdrive, and I just kept saying to myself Don't you punk out and punt on this question.  If you don't answer it, one of his little third grade friends will.  After what seemed like minutes, I calmly said

"Well buddy, Women have eggs in their body that must be fertilized before they can grow into babies. There's a process for that, but you're too young to hear about that now."

To which he replied "How old do I have to be to learn the process"


Which sent him into math mode figuring out approximately how many days he has before his tenth birthday (approx. 400).  Plenty of time to consult the village for how to Sex 101 talk.

LESSON:  No matter how much I want to be out in front of the development of young Isaiah and his brother, I will never fully grasp the rate at which they pick up information and seek to act on it.  The Munchkin, for example, went from only wanting to sit on the Elmo potty to only wanting to stand and "take aim" overnight.  It's good to know that when necessary, I've got some Improv skillz in the tool belt.  I'm sure I'll be calling on them again soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How ironic that the same cotton that Nubians grew and used to make clothing is the same cash crop that would be used to fuel American capitalism on the backs of Black slaves.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Nabta Playa is an ancient ceremonial stone formation which 

indicates the social nuance of Nubian civilization.  It dates

back to between 6500-4000 BC.

Monday, August 31, 2015

New School Year, New Mission to Struggle with Race

Now that the focus of my work centers around helping young middle-schoolers figure out who they are and what they want to become, I have felt an increased urge to think about my own identity. As I build relationships with new students and converse with them about their struggles, I want to be able to share my own journey and perhaps some of the strategies that I have used through the years to help me figure things out.  The discussions that I have had with students over the last few years have revealed that students travel a vastly different path to owning their identity than I have.  During these conversations, I have done more listening and reacting than "preaching".  More than anything I have been inspired to see how connected students seem to feel to one another and the fluidity with which they move in and out of social circles.

I aspire to see my own boys be able to parachute into any social situation as comfortably as some of the students who I've recently sent off to college.  To that end, they need to be able to understand #BlackLivesMattter and #BringBackOurGirls, the significance of #JeSuisCharlie and the dynamics of #FreePalestine.  To prepare for those conversations I will have with my boys and their peers, I am going to use this space moving forward to post historical facts about the African Diaspora of which I am a proud member.  Nothing has helped me gain a sense of who I am and pushed me to keep moving forward than knowing the heritage of which I am a part .  The more I understand about that legacy, the greater sense of purpose I have.  My mission is to inspire a similar sense of purpose in my boys and all young people with whom I come into contact so that travelling the identity path doesn't have to be so difficult.

FACT:  Ancient Nubia, a civilization dating to over 300,000 years ago, was originally named 
"Ta Sety", meaning "Land of the Bow"