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.