Confusion, once established, can be extremely difficult to unseat. This is especially so where skills of critical evaluation are lacking.
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Central to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson was an on-going investigation of the context of terror visited upon Black bodies (Du Bos 2007a; Woodson 1990). For these scholars the assault upon African humanity was not merely a localized dilemma isolated to a marginal epoch of American history, rather it was a central process in the creation of America’s racialized social order, and beyond this, a key component in the modern global system wherein the humanity of African people was a secondary consideration to their utility as vehicles of or impediments to the acquisition of capital (Du Bois 2007b; Woodson 1990, 2004). Both Du Bois’s and Woodson’s work compels for us to look at the context of enslavement as a foundational moment in the erection of the contemporary power of the west. This process propelled the expansion and entrenchment of a domestic colonial project, in addition to fueling subsequent processes of conquest abroad. Within the domestic milieu, the political-economy of Black subordination via the system of state-sponsored racial subordination necessitated the implementation of an epistemic regime of terror (Du Bois 1978a, 1978b). This process has maintained a dual focus consisting of the oppression of Black bodies via instruments of coercive control, and the subjugation of Black minds via processes of mis-education (Du Bois 2002, Woodson 1990).
What must be asked is not whether this campaign has abated (it has not), but rather how a liberatory form of Black education might more effectively resist this assault? Du Bois and Woodson recognized that Black people, as ever, stand at the precipice, facing on one side a familiar tyranny and on the other a new world that exists just beyond the bounds of our knowing and the fruits of our unfettered social agency. As Du Bois queried in 1960, we must ask again, whither now and why (Du Bois 1973b)? Ultimately we must ponder to what extent has realization of liberation been obscured via the highly efficacious management of Black bodies and minds in the schools of America (Du Bois 1973a; Woodson 1933)?
“The present day Negro or ‘colored’ intellectual is no less a liar and a cunning thief than his illustrious teacher. His occidental collegiate training only fits him to be a rogue and vagabond, and a seeker after the easiest and best by following the line of least resistance. ”
–Marcus Garvey, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey
I agree that getting your doctorate can be a worthwhile endeavor, but for reasons that extend beyond those discussed by Jacques Berlinerblau in the article “You probably won’t get tenure. Get your Ph.D. anyway“. Get your doctorate if you find the process intellectually rewarding, are acquiring skills that you can leverage in the marketplace beyond the disappearing tenure-track (say in publishing, consulting, entrepreneurship, etc.), want to develop a body of specialized expertise in a field that you can then teach in various settings (secondary schools, community colleges, etc.), are open to teaching abroad (there are some great opportunities internationally and this problem isn’t necessarily universal), and can do so without going tens of thousands of dollars in debt. If none of these apply, it probably isn’t worth the time and stress to get the degree, as that will only compound the stress which accrues after being on the tepid job market for a few years.
We are living in the sunset of the academy that most of us wanted to work in. Yes, its sad, but the only thing to do is to accept the passing of this thing and adapt. I don’t want to overstate this, but there is a great opportunity here to reinvent the models of knowledge dissemination that have been variously supported and now aborted by the academy (think about what has been done to Africana studies or other fields focused on critical social discourse). Personally, I would love to work with others who are interested in forging ahead into this new frontier. There is much to be done.
I work in teacher education. Every year I meet new batches of students endowed with old notions of what needs to be done in order for Black children to learn. Typically it consists of things like being “culturally relevant” (though I have never been able to locate the coursework that provides extensive training in African American history or culture where I work), encouraging resilience or “grit” (as if we don’t already have that from surviving centuries in this nightmare called America), or being demanding yet compassionate educators (as if this is some kind of modern innovation), by militarizing the schooling experience (which effectively prepares Black children for prison, the military, or the low-wage service sector), or by incessantly measuring every single facet of the learning process so as to glean some kernel that might improve future processes of measurement (if that sounded circular, it was intended to).
While I strive to be understanding of where my students are in terms of their perspectives, it should be noted that most of these notions begin from the standpoint of locating deficiencies in Black children, rather than the society in which they exist. Black children are either culturally incongruent from the American schooling apparatus (a profound revelation that Carter G. Woodson would be surprised to hear), too lethargic to try to succeed (which raises interesting questions about why they should given the diminishing gains that accrue from being successful in this system), they are the on-going victims of jettisoning of Black teachers in the mid-20th Century under desegregation/integration (as demanding-warm educators were the cultural norm among many Black teachers in that era), only suited for martial discipline (because they are really viewed as a social malignancy), or are equally unsuited for any form of education that engages the imagination (because why should serfs dream).
All of these premises listed in paragraph one rest upon a superstructure of belief that presumes that (1) the American social order is basically legitimate, (2) schools are institutions that serve as conduits to opportunity and that (3) Black folk’s social (economic, political, and cultural) interests are essentially identical to everyone else’s–not requiring any distinct remedy.
I differ with each of these assumptions. I offer the following arguments: (1) the American social order has always been and will remain illegitimate. It was born of colonialism and slavery, sustained by neo-colonial practices, and the hyper-exploitation of its own working classes. (2) Schools are institutions whose primary role is the maintenance of the status quo. They are not revolutionary or proto-revolutionary institutions. Radical social change or even any modicum of social change that requires a significant reconfiguration of the social order is considered both unfeasible and unpalatable to the political and economic interests that schools protect and project. (3) Africans in America have a unique set of problems, requiring a very specific set of solutions. These problems generally emerge from the legacy of the Maafa–the interrelated processes of slavery, colonialism, and their aftermath. Thus, one of the primary remedies required by us is the reconstitution of our humanity and social systems, which have been shattered. This is a mandate that only we can carry forward for ourselves. This is why revolutionary educators came together in the 1970s to found the Council of Independent Black Institutions. They were driven by a clear understanding that the future of Africans in this country would be born on the collective backs of Africans in America. Absent our own efforts, we would be subject to the capricious whims and abuses of more powerful groups.
It is 2016 and I think that their reasoning has stood the test of time. I think that Malcolm X was correct when he critiqued the folly inherent in how we allow most of our children to be (mis)educated. I think that Dead Prez was also correct when they called these institutions “they schools”. Moreover, I think, or rather know that the problems of Black education will never be solved in this country. There’s too much profit to be made off of disaster. There are whole industries built to capitalize on the outcomes of the American nightmare made real in our lives. But ultimately, these problems won’t be solved by anyone but ourselves driven by a vision of what our future as African people can and should be. Until we accept this and act accordingly we’ll continue to be a “problem” for other people to solve. And when this happens, do we have the right to complain about their “solutions”?
I think that the academy is overly concerned with its own importance; that what passes for criticality within it can generally be characterized as, at best, safe and non-threatening to the global systems that it purports to critique; and at worse, discourses that obfuscate what terms like “critical”, “radical”, or “revolutionary” potentially mean.
I may be wrong, but I think that Amy Jacques Garvey, Malcolm X, Hannibal Afrik, and so many others who were advocates of African liberation situated their work beyond the confines of academia because academia is not–despite the copious use of the terms “critical” or “social justice”–a sustainable front in revolutionary struggle. It is a potential contested zone, but many of the people best positioned to contest these spaces are more interested in attaining the rewards of the institution, rewards that do not change or challenge the material conditions that we face. Many others are, sadly, forced to prioritize their own survival over the lofty ends of reality transformation, as these spaces can eviscerate the emotional well-being of those unprepared for the incalculably numerous microscale attacks on their humanity that occur therein.
Yes, some of us survive to have respectable careers. However, we are consequentially and perpetually weighted down by the armor of self-protection, distracted by the maddening churn of assessment and evaluation, made less productive by the efforts to prevent our brain spaces from being new sites of colonization by the armies of vacuous rhetoric and needless toil, and made less productive in the worlds that we actually inhabit as our vision of an emancipatory social possibility is filtered through language and paradigms that binds and blinds us.
The academy is a self-disguising and dynamically modular möbius loop. It masks its own redundancy with the illusion of relevance and the busying of professors who it perpetually seeks to reduce to the status of drones.
It has become the new shrine whereupon whose alter we sacrifice fertile minds and preciously finite time in the hopes that the mystery gods of the heavens will transmute our offering into transformative action in the world. If so, it will be the first time in the history of the world that work has been accomplished absent a preceding and corresponding effort. Such is the unforgiving nature of the world, that words, no matter how abundant are no proxy for action. As the elders remind us, “Kazi (work) is the Blackest of all.”
Pongezi (congratulations) to the Indigo Nation Homeschool Association graduates. Your determination, commitment to excellence, and cultural grounding is an important lesson for us all.
For the parents, we are carrying on tradition, driven by the idea that teaching our children is not simply an option, but a matter of necessity. Many of us have collectively recognized that education is, at its core, a maintenance institution, one that seeks to affirm and sustain a particular social order. In this society, one where African life is devalued, we have to ask the troubling but urgent question of what social order are our children being prepared to perpetuate? And after finding the answer unsatisfactory should further query, what type of world do we envision, and how can our children be socialized so as to maximize their capability of contributing to this enterprise? This is no trivial matter.
Carter G. Woodson reminds us that many of our people, having been the recipients of miseducation, are resigned to frustration and despair as their educations have not prepared them to solve the vexing problems of their people (the eradication of the systems of white supremacy and rapacious capitalism), nor are they permitted to join that social order of their oppressors as equals. Thus the educated African, Woodson states, “…becomes too pessimistic to be a constructive force and usually develops into a chronic fault-finder or a complainant at the bar of public opinion. Often when he sees that the fault lies at the door of the white oppressor whom he is afraid to attack, he turns upon the pioneering Negro who as at work doing the best he can to extricate himself from an uncomfortable predicament.”
On Monday we celebrated those who are seeking to create and become a new generation of leaders for our community, rather than the endless churn of serfs which the dominant institutions succeed in producing. Thus for many of us, our charge, quite simply, is nation-building. Education for liberation, because our future requires no less.
We need a new way of thinking about intellectual work which de-centers the academy and sees the community as its center. We must find ways to make this work compelling and viable for those of us who see our scholarship as more than a path to the awards of the university (i.e., tenure and promotion), but as ways of illuminating the hidden, awakening the dormant, enlivening the nascent, and ultimately reassembling our shattered humanities in the wake of the interrelated systems of white supremacy and capitalism. This also means that our teaching must be imagined and enacted, not as mere performativity, but as incubating the emancipatory potential of our students and ourselves.
We are, many of us, constrained by a university system that commodifies our knowledge, reduces the import of our teaching to its most superficial forms, and seeks to mine our bodies and minds for profitable ideas while paradoxically devaluing our labor through instruments of surveillance. In short, we need spaces that seeks to serve the unfettered ends of liberation. Moreover, I believe that we have models of this work emerging out of the social movements of the last half century which might inform this work, models which emerge from the grassroots rather than the centers of power who have so effectively redirected many of us from revolutionary struggle to the toil of survival and the banality of “victim analysis”.
We have failed to hold the “contested zones”. We are left with the task of creating new liberated zones, and making these the center of a new way of being.
Black children don’t need White teachers who believe that they are saviors. Black children need the system of White supremacy to be annihilated so that problem of structural racism can be addressed definitively. Sadly people are more interested in being domestic missionaries in Black communities than dealing with the system which creates and sustains conditions of oppression. This is, after all, much easier and much less dangerous than confronting White recalcitrance, privilege, and hostility.
To put it more clearly, Black folks are quite capable of solving our problems. We are, unfortunately, beset by a system which has worked in wondrous ways to constrain our capacity. One fine example of this is the assassination of Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His death is hardly anomalous, but is merely an echo of the global tyranny rained down upon Black leaders who have had the audacity to insist that African/Black land, labor, and resources were theirs to use as they would; that Black folks have, like all other people, a basic right to self-determination. These assassinations were the opening salvo for more destructive campaigns which have effectively crushed movement after movement for self-determination domestically and around the world. It is the height of hypocrisy to revere Dr. King, while failing to recognize the call for radical social transformation that he advocated for when he said, “The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.”
Again, Black folks don’t need White missionaries. We need liberation, and White folks desirous of “making a difference” should start by dismantling the system that benefits them and hurts us so greatly. Their unwillingness to collectively embrace such a struggle is proportional to their irrelevance to our efforts.