“What do you mean when you say I’m rebellious/Cause I don’t accept everything you’re tellin’ us?” – from You Must Learn by Boogie Down Productions
*Over the past year, the major buzzword sweeping the planet has been “Black Lives Matter.” However, as we embark upon another school year, the question that we must always be ready to answer at the drop of a dime is just why do black lives matter, especially to a people who have been robbed of their history ?
Most African Americans are victims of a Euro-centric school system that has ,notoriously. either ignored or devalued the contributions of the billions of nonwhite people who make up the majority of the planet. This fact is especially pronounced when it comes to African Americans. Historically, black inferiority has served as the cornerstone of western thought and , at most, black people are portrayed as nothing more than jungle bunnies who the white man, graciously, brought to America and taught to speak. And this line of thinking has been overtly or covertly reflected in the curriculum of the American school system.
One of the first African American critics of the educational system was Dr. Carter G. Woodson , author of the outstanding work “The Miseducation of the Negro.” In his book , Dr. Woodson proclaims, “when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.” So even though the physical chains of chattel slavery are gone, the mental chains remain.
However, various steps have been taken over the years to try to correct this problem.
While the Civil Rights movement focused, primarily , on integrating black children into the white school system, it was the Black Power Movement of the late 60’s that really began to put the focus on African-centered education. It was scholars such as Dr. Maulana Karenga, the father of Kwanzaa and Dr. Nathan Hare who really begin to put the heat on colleges to include African-centered studies in their curriculum.
During the late 80’s , Hip Hop, also, played a role in increasing the awareness of black history . Many early Hip Hop heads were encouraged to read at least one black book even if it was only Alex Haley’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X in order to be seen as “down by law.”
One might also remember the attack on Afrocentric education during the 90’s against scholars such as Dr. Molefi Asante and Dr. John Henrik Clarke by people such as Stephen Howe and Dr. Mary Lefkowitz who contended that Afrocentricity was just make believe and the great contributions to civilization that scholars such as Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan attributed to the Motherland were “Not Out of Africa.” Perhaps it is no accident that the attack on African centered education ran parallel with the dominance of gangsta rap in the 1990’s and the dumbing down of Hip Hop. So, the rappers who could have mounted a defense on the attack on black culture no longer had a major platform on radio stations nor video shows.
So, fast forward to 2015 and we see the rising of activism among the youth because of the highly publicized murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and others.. After a summer of highly charged racial discussions surrounding the mysterious death of Sandra Bland and the Charleston Church massacre will the public classrooms become the new battle ground? What happens when the immovable object of western education and the irresistible force of Black Lives Matter collide? Maybe in the upcoming months we will see black students demanding more black history courses and challenging, as writer James Loewen put it , the “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” Perhaps the chants of “Black History Matters” will be heard ringing from high school classrooms to college campuses. One can only hope.
What we must realize is that in a climate of social and political oppression, the cops and the teachers are caught up in the same tangled web. So the academic assassination of black students in classrooms is not much different than the murder of black men on the street. Also, although many people try to divert the conversation about police violence with straw man arguments about black on black violence in places like Chicago, this ,too, can be seen as a direct result of erasing a group’s cultural identity and reducing them to things instead of people.
For many years we have complained about the lack of black history being taught in classrooms. It seems that black history in the public fool system is usually relegated to reciting Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during Black History Month. But this year we are flippin’ the script. We have launched the Black Book Challenge in order to raise the consciousness of the black community. This school year we are encouraging parents , along with their children, to read one book regarding black history per month. Also, we are encouraging activists to set up “street institutions” and to go into the ‘hoods across America and teach the truth about black culture. Lastly, we are asking Hip Hop artists and other entertainers to help us promote the value of learning about black culture this school year.
Yes, Black Lives Matter, but for the sake of our children, our rallying cry this semester must be, Black Minds Matter, too!