Throughout this month we have discussed African and African American resistance in modern history. We began with their resistance to slavery and the slave trade. We proceeded through resistance to race riots, lynching, and other forms of violence. Last week, we examined resistance to racial segregation and discrimination as they have been manifested under the label of Jim Crow. Today, we conclude by asserting that total resistance to mis-education is the ultimate ingredient needed for Black freedom and liberation.
Carter G. Woodson, who popularized the term mis-education, indicated that individuals could be, and that many actually had been, mis-educated to the extent that they will shackle themselves; that they will seek out the secondary or inferior position; and that they will expect and accept treatments of oppression. It boils down to what some would label as “mental slavery.”
It is our position that this mis-education leads to or at least aids in the free reign of Jim Crow in every other area of life. It is our further position that such mis-education is so widespread because it emanates from the schools and colleges attended by most of our youth; it emanates from the media, news, and entertainment, which is consumed by many youth and elderly citizens; and it emanates from the oral culture engaged in by the total society.
Examples of the mis-education are lessons that assert that Black people: (1) have inferior intellectual capacity; (2) have never accomplished much individually or as a group; (3) are fortunate or blessed to have been brought here and exposed to Christianity and western civilization; (4) easily accept that which is second-class or second-hand; (5) are submissive and willing to follow white leadership while rebelling against Black leadership; (6) believe that white goods and services are superior to Black goods and services; (7) are prone to crime and, therefore, need more strict discipline; (8) are destructive of property, even their own neighborhoods; (9) are lazy and generally look for an easy way; and (10) are overly sexually active and promiscuous. These stereotypes are driven home in schools, through the media, and in many other institutions in American society. They are designed to influence the thoughts and actions on Black people, white people, and any who migrate to this country. (A funny thing is that it only takes one example to “prove” to many people that the stereotype is valid.)
What follows is an example of such historical mis-education, along with some of the ways in which they have been resisted. It is included here in order to illustrate what things were like in the heydays of mis-education and what they could be like if the white nationalist today gained full control of the country.
During the days of public school at what was formerly known as Rosedale Colored High School (RCHS), while there was segregation, the textbooks used and the curriculum taught were controlled by racist white administrators and board members. This led to the fact that, in Mississippi history classes, there was no discussion of the state Constitution of 1868 that had been developed by Black and non-Confederate white lawmakers. There was, in fact, no mention of Black lawmakers at all, nor was there any comparison of how the ex-Confederates took control of state government and wiped out what had been put in place between 1865 and 1875.
In biology classes, students were given the impression that Black people were from a race that had inferior traits, and in U.S. history class, it was more than hinted that those traits enabled Africans to be captured and sold as slaves. To take it a step further, there were several guest speakers who indicated that it was a blessing in disguise that Black people were captured and brought to America because it enabled them to be introduced to Christianity and civilization.
At the high school level, the board and administrators removed trigonometry and physics from the Black school curriculum. The justification was that the subjects were too difficult for the Black students. In the midst of this, there was one administrator who often stated that “when it comes to integration, Negroes ain’t ready.”
Finally, the school administrators implied that the second-hand textbooks and equipment received by the Black schools were sufficient for the Black students who were likely to not graduate anyway. In short, in every way, Blacks were being denied and/or mis-educated by the school system. It is sad to say, but the situation on the college level was quite similar, with most of the Black colleges being small and woefully underfunded, while the white colleges were more well-endowed, but strictly segregated until James Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss in October 1962.
All the while that the system itself was rock-solid racist, Black people resisted in various ways. (1) There was the option of migration. For example, one ninth grade class started out with 72 students, but by the time they reached twelfth grade there were only twenty. Most of the others had left, heading for Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and other points out of the Jim Crow South. The same thing happened every year. These students resisted with their feet. Many of them went on to have lives that were much more rewarding than would have been the case back down south. (2) A growing number took the advice of their dedicated Black teachers and decided to “go to college.” Many of those decided to become teachers and began defying the printed curriculum and textbooks in order to teach the truth. (Of course, some of these were fired or not hired in the first place. After the schools were integrated by court order, many Black teachers were replaced by white bus drivers, postal workers, and others who had no teaching experience, just white skin.) (3) Still others, such as Professor Morgan Brown, resisted the system by enrolling their children in the previously all-white schools. For having that audacity, despite his 20+ years of teaching in the system, Brown was summarily fired. Nevertheless, he and others continued to resist the system and its practices of mis-education. (4) There were Black people who resisted by joining lawsuits to bring about changes in the curriculum, such as the suit to get “Mississippi: Conflict and Change” by James Loewen and Charles Sallis adopted by the state department of education. In the face of so much resistance and change, beginning in the 1960s, there was a mass exodus of white children from the public schools across Mississippi and the rest of the Jim Crow South.
The stereotyping, the inadequate resources, the intimidation of teachers, and other elements that were responsible for the mis-education of the youths in schools and colleges had their counterparts in the mis-education that was going on in the media. Both the entertainment and news media spread the same stereotypes as mentioned above in the schools. The media, in fact, may have had an even wider impact because their products were consumed by the entire society and they re-enforced for children what the schools had “taught.”
A few examples may suffice. There was the character Tarzan who always outsmarted tribes of Africans. That is in addition to the fact that the Africans were never portrayed as “civilized.” There were the characters played by Hattie McDaniel, who were always subservient. There was Mantan Moreland, who was always stupid and afraid. Even as films and television moved to the more contemporary era, Black characters were more likely to be just comical, criminal, or merely side-kicks of the white stars, such as Bill Cosby in his earliest films. The situation was so negative that movie fan and later critic, Donald Bogle, wrote a widely popular book on the subject entitled, “Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, and Bucks.” Thomas Cripps wrote a similar book, “Slow Fade to Black,” that also marked the efforts of the NAACP to bring about changes in how the filming industry portrayed Black actors and actresses.
Since Bogle’s and Cripps’ books, there have been other protests of racial bias in the movie and television industries. These acts of resistance have been accompanied by more Blacks following the example of Oscar Micheaux in becoming directors and producers. Spike Lee is a noted example.
Meanwhile, the news media, over the years, has unrelentingly focused on gangs and crime in the Black ghettos around the country. This has happened as both Black gang activity and crime have been dwarfed by white mafia gangs and crime. In similar fashion, white terrorism and the murder of Black people by both civilians and police have not been sufficiently investigated and aired.
Along that line, the writer can recall that during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the state of Mississippi produced a car tag that had as its slogan, “the most lied about state in the union.” This was in reaction to widespread criticism for the state’s brutal treatment of those who opposed racial segregation. It was also during the era when many local news media outlets limited or greatly distorted their coverage of negative stories, such as the murder of Emmett Till.
In the wake of that kind of biased coverage, Black people resisted in several ways. They (1) established their own newspapers, including the Jackson Advocate; (2) stepped up their subscriptions to national magazines and newspapers, such as Jet, Ebony, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the New Amsterdam News, and the Los Angeles Sentinel; (3) produced newsletters reporting their particular civil rights activities; and (4) filed lawsuits and complaints against mainstream media outlets. It was such a suit that enabled a predominantly Black group to assume ownership of WLBT under Dr. Aaron Henry. These efforts at resistance brought some relief, but the problem of mis-education by the media still continues to some extent in many quarters.
Finally, because the mis-education has been going on for such a long time, it is still strong in the oral culture of America. It will hopefully die as the population ages. It will also likely subside as institutions are awakened. If each Black History Month, and the 337 days in between, we can intellectually hammer away at the foundations of the mis-education, then psychologically we will be able to destroy the crippling by-products that manifest themselves socially, economically, and politically in too many citizens.