"Shocked By Distorted Images Of My African-Ness"
Sunday-Joseph Otengho, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Just as I was ready to get on the plane, my late father, Dr. Jovan Were Bulijjo, took me aside, looked me straight in the face, a thing our elders do not do, and said to me, “Son, you are now going to a strange land. Remember the values and traditions that our forefathers left behind for us to follow. Never forget that you are from the Bantu race, a Luhya by tribe, a Mulundu by clan, and an Otengho. You keep this in mind and there is no ideology that will change the perception of who you are and where you come from. Confidence is achieved in being comfortable with who you are.” This would be almost the last time my late father and I would ever talk face to face.
As the “big bird” finally soared into the skies, I took out my passport and there it was: my identity was well spelt out. I was known as a Ugandan of the Luhya tribe. I even muttered a few words to make sure that my mother tongue “Kiluhya” was still within my speech. But I was also a well-Western-educated African young man with a good command of the Queen’s English and a well-rounded world view. With my ethnic identity, political identity, and educational privilege, I was confident that no one would mistake me for anything else. I felt properly identified.
Since coming to America, however, every aspect of my identity has been changed. I find myself just an “African male,” a designation that American society prefers I bear as my new identity. My attitudes, culture, values, and life experiences are presumed to reflect all of Africa, a continent of almost 60 countries, thousands of nationalities, thousands of languages, and as many values and traditions, reflecting some almost 850 million people. By definition, I am presumed poor, disease-ridden, uneducated and incapable of spirituality. The missionaries call me heathen; the sociologists consider me maladjusted; the educators deem me illiterate; the politicians perceive me as an economic burden; and the census bureau has reduced my identity to the color of my skin. When I am among whites, I am called black; and with African Americans I take on the images of a white gimmick, a token, a window dresser, and sometimes a sellout. Even after 20 years in the United States with almost seven degrees in five different fields, I am still just an “African male.” I am still being put in my place. They will not let die a distorted image that they have forced upon me.
In 1993, I stumbled over a public television documentary about little children’s first day at school in such places as England, United States, Australia, Japan and Africa. Within minutes into the documentary, I realized that Africa had been reduced to a country. While parents in all the other countries were shown performing certain routines to send their children off to school, in Africa children were shown climbing trees, begging for food, asking donations from Westerners, and chasing each other into the forest. I was shocked beyond belief that a people with a conscience would distort the image of my people to such an extent.
You see, I grew up in the bustling cities of Nairobi and Kampala. There were as many schools as there were districts, public schools, private schools, and mission schools. We had major post offices, telephone companies, grocery stores, department stores, hospitals, and highly trained doctors and yes, believe it or not, vaccinations were required of us. Some walked to school; others rode a bus; many stayed on campus; and others were chauffeured to school. All the modern amenities and facilities were available. My memories of my first day at school did not fit the distorted images that were being aired on TV for millions to see.
I still remember so vividly my first day at school. My mother and father accompanied me. I had on the most beautiful uniform and new black shoes with white stockings. I remember how the principal (headmaster) welcomed us to his office, which was decorated with maps, school pictures, and team trophies. Then he served us refreshments. I can still remember the delicious Mikisa cookie that just melted in my mouth with the first bite. It was the kind of cookie you hope the taste would never leave your mouth. Then came the teacher so well-dressed and a body built like “Mr. T.” I wanted just to be like him, so elegant and confident. The classroom was so beautiful and carefully decorated. There were other children in the class sitting with smiling faces and dressed in the same uniform as I. I was allowed to sit next to a young and beautiful lady. I looked at my father, and I knew school was going to be just fine. Since it was required for all entering first graders to know their multiplication tables up to 12 and all the English alphabet and vowel sounds, my first test was a knockout because I knew my multiplication tables and the alphabet.
When I entered high school, we studied Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, A Man for All Seasons, The Merchant of Venice, Things Fall Apart and many Classical African writers like Achinua Achebe, Diop, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, etc. I was the captain of the debate club, the soccer team, the track and field team, and the boxing team, as well as the President of the Student Council (Head Prefect). Everyone in my graduating class was college bound. We had a graduation ceremony attended by every parent, relative, and dignitary. We had a PTA, a teachers’ union, and a student union. These were the images of my childhood and school, but to the TV producers’ and many Westerners, this rich school experience did not place me among the civilized; I was still an “African Male”. It was a shock when Senator Ernest Hollings, the Democrat from South Carolina, after attending a trade summit in Geneva, jokingly intimated that African leaders were still cannibals. What an insult! How ignorant! Why would someone, supposedly educated and who well understood the sphere of his influence over the minds of others, give such distorted images of my people? Why?
It is true that Africa is a continent of contrasts. It is also true that there is unrest in Africa and that certain ethnic groups still resist Westernization. But let us understand that the unrest in Africa has its roots in the disparity between the opulent lifestyles of the elite, the privileged diplomats who represent different countries overseas, and the austere lives forced on the rest of the masses by governments that serve Western interests. While the masses are suffering, the elites are driving BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguars, and Rolls Royces. They hide behind high fences built around opulent houses staffed with servants, guards, and dogs. They have backup generators and pumps just in case of power failure. Their children are sent to Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. This elitist behavior places these individuals at cross swords with the underprivileged. They no longer serve the local interests of their people. It is therefore ironic that U.S. envoys would characterize such opulent men with whom they talk and dine as starving cannibals. Why do they distort the image of my people? To the American shapers of thought, it does not matter that these “cannibals” are products of the world’s best universities and that they are Secretary Generals of the United Nations. It is of no value to them that these “African males” like President Nelson Mandela control and distribute great resources of their countries.
I have yet to become accustomed to what America expects me to be. I do not understand the differences between the myth of the African that I am supposed to be in America, and the Luhya of the Balundu clan whom I know myself to be. While the dominant culture in America is busy planning for its posterity’s future, I find myself swimming with sharks against the current of a society that has distorted my identity. To be an “African male” is to struggle against myths and misconceptions of my negritude. Even though I know myself to be a Bantu from the Luhya nation of the Balundu clan and from the Otengho family, 17 years of constant bombardment of this identity by designations that despise my roots have almost left me frustrated. I can never be accustomed to what America expects me to be.
As an educator, I decry the plight of the little African-American child who is robbed of the privilege of being a Mulundu and finds himself/herself in a society called home and yet is always an alien. Labeled and stereotyped, the African-American child suffers indignities that render him/her a non-achiever in our society. The educational system that was never meant for the African-American child resists change that would render him an achiever in a society that he calls home.
The distorted images of the “African male” are so acutely accredited to him that he begins life with a negative balance. Instead of being born to enjoy liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, he spends his life trying to untangle himself from the cobwebs of stereotypical trappings. Most educators do not believe he can learn and most employers do not expect him to perform. Being tired of trying in a never-ending struggle of proving himself, he accepts helplessness and frustration. Looking around and seeing the bleakness of his situation, he now gives up before he even begins. He does not even want to try because his trying has never been good enough. He is encouraged by those who seem to understand him; and yet they, too, are swimming against the currents that have rendered him a non-achiever. He sees the struggles of his single mother whom he hardly sees because she works two shifts to make ends meet. He has never seen a father, and the only male figure he had is in the beautiful hotel called “Incarceration.” Against all odds, he is forced to go to school to keep his mother from going to jail because of the law. The school labels and stereotypes him, and he knows it is a matter of time until he will be a resident at the “Incarceration Hotel.” After all, 45 percent of all “African males” begin adulthood marked for life. He struggles to make sense of his life in a society that has distorted his images; he is just another “African male.”
Who understands an African-American child? He is called McIntosh, a Western name that bears no meaning but serves as a reminder that he will always be an “African male” of whom Hegel said “his character is that of a dog. He has no capacity to learn, no room for improvement and no human nature to cultivate.” It is the name that has cut him from the privilege of knowing that he comes from a legacy of classical civilizations whose forefathers were astronauts, doctors, teachers, authors, scientists, astrologers, surgeons, healers, kings, queens, soldiers, great warriors, builders, sailors, merchants, scribes, rabbis, and sages. His European name only allows a history of 300 years of bondage as an inheritance and not a history of six thousand years of continuous and unbroken chronicles. He does not know that he would have been a Luhya, a Yoruba, a Tui, a Muluba, a Berber, a Kikuyu, an Ovimbundu, a Khosa, or the elegant warrior of the Zulu. He does not know that his homeland has oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, and copper, and produces cocoa that he eats in all his chocolate bars. He does not even know that life would come to an end if one day America woke up and there were no chocolate products on the shelves. He just does not know.
In 1994, Florida passed a law 233.061 mandating that it is time for the African-American child to know about his history and culture. The mandate carries with it no funding, and it is left to each school district to fund and implement the program. Does the State of Florida believe that this “African male” does not have the character of a dog, that he has the capacity to learn, that he can improve and has a human nature to cultivate? If this is true, then where is the funding to back up this new belief? Of the 67 school districts in Florida, only three have successfully written, funded, and implemented a curriculum: Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach County School Districts. I challenge the state to stand behind an educational philosophy that believes all children can learn by providing the school districts with funding for this mandate. This will show that the state of Florida understands the plight of the African-American child. But to make us think that the state understands the importance of teaching a people’s history and culture and how that affects learning and teaching and then fail to put in place a mandate that is enforceable is misleading and downright hypocritical. If the system is willing to cater to the minority child, then the African-American child should not have to demand and beg for that to which he is entitled as a bona-fide member of society. And when it is given to him, he should not find that it is unattainable.
The plight of the African American child is best described by the following true analogy. I met a young fellow who claimed to be a fisherman. He was proud that his master had just taught him every technique concerning fishing and that he also had purchased state-of-the-art fishing equipment. For a while, he accompanied his master to the fishing pond. His master had a very big pond full of all kinds of fish. The young man was the envy of his neighborhood. His master offered to train every male child in the neighborhood. With a state grant he trained all the boys who always fished in his pond and each one of them had state-of-the-art equipment. One morning the boy moved from the neighborhood to another state. He had all of his state-of-the-art equipment and was a magnificent fisherman. He got the map and located about 20 fishing ponds. He took his state-of-the-art equipment and ventured out.
He went to every pond and at each of them he found out that you had to be a member in order to fish. To be a member you had to be earning at least $65,000 a year, be a relative or friend of a member, and be recommended by the Chamber of Commerce, the Country Club or the Rotary Club. The young man could not meet those qualifications. But he still had his state-of-the-art equipment and was highly trained in fishing; yet he could not fish because his master had not told him that he needed to own a pond. He moved back home only to find that his “’hood” boys still had their state-of-the-art equipment and were highly trained in fishing but could not fish in anyone’s pond.
Today, there are many well-trained and highly qualified “African males” still sitting on the banks of fishing ponds who are not able to advance to fishing because of the society they live in. By the way, the master was still getting his state grant and even received an award for graduating the largest number of “African male” fishermen.
The Palm Beach County School District launched the implementation of the multicultural curricula in August of 1999 to comply with Mandate 233.061. The effort, strongly supported by the then superintendent Dr. Joan Kowal and her associates, was fully funded by the district. In addressing the Multicultural Task Force and classroom teachers, Dr. Kowal demanded a commitment from those present to believe that all children can learn and that each child is entitled to learning about his history and culture. I am persuaded that it is superintendents with this kind of vision, belief and resolve who understand the plight of the African male child. I am hoping that, for the 145,000 students in PBCSD, they will see the myths and stereotypes removed from their classes and replaced with respect and honor for all cultures that are representative in their schools and classes.
The dawn of the 21st century is here, and we want each of our children to be placed in a position where they can communicate in a global society. Education is about our children, and our children are the guardians of the values and traditions that we hold so dear. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I know there are issues that we must address in the educational system that pertain to the disparity that exists between the minority student and the dominant culture, issues like equity in gifted programs for minorities, raising the level of academic achievement for our children, the staffing of African-American teachers and administrators and guidance counselors who care enough to guide all our children to academic tracks that will help them become owners of their own learning. Our children should never be satisfied with crumbs that fall from the master’s table; they must gain the privilege of dividing the loaf. But as we address issues that are still pending, let us not lose sight of what we already have attained. We must be as vigilant in keeping that which we possess as we are in demanding for that which we deserve and is rightfully ours but is yet denied. Let us learn to identify the blessings that we have before we ask for more.
The African-American child knows how his/her counterpart lives in the privileged culture. He sees it in the way they drive to school. His parents cook for them, mow their yards, pick up their trash, entertain them. The average person of the privileged culture does not understand the way the African-American child lives. I would bet the majority of all teachers do not understand how the African-American child in his/her class lives. It is almost impossible to know how to teach the African-American child when we do not even know his very being, let alone trying to define what is normal for an African -American child when we have not a clue as to how he/she reasons.
All of research done to measure academic success is done from the dominant cultures’ point of view without reference to the needs of the African child. Since it is true that education is for all our children, then, what is good for the African child should be good for the white child as well. If for some reason any educator in the public school system finds this unacceptable, it is possible that they are not fit to teach any child, especially the African American male in this country.
Any minority child should not be put in a position that makes him feel inferior. There should be no child who is socialized to accept a designation of inferiority. There is the effort to try to close the achievement gap. The only problem is that the de-culturalized “African male” grows up believing that those of the privileged culture are superior. He is therefore denied the legitimate right to be accepted as an equal and as a human being. A student in one of my classes stated that: “White students make A’s and Black students do not.” She concluded by saying that getting A’s was acting “White.” I felt as though I had been shocked by 1000 volts of electricity. Anger, rage, frustration, sympathy, and pity, all welled up in my mind for a few seconds. The young lady was serious. There was silence. This innocent child had been socialized to accept an inferior position. Somehow she had been misled to believe that white people and A’s were synonymous. How tragic! It was indeed a teaching moment, although I felt angry at a society and a system that had told lies to such a raw mind. Needless to say, I stopped the flow of my lesson and seized the moment. There are so many of our children who are just like her. They are mentally, psychologically, and academically doomed to fail. There is so much to undo, and I wish universities that offer education programs would answer this call by putting in place courses which address and train teachers who are able to re-socialize the African-American child and any other child who has been victimized by such venom.
The global society we live in demands mutual respect. Instead of isolation that creates hostility, we should cultivate a closeness that creates friendship and understanding. The 21st century demands such an attitude. The vast majority of our troubles spring from a lack of understanding of one another’s cultures. Ignorance therefore forces us to look at each other with suspicion, and this creates isolation that, in turn, leads to undeserved hostility on the part of each group. We must tailor our education to foster understanding among young people around the world. This will enable them to live more peacefully and productively than in the past.
Cross-cultural, or intercultural awareness must go beyond a mere tolerance of attitudes toward the ideas and artifacts of other cultures. It must be a constructive and progressive engagement with a desire to act cooperatively with genuineness. In this way, our children, who are the future leaders, will respect cultural differences and will celebrate the richness and strengths that are born through diversity. The strength of a civilized society depends on its ability to communicate effectively. Some of the values that are common to such societies are ideas, attitudes, feelings, and the ability to listen to what others say in an effort to interpret their intentions, convictions, and world views. Our children can become productive, informed, and caring citizens if what we model promotes responsible, genuine, and meaningful participation in settings that are representative of the society they live in, a society that is culturally diverse but shares the common ideology of survival.
Yet who understands the African-American child? I can ask and demand that the outsiders understand my child, that they provide for my child what every child of his age deserves in this society. But I ask myself, “Why would I ask a teacher to discipline my child when I do not foster and train good and acceptable behavior in my own child? When I allow my child to be labeled a non-achiever just because I am too busy to help him/her with homework, has not studied for a test, has had no access to the community library, or to community facilities that encourage proper education, then there is no one I can blame but myself. Failing my child this way, when I know that the system that tries to educate him has marked him for failure, is cultural treason. I cannot expect my child to respect authority at school when he does not respect me at home nor any of the elders or authority figures in my community.
If my child does not have the necessary values and beliefs that offer him the confidence to perform in school, there is no magic any teacher will employ that will transform his desire for learning. Before I fault the outsider, let me make sure that I really understand the African-American child and his academic needs. Let me ensure that I have done all that I know to do to set up my child for academic achievement. I allow outsiders to label my child when I do not appear at PTA meetings and School Improvement Councils, when I do not even know the name of their teachers, nor appear at the school for anything. You deserve what is handed to your child when the only time you go to his school is when he/she is under expulsion proceedings. It is too late then.
It has been said that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it is a true and an applied social and cultural principle in many of the African societies. But it is unfair to assert this lofty principle when the village has nearly disintegrated. There seems to be a lack of elders in our villages to whom we look for cultural values and customs. A village that has elders should not have half of its young incarcerated. Do we have elders any longer? The wise men who know the past understand the present and are therefore able to help our young realign their fortunes because they can predict the future. It has been said that “for evil to increase, a good man needs to do nothing.” Our good African-American Ph.D.s, M.D.s, J.D.s, etc. are individuals who represent the American success story. They therefore cannot afford the luxury of noninvolvement when the communities in which they were socialized are still crying out for wise leaders. We have become experts at fighting the wrongs done to us, wrongs that take years to accumulate; and by the time we realize it, we spend most of our precious time demanding correction at the expense of maintaining a balance for present and future tranquility.
How we long for wise leaders who know the issues and are able to negotiate for our rights before putting up the picket line. Our youth have seen enough loud and militant leaders who benefit from the misfortunes of the community without leaving any lasting profitable legacy. They are too loud to hear when little Johnny cries because he has been denied entrance into the gifted program; too loud to hear when he suffers the agony of being the man of the house before he understands manhood; too loud to hear when the whole nation reads about him in the daily news, national statistics, reelections, police reports, state reports, district reports, and the list of those who are incarcerated. Whether “Johnny” is intelligent or stupid makes no difference; the conditions under which he lives hinder him from the pursuit of “the American dream” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The seeming absence of the wise leaders has left the village in sad shape. The strong families are so few to come by that they may as well not exist. Let us care enough to train our young in the way they should go.
There are more African males with B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s today than there were 30 years ago, but their positions of privilege do not seem to positively affect the village in which they share a common ancestry. I am convinced that it is proper for them to feel a certain sense of moral and social obligation to the community of their original identity. The African-American female child names her mother, aunt, or grandma as “heroes.” The African-American male child, on the other hand, sees the “big brother” in the sports world whom he wants to emulate but ends up frustrated because not all “African males” are six feet three inches. He never sees the “big brother” who has a Ph.D. and cares enough to come down to his rescue. This should bother you enough to want to do something about it. I know that there are pockets of those who are trying, but they are so few that they may as well not even exist.
Economic statistics show over 400 billion dollars go through the over 30 million African-American “hands” each year; and yet all the ponds in the village are owned by everyone else but the African-American. And if one dares to own one, there are nearly no wise elders to help the village take pride and ownership in the enterprise. Our village seems to be plagued with jealousy, mistrust and envy. Instead of working together to achieve self sufficiency, there is bickering and malice. And if one dares to begin a business, the villagers go to the outsider for the same services. Our children suffer because of this, and that is why they fall prey to outside influences.
In 1972, Idi Amin Dada expelled all people of Indian origin from Uganda. He did not allow them to take anything except $300 out of the country. Many of them came to the U.S while others went to Canada. I have watched how they worked in factories, restaurants, two to three shifts, sleeping in appalling homes. They had a strong sense of who they were and wanted to be. They formed cooperative groups. They had a common bond as refugees in a strange land. They worked so hard that some of them became sick and ended up in the psychiatric ward. The young helped the mothers and the fathers by playing their part, going to school to learn the system into which they had been ushered. Today they represent the new idea of the American success story. Their children are now doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. There is almost no Motel 6 that is not owned by this ethnic group. Why not our village? Is there no elder who understands the system that has made our village into what it is?
There is a Balundu saying that “he who feeds from the hand of the oppressor can never hope to go free.” I implore any wise leader in the village to lay hold of the Kwanzaa principles. They are not for the Christmas holiday; they are for building the village. The village can only be as strong as the strength of the family. Give me men and I will win the war; give me women and our nation is protected; give me children and our future is secure. The village has reached a point of diminishing returns. Let us lay hold of our young. Let us acknowledge our failures, discern our strengths, and correct our perceptions. We can no longer hold a distorted view of right and wrong because we only end up blaming others for our own atrocities. By not holding our end of the bargain, we have given the system the strength to continue denying us what is rightfully ours. We know this quite well even though a few of us would rather not care to admit it. But not to know that you do not know and not even to wish to know what you do not know is intellectual infertility.
Humor yourself by understanding the issues that plague our village, and God knows they are many. Remember that it is the nature of cowards to attack the character of others in order to hide their own ignorance. We are operating on an information superhighway. This is, therefore, no place for being misinformed. We can no longer simply create mobs to make our demands; the system knows how to give Band-Aids to little cuts. They know that yielding in principle to satisfy the mob quiets them; but it does not offer lasting solutions. Remember, too, that an opiate eases the pain of the present but it never takes away the cause. Picket lines are created to maximize the strength of our negotiations, and therefore they should never go up until we know we are at a vantage point.
As I stated before, the African-American community has enough money to cater for its own. I do not believe that economics is the problem. I am rather inclined to think that the village is primarily confronted with a political and social crisis, albeit with annihilating economic consequences. If there is going to be any sustained economic progress, it will be because the village has achieved good governance. A village that mismanages its resources does not understand the value of time management. And we know time is running out on our youth. I would implore all well-meaning and incompetent leaders to step down.
The future of our children depends on wise leadership that understands its plight in a system that has trapped them. Give our children a chance to enjoy happiness, participate in the political process, freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading police brutality, the right to recognition and equal treatment under the law, the right to succeed before they are branded most likely to fail, the right to moral, ethical, and effective judicial remedy, freedom from arbitrary interference, freedom of assembly and association, the restoration and creation of an intelligentsia that understands civil activism and the right to be a person. These are essential requirements for a civilized political system.
Bear in mind that the political system that the African-American child lives in is rigged. The promise of Stuart Mills’ Just Society has become a nightmare because of the continued application of philosophies that shaped and directed the world views of the founders of this nation. The African-American child’s negritude has become the essence that the system thrives on because of a distorted image of the “African male.” Those who covenanted with God to create a Godly society turned out to be victimizers with a taste of freedom. The African-American village has been accused of not being able to connect morality with religion. But how can they when those from whom they borrowed Christianity have not made that connection?
Distorted images of the “African male” did not just happen overnight. They were fashioned and engineered by philosophers both in Europe and the U.S. during the 17th and 18th centuries. These philosophies fashioned foreign policies, mission, and missionary statements and attitudes, and led to the further demise of the African people. The story of Africa is a history mainly relayed by deceivers, dislocators, deculturalizers, distortionists, and dispossessors. Such historians and missionaries have “put down” Africans.
I. Read what Rudyard Kipling had to say in The White Man’s Burden.
Take up the White man’s burden,
Send forth the best ye breed.
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives need:
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught sullen peoples
“Half devil and half child.”
II. Immanuel Kant and David Hume held the view that Africans, by virtue of their
blackness, are precluded from the realm of reason and civilization.
A. David Hume: “I am apt to suspect that Negroes and, in general, all
other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be
naturally inferior to Whites. There never was a civilized nation of any
complexion than White.”
B. Immanual Kant: “ . . . [F]undamentally is the difference between the
two races of men and it appears to be as great in regard to mental
capacities as in color . . . . this fellow was quite black from head to
foot, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.”
III. Thomas Jefferson: “ . . . [T]he blacks are inferior to the whites on the
endowments of both body and mind.”
IV. Hegel: “Africa is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or
development to exhibit. Historical movements in it--that is, in it’s northern
part--belong to the Asiatic or European world.” In another statement by Hegel:
“This is the land where men are children, a land lying beyond the daylight of
self-conscious history and enveloped in the black color of night. At this point
let us forget Africa, not to mention it again because Africa is no historical part
of the world.”
V. The Supreme Court of the United States of America echoed the moral fiber of
its day toward people of African descent when it ruled in the case of Dred Scot
and also in Plessy v. Ferguson. “The Negro has no natural rights that the white man is bound to respect.”
VI. George Curvier: “The African is the most degraded of human races and his
form approaches that of the beast.”
VII. Dr. Samuel Cartwright: “They break, waste, and destroy everything they
VIII. Richard Burton, English Explorer: “The study of the Negro is the study of man’s
rudimental mind. He would appear rather a degeneracy from the civilized man
than a savage rising to the first step were it not for his total incapacity for
improvement; and he has not the ring of the true mental. . . . He seems to belong
to one of those childish races never rising to man’s estate who fall like worn out
links from the great chain of animated nature.”
IX. Samuel Baker: “Human nature viewed in its crudest state as seen amongst African savages is quite on the level with that of a brute and not to be compared with the noble character of the dog. There is neither gratitude, pity, love or self-denial, no idea of duty, no religion, nothing but covetousness, ingratitude, selfishness, and cruelty.”
These philosophies set a cultural bomb that was meant to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, their languages, their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and in themselves as collective human beings who happen to look different from them. If Africa is not achieving, it is because it has become a wasteland of non-achievers whose deceived psychological hope is to identify with that which is most removed from who they are, giving them a foreign and distorted perception of their ethos. So much so that it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify who an African is. Is it the English-speaking, black-skinned, French romancing, curly-haired or the Portuguese-speaking mix who has been elevated to a human being because half of his blood is from the holy genes of the Portuguese male? Is it not ironic that the academic world should accept as fact those theories about Africans by people who are known for telling lies about Africa and distorting that which is real in order to influence negative perceptions of Africa? These modern scholars should not be named among the elite when the African and African-American child continues to suffer self-hate because of the systematic enhancement of negative, psychologically-seducing, pedagogical principles that have reduced people of African origin to a position of a non-cultured people. Fashioners of assessment instruments like the Bell Curve should be asked to apologize to the entire academic community. And sad indeed are the educators who buy into these degrading frameworks. Educators of good repute must protect the integrity of the minority child, especially the African male child.
It is to this glaring influence that Africa’s story be retold and rewritten by African scholars (and any other scholars who might have some ounce of moral fiber). Those who have triumphantly overcome and dismantled the philosophical web that had entrapped them are the only ones capable of telling the truth about themselves. It is their struggle to seize their creativity in history through control of the means of social and collective self-definition. It is returning to their roots to find a heritage that is next to none and still lingers among the masses. The African-American child will be able to acquire the needed social norms, attitudes, values, and ideas that have been distorted for him. Such historical land mines of Plessy v. Ferguson for the African-American were a sounding board during the 1884 Berlin Conference that declared Africans landless and valueless. Psychological violence began then with the resulting partitioning of Africa, and the African child finds himself fighting a war he has no knowledge of. And he asks the question, “Why?” The psychological scars left on the African Child nearly render him academically unable to fit in the system of education created for him by those who despise him. The African child’s measure of intelligence is based on a system that has belittled him and branded him as a non-achiever. My mother told me that I was intelligent because I was a Mulundu, but the European system measured my intelligence by how grammatically correct my English language skills were and if I could remember that David Livingstone “discovered” the Victoria Falls. To this I reply, “I have my own heroes and I have a good grammatical command of my own language. And these two make me a very intelligent person since I am also able to adapt to a Standard English for my own personal and economic reasons. Put me as an African, born at the lowest scale, on all intelligence tests, and I will still beat you at your game.” The sad commentary, however, is that there are many African children who have been victimized by these culturally-salted intelligence tests and are being branded as non-achievers by the new generation of colonists, colonizers, bigots, and imperialists who are continuing a tradition set in motion by their forefathers. It should make you angry as an educator and cause you to want to fight for our children’s educational sanity. They are bombarded by currents they do not understand and have no strength to fight for everything. My fellow educators, we cannot afford to lose another generation of our progeny.
The African-American child must be an intelligent child. When he looks at the images of his world as represented by the system that is trying to educate him, what does he see? He is supposed to accept a mindset of low status, humiliation, corporal punishment, slow-footed intelligence and ability, downright stupidity, non-intellectualism and barbarism. His status is confirmed by the geniuses or giants of Western intellectual and political establishment like David Hume when they say: “The negro is naturally inferior to the whites.” And his close friend Thomas Jefferson takes it further and says, “The blacks are inferior to the white on the endowments of both body and mind.” The United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson: “The negro has no natural rights that the white man is bound to respect.” The result of this description is disastrous if the African-American child does not have access to educators who are able to dismiss these myths that have been accepted as great scholarship. Can an African child pick up the works of Hegel and find images that describe him as one having nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in him and no intelligence to develop and hope to be guided to academic achievement by a system that subscribes to Hegelian philosophies of government and education? Try as he may he will not succeed unless a collaborative effort is made to rescue him. It is sad to watch and hear a child on the video entitled “7-Up South Africa” describe black people as ugly and white people as beautiful, feeling hopelessly boxed up in a black body that she cannot change and never chose to possess.
What is the bottom line? It is important for each one of us to understand the importance of true cultural identity. I am of the opinion that cultural identity empowers students to achieve academically. One of the main contributors to a dominant culture’s success is based on the fact that their students see themselves identified in the curricula they are required to learn. They see in it their heroes, ideas, values, customs and history. They see in it a harmonious reason for a possible future that provides for their needs. They see the true equitable benefit of becoming an informed, skilled and productive citizen. They know that the successful guardianship of democratic values depends on their education. In totally identifying with the curriculum, academic achievement becomes second nature. This continues to be my contention. We must design curriculum frameworks with which all children in our society can identify. Since education is for our children, then their needs and interests should be served and put as a priority on our academic agendas. We must close the academic gap between so-called achievers and non-achievers, not by color but by instructional design that caters to all children. Let our children see this change in our generation. They should not have to wait like their forefather, Dr. W. E. B. Dubois who waited for such change for 93 years and died in exile, disillusioned, because nothing had changed. Change must come and it must do so by a calculated design and expediency. Outdated social institutions and systems that perpetuate cultural discrimination have no place in 21st century America and the world. To this end, AAA, Inc. is committed to total intellectual and cultural emancipation of all children especially, those of African origin.