The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision reversing segregated education, also reversed the educational autonomy gained by African-Americans, and the aftershocks of that are still reverberating across Black minds and communities today.
How School Integration Defused Black Advancement :
Before the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned the principle of separate but equal education, African Americans had made significant educational gains following the abolition of slavery. They did this in spite of living with brutal racial oppression and deadly violence.
In an effort to resuscitate their culture and history, education was seen as necessary for the upward mobility of African Americans. Many African American writers, through the publication of slave narratives and scholarly works, wrote amazing bodies of non-fiction work aimed at educating Black people. Many African Americans could be found reading literature by W.E.B. Dubious, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Langston Hughes, J.A. Rogers, and a host of other Black writers.
These literary pieces were works of resistance aimed at transforming Black consciousness. Black illiteracy, which was 30 % in 1919, had dropped to less than 7 percent by 1955. Black illiteracy had almost disappeared in the North, and in some areas Black illiteracy was less than White illiteracy, such as in New York. In 1950, Black colleges had 71,000 students. Nearly all were in the South. Five hundred fifty three (553) African Americans had a doctorate degree.
Black owned and operated publishing companies were abundant, and education for critical consciousness was a vital part of this Cultural Revolution.
The intellectual growth of African Americans following slavery was extraordinary; this was clearly made evident by the thousands of applications for patents submitted to the U.S. patent office during the late 1800s through the early 1900s by African Americans.
This was absolutely remarkable so shortly after slavery and while still enduring racial persecution. Although African Americans students were attending poorly funded, desegregated schools, many Black teachers were restoring the damaged psyche of African American students by including literature produced by renowned African American writers and scholars.
This provided the students a body of literature that featured Black heroes and the various contributions of African Americans. These materials informed Black students that they were more than merely the descendants of slaves and the children of sharecroppers.
Moreover, it offered them hope and stimulated the desire for greater aspirations. This literature of resistance transformed Black consciousness and gave Black students a sense of purpose and pride. However, this did not last long, for integrating Black student into schools indifferent to the contributions of Blacks defused the growth of Black consciousness and self efficacy.
Instead, the shackles of mental slavery were reapplied. The version of History taught in school to African Americans where heavily revised to favor the agenda of the ruling white elites while hiding the true brutality of their crimes committed against Black people throughout history and in doing so fostered an unrealistic sense of false patriotism used to manufacture your allegiance to a still racist government. This curriculum deliberately withheld the many black world contributions from the educational development of African American students.
Therefore psychologically retarding the esteem and potential of many African Americans students.
The new educational system failed to provide Black students the same, essential racially affirming curriculum needed to base their capabilities and potentials upon as it so routinely does for its White students-thus cutting off the aspirations of many Black students at the roots.
The integration of public schools indicates the U.S. Government’s imperative to retard Black advancement as Black students were thrust into an educational system that taught them to admire the accomplishment of Whites and to despise Africans as being non-contributors of modern civilization.
For most African Americans their schools are the first place where they learn just how little they’re valued in America. No group of children can adequately academically compete with other students while being educated to respect the accomplishments of every other racial group except themselves.
After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government sponsored a study that was supposed to examine the differences among school resources allocated to Black and White students. The idea was that, by pinpointing the advantages available to White students, policies could be made that would replicate those opportunities for Black students. However, during the integration of America’s schools, the government failed to produce culturally relevant instruction for Black students as it habitually did for White students.
Instead, Black children were integrated into White schools without accommodative adjustments to the curriculum. The implication was that Blacks had contributed nothing to society. Arguably, in American education, the achievements and contributions of African Americans have been largely neglected and receive less attention in terms of quality, historical scholarship than any other topic.
As a result, Black students are bereft of robust historical information that can serve as a platform for future efforts. Those African American students who doggedly survive their stifling grade school experiences find that their high school situations are even more challenging.
Tragically, many teachers and administrators who experience “difficulty working with these students” often misdiagnose them as having “behavioral or learning disorders” or misuse special education programs to remove these students from the classroom. Many studies across the nation find that Black students are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school as White students. In schools where corporal punishment was permitted, some past studies found that Black students were five times more likely to be hit by school adults than were Whites and three times more likely to be kicked out or placed in Educable Mentally Retarded or Behavioral Disorder classes.
These Black students are often over-overmedicated with drugs like Ritalin and Prozac and placed into low level classes that further diminish their self esteem and belief in their abilities. It has also been suggested that prescribing drugs during these children’s school years may also send the message that drugs are necessary to cope with social stresses.
In countless books, medical journals, and psychological lectures over the years, White psychiatrists and psychologists have pointed to the adverse affects of low self esteem and depression in children.
This work resulted in a long list of symptoms and behaviors that are consistent with those now associated with African American youth. Such notables as Dr. Nathaniel Branden, author of the Pillars of Self Esteem, have focused on self-esteem. Dr. Branden has spent the past three decades studying the psychology of self-esteem. In various speeches, articles, and books, he has attempted to describe the connection between self-esteem and the many human problems common to society today. He notes that “Self-esteem enhances our ability to build relationships with others, it gives one the basis to make accurate, concrete interpretations of current events, and it encourages a people to inspire in spite of obstacles. It has a powerful influence on your behavior at work and in your personal life.”
Furthermore, a longitudinal prospective study about the adverse affects of depression on children found that it can have far-reaching effects on the functioning and adjustment of children, which often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood.
Dr. Harter, one of the researchers conducting the 1992 study stated that “Self-esteem and depression are usually observed in cycles; the cycle begins with low self-esteem, which leads to depression, and this can lead to suicide.” There is increased risk particularly among adolescent boys if the depression is accompanied by conduct disorder and alcohol or other substance abuse. Among children and adolescents, depressive disorders confer an increased risk for illness and interpersonal and psychosocial difficulties and may predict more severe illness in adult life.
There is more than ample evidence that children exposed to a great deal of violence in movies, television and video games etc., may become desensitized towards violence and may develop violent aggressive behavior as result of this exposure. Yet, with regard to African American students in America’s racist education system, this idea and epistemology is grossly ignored. Time and time again in many books and articles, White researchers detail long lists of ailments that imply a crisis of low self-esteem consistent with the symptoms displayed by Black students in the education system. Perhaps because they are satisfied with the existing educational curriculum, they are unwilling to acknowledge the link between widespread suffering of Black students and damaged self images and low self esteem. Sadly and almost inconceivably, these researchers adamantly stand by their research except when there is an attempt to use their studies and findings to validate this premise as it relates to Black students. It is outrageous how White researchers can ignore their own premises when applied to Black people. Even in seeing and/or hearing, they do not register or observe any facts that conflict with their innate proclivity for racism.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked that “the eye of a bigot may be compared to the pupil of an eye in that, the more light poured on it, the more it contracts.” I have studied these symptoms of internalized racism among African American students for more than twenty years in various cities across the United States.
I have also conducted countless interviews with African American students often identified as un-teachable, unmotivated, disruptive, and trouble makers. I have heard repeated painful testimonies from Black students besieged with deep internalized feelings of self-doubt and self-hatred. They could not always fully articulate the source of their problem, but they consistently reported that it had something to do with their Blackness and that neither alcohol nor drugs could remove the hurtful feelings.
Many critics of this premise shift the blame saying that the source of the problem lies with the failure of Black parents to teach their children their self-affirming history. However, the parents of these students are victims of the same demoralizing education process. I have heard parents echo many of the students’ deep feelings of inadequacy. Even those who excelled and made their mark in the world found that the Mercedes and the big house still did not alleviate societal wounds. They too are products of the same humiliating education process.
The future of any race is extremely dependent upon the proper nurturing and education of its children. All children, regardless of their race, need an education that tells them who they are and what they have accomplished as a people. Therefore, a failure to rectify the problem assures the destruction of Black America.
This hypothesis is not new. Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote in “The Mis-education of the Negro,” in 1931, “the thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every classroom he enters and in almost every book he studies and by teaching him that his Black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worse sort of lynching, because it kills his aspiration and dooms him to vagabondage and crime.” Dr. Woodson’s analysis was that one’s information determines one’s attitude, and an attitude determines one’s behavior. Therefore, the seat of trouble was in what African Americans were being taught about themselves.
He concluded that African American youth are not only being “mis-educated” but, actually de-educated — that they are being systematically excluded from the educational curriculum and that their self esteem is being systematically destroyed as a result.
Dr. King’s dreams of becoming a nation in which Black and White students could attend school together was based upon America being a plural society built by contributions from all segments of American society. It is reasonable that this should be reflected in the education curriculum. However, Dr. King’s dream has been totally effaced by the reality of racial bias in the American education system that conceals the significant contributions of Black people.
An educational curriculum of were in which Black students are taught to admire and respect only the achievements of Whites.
Dr. King would never have imagined that desegregation meant that Black students would be denied an educational setting that allows them to compete equally with White students.
Clearly, it was an illusion to believe that African American students could receive an education that allows them to compete equally with White children in a system designed by the people responsible for oppressing them and pronouncing them inferior.
Perhaps what is most tragic is the fact that when these victimized Black students respond accordingly to their negative educational experiences through demonstrating feelings of self-hatred, disaffection of education ,and disruptive behaviors– these responsive behaviors are then used by the dominant White culture to further affirm and perpetuate their own racist notions of White racial superiority over Blacks.
Unfortunately, many African American students never fully recover from the adverse impact of their mortifying educational experience –by the time they complete school or dropout, the damage has already been done and the effects remain with them for their entire lives.
In order to build a stronger Black America, we must ensure that our children are provided with an education that enables them to effectively compete with White students. It should also afford them the same opportunities to succeed in the 21st century, not merely preparation for the available low-level jobs, or even for high-level jobs that may serve no worthwhile purpose beyond individual advancement.
It is time to take interest in our future seriously by achieving quality education for our children. A new reality for African Americans will only be built upon Black society that dares to take control of the education of their own children. White supremacy is literally destroying the minds of African American children and as long as Whites determine what is taught to Black students, they will always lag behind.
As long as Black people rely upon Whites to tell us which of our children are normal, we will never know the genius of our students. African Americans deserve a quality education free from protracted and debilitating battles. They deserve a system that promotes their education and sense of self worth rather than one that discourages them by excluding them; they deserve an educational curriculum that enables them to feel good about themselves, their past, and their potential.
A pluralistic society is one where all people are treated with respect, dignity, equality, and fairness regardless of racial differences. Therefore, African Americans have every right to expect that the content of their education will be true, appropriate, relevant, and complete, and among other things that upon completion of public school, our children will have the general skills to enter the world of employment and to be fully functional members of the society.
Such an education is a right of all children and not merely one elite group. The future of Black America will be only as strong as the opportunities that exist for them to attend these types of schools.
We shape our future by the way that we educate our children. Therefore, there must be an alternative for every child who is in a school that does not serve that child well. The time has come for us to recognize this unfulfilled need of society thus fulfilling the promise of true equality.
Re-blogged with permission from The Black Matrix by Franklin Jones (c) 2006, 2008
The Black Matrix: A Perception Management