The White Man's Education

I don't quite remember when I first heard the phrase or the young black kid who I last heard utter it, but I do remember the shudder that went through my body each time. The kids were questioning why they had to go to school to get the "white man's education." In both cases I never got to give an answer, as they weren't talking to me, though I desperately wanted to. Afterwards I remember thinking that this attitude was probably a growing one among young African Americans. From my own experiences I could see how such nonsense can be attractive, particularly among youngsters mesmerized by street lifestyles and looking for a slick sounding reason to grow up illiterate and parasitical.

Inasmuch as Forty Million And A Tool's primary thrust is to secure our birthright of wealth, it is equally necessary to confront the many other obstacles standing in the way of our comprehensive advancement; one of which is this obvious psychologically crippling notion that the basic literacy public schools offer our children is somehow harmful, evil or irrelevant. Clearly, this misguided rebellion has its roots in the legitimate protest against long-standing bias in educational testing and the virtual absence of African and African American brilliance in textbooks, to say the least. Yet, somehow our children have taken it to a level of lunacy that points our future toward nothing more than defiant self-destruction. Many of them truly believe that they must rebel against the "white man's education."

When I attended elementary school for most of the 1960's the only blacks I remember learning about were Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver and Constance Baker Motley. At home I knew about other famous blacks like Willie Mays, Nat King Cole and Lena Horne, but didn't quite get the sense that what they did was very important. It was only the three dead ones and Ms. Motley that the teachers seemed to hold in any esteem. Crispus died for freedom; George did many things with peanuts; Benjamin drew plans for constructing the nation's capitol and made a clock, while Ms. Motley became a federal judge. That was it! Anybody else who did anything great or important was white.

As for reading, writing, arithmetic and regular school subjects it was taught that the Greeks started it all, and that's the way it stood for me until the mid-seventies. It was then that I learned that the Greeks started very little of anything; certainly not reading, writing, mathematics, biology, literature, history, philosophy or mythology. In fact, I learned there was no such thing as the "white man's education." While this is common knowledge now, imagine the mix of emotions I experienced when I learned that the Greeks were educated, among others, by Africans; that Plato, Aristotle and others attested to Greece's indebtedness to Egypt; that Greece's greatest historian, Herodotus, described these Egyptians as people with "burnt skin and woolly hair." It was the most freeing and astonishing feeling I'd ever experienced. It was also the angriest I'd ever felt; the same anger, I suspect, our young people feel as they encounter the debilitating effects of an educational system that assigns to them inferior status, both historically and now.

During my research I came across a passage that sheds light on perhaps why black people in general seem not to know these things. It felt to me both like a back-handed slap in the face and also a sad commentary. The passage goes like this: "If you want to hide something from black people just put it in a book." Finally after digesting hundreds of books and articles I understood that Western Civilization was simply the result of Europe's formal education, primarily by Africans of antiquity. Europeans, having later embarked successfully upon a quest of global domination, re-wrote much of history in their image and after their likeness. This is how we got on the road to what our young people call the "white man's education."

Today, many of our young people are so angry, particularly after learning these things and others, that they've fallen into the trap of self-imposed illiteracy and criminality - all the while reveling in the belief that they have somehow escaped the clutches of the white man's education. The fervor and intensity of the rebellion is such that it has no expressed aim or purpose, yet the understanding seems to be that "anything whites in power promote - don't buy into it, and whatever they condemn - embrace." So when the president and other powerful white politicians extol the virtues of getting a quality education, that message gets translated down to many of our youth as worthless trickery. Not even the multitude of college educated black leaders who preach "get an education" produce the desired results, which begs the question: how can a people re-discover or re-claim their heritage only to have its most precious segment turn their backs on it and believe that it belongs to someone else? I'll tell you how: knowledge not translated into power might as well be a fairy tale story, while fairy tales backed by power becomes believed knowledge.

To counter the negative and debilitating aspects of the Euro-American educational system we need to teach our children how not to throw the baby (fundamental literacy) out with the bath water (lies and mis-education) to avoid being brainwashed and psychologically crippled. Several Afrocentric and urban movements are teaching generations of black youth about the hypocrisy of the American educational system. This cuts like a double-edged sword, causing many to abandon the process altogether, while others negotiate the process with a solid sense of self. However, until we can implement structures that ensure the healthy education of our babies from the cradle to college, we must continue to fill in the gaps where the public schools do not. Whatever approach we eventually endorse the greatest falsehood we absolutely must defeat is this notion of a "white man's education," for it concedes to others what is rightfully and equally ours.

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