Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month and second Black PhD to graduate from Harvard, wrote the acclaimed The Mis-Education of the Negro way back in 1933. In the 1940s, psychologist Kenneth Clark’s “Doll Test,” demonstrated that small Black children were being psychologically conditioned to yearn and favor the looks of White people at the expense of self-dislike. His critical findings were cited during Brown vs. Board of Education when the Supreme Court desegregated schools in 1954.
Here we are, decades removed and Dr. Woodson’s book is still widely sold and studied, while recent doll experiments show that Black children are still predisposed to view White dolls as “prettier and nicer” with hair that’s “better” than Black dolls. Educationally, we face ever-dismal challenges where Black children enter kindergarten a full year behind Whites; by high school the gap extends to 4 to 5 years; and 58 percent of Black males don’t even graduate high school, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
Princeton researchers recently published a 7-year study, concluding that a 20-year “Manhattan Project-effort” is necessary to close today’s education and economic gaps of racial inequality. Just so you’ll know, the original Manhattan Project was a massive pursuit, costing the equivalent of $22 billion and comprising thousands of scientists who developed the A-Bomb in 1945 to nuke Japan into a crisp. So, to infer this same scale and category of effort, speaks to the comparative urgency and enormity of educational hardships that African Americans must confront during this 21st century.
There’s good reason for skepticism since Black kids who dropout commonly say “classes aren’t interesting.” And as far back as my childhood in the 1960s, “Acting White” has been a tagline used by Black kids to ridicule those who academically excel. Naturally, adults respond by saying, “there’s nothing White about being smart.” Although this is absolutely true, it absolutely misses the point and fails to address the sociopolitical and mis-educational factors that confound young minds to misconstrue smartness with Whiteness.
What we as African Americans must realize is that children worldwide learn that the earth is round and 1 + 1 = 2. These are universal facts that are race-neutral, which have nothing whatsoever to do with either Blackness or Whiteness. However, the functions and end-uses to which nations apply such facts to influence and educate kids, are not as neutral or universal.
Hence, “Acting White” is a troubled way that our youngsters express something that we have thus far lacked the power to change – Which is that the functions and end-uses of America’s “System of Education and Intellect” are based on skewed purposes, processes, and interpretations that place European images, ideals, and institutions as the central frame of reference and relevance. This lack of intellectual equality and institutional parity, encapsulates the very essence of the mis-education identified by Dr. Woodson.
Our mistake is that we consider it sufficient to simply insert Black people into existing White institutions, and then paste tidbits of sanitized versions of “Black History” into America’s larger body of education. By contributing without properly correcting the functions and end-uses of America’s “System of Education and Intellect,” we have consequentially allowed “the problem to masquerade as a solution.”
Ask yourself – To what function is our current system of thought being applied, and who/what are the ultimate beneficiaries and end-users?
With our 4 centuries of collective intellect and institutions, we can’t stop our youngsters from shooting and killing each other. We can’t even stop them from cussing in front of elders. We have communities nationwide that are being held hostage to solution-less Black-on-Black crime, where standards of manhood are measured by practices of “prison culture.” Modern mis-education is rendering us intellectually and functionally unfit to “rescue ourselves from ourselves.”
Black leaders and educators convene nonstop to debate and decipher “what’s wrong.” But here’s a biting truth about the nature of Americanization – The very psychological inducements that entrap small Black children to idolize and overvalue White dolls, mutate into sociopolitical mindsets that psychologically induce Black adults to idolize and overvalue European ideals and institutions just the same . . . its one yoke with two levels of psychological shackles.
During his last address to the SCLC in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King similarly noted that neither Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation nor Johnson’s Civil Rights Bill could provide us with “psychological freedom.” This, he continued, must come from the “inner depths of [our] own being.”
As such, we should not expect centuries of mis-education and psychological attachments to simply evaporate, even with a Black president. The purging process however, will certainly require a “systemic undressing” of America’s character and historiography in ways that this establishment will definitely find uncomfortable and unwilling to concede.
So until and unless we become courageously prepared to mount ample intellectual and institutional capacities to attain and defend our “psychological freedom,” The Mis-Education of the Negro will not only be the title of Dr. Woodson’s book, it will be an accurate description of a permanent reality.