When I was about sixteen years of age I had managed to land myself a brief stint in the Tenkiller Youth Program (TYP). It was right outside of the city limits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. While there the opportunity of a life time presented itself to me. Three days a week the other delinquents and I were shuttled to the neighboring Northeastern State University (NSU) campus to partake in a satellite educational program. It was here that the late author Alex Haley was to give a lecture and book signing for the Autobiography of Malcolm X. About a week prior to the engagement our instructor at TYP informed us of this and the fact that we had VIP action. We were also provided free copies of the book. Setting there, I recall how ignorant I was of my Black history as I turned over and over the book. Malcolm who? Alex Haley? Didn’t read a page before the book was discarded. Again, Black history had been a short chapter in my life. And neither Malcolm nor Haley was part of it. Their significance had been erased from the pages of the history I was provided by my racist school administrators. The cost to my progress would be dear. For the void stamped on my conscious prompted me not to attend the lecture.It would another five years before the stint in the Seminole County Jail prompted me to read this book. It was one of the few my aunt had provided. Having read it would provide me some inspiration and hope in a dark situation. Malcolm’s transition from ignorant street hustler to gifted speaker and the most controversial minister of the Nation of Islam would inspire me to self-educate years later when I found myself again behind bars. After close to two years in community college and plans to transfer to Cal Hayward, I couldn’t simply stop building because I was back in the Zo. Through severe cycles of hope and despair I would evolve in my studies. Through arduous self-examination, tears, barrowed books, books left on the tier, in the trash, the old college books, and those my family send—here, as with Malcolm, I study with greater intensity than when in college.To contrast these experiences—learning in prison opposed to college—has been all revealing. I find that there is a danger to learning in college that assumes that because we study in such a setting, we are actually learning. The fact of the matter is most students are simply going through the motions: obtaining grades, completing assignments and passing exams based on the product of someone else’s intellect. For many the process becomes for them what Paulo Freire described as…
an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system….
As if a chore, many students find themselves in a classroom setting that is sterile. However, for the prisoner who elects to self-educate learning is neither sterile nor emotionless. It is a choice motivated by a need to survive that drives us to understand and navigate the political, historical, and cultural forces that operate to hold us captive—both physically and mentally.
The experience certainly enables the distinction between being educated opposed to trained. Here, I find the analogy of the loin provided by Dr. Na’im Akbar serves to best illustrate the point in context. “The loin,” explains Dr. Akbar, “that will jump through a fiery hoop because on the other side you have a big fat steak for him, is a trained loin, not an educated loin.” He goes on to explain: “… education is a process by which you are actively capable of manifesting what you are. When you increasingly manifest what somebody else wants you to be—which may or may not be critical to your survival as a life form—you are trained.” In the case of the trained lion, it is no longer king of the jungle. It has been domesticated (i.e., trained as a circus pet). Thereby, it has lost its ability to take to the jungle and hunt to fulfill its rightful place in nature.
As I’m to explain in the following segment, too often this happens to students of the American educational process. They become the trained pets of America’s circus act. Seemingly this is all semantics. Though, we must note the dependency created when one is trained opposed to the independence of being educated. This dependency, as Western institutions have developed it, has increasingly impressed upon the mind of American students the epistemology of previous generations. These institutions neither prepare nor alert them to contemplate, to question, or doubt the so-called lessons (i.e., training they are spoon-fed). This training is the very cause that results in the dependency that leaves millions of graduates unemployed or strapped to a job they care not for.
Like all things American, its educational structure has a designed intent—to create a society of role takers. These roles are contingent upon and instrumental to the prosperity of the markets and economy created by capitalists. Again, Freire’s “banking” concept serves to illustrate the point in context.
It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.
The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed….
Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”; for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated….
* * * *
It follows logically from the banking notion of consciousness that the educator’s role is to regulate the way the world “enters into” the students. The teacher’s task is to organize a process which already occurs spontaneously, to “fill” the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers to constitute true knowledge. And since people “receive” the world as passive entities, education should make them more passive still, and adapt them to the world. The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is better “fit” for the world. Translated into practice, this concept is well suited to the purposes of the oppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors have created, and how little they question it.
The more completely the majority adapt to the purposes which the dominant minority prescribe for them (thereby depriving them of the right to their own purpose), the more easily the minority can continue to prescribe. The theory and practice of banking education serve this end quite efficiently….
Here’s where the beauty of Malcolm’s prison education exceeds the epistemology of King’s when considered by Freire and Dr. Akbar’s philosophies. Malcolm was not trained within the educational structures of Western academia like King. Consequently, King shackled his worldview with the instruction of the Crozier Theological Seminary, Morehouse, and Boston University. For these “Negro” institutions sought not to educate, but train him; indoctrinate him with “banking” concepts of religious mistruths and control machinations propagated by the white power structure. To this end, Dr. Wright provides us something significant in value to assess the conclusions I have drawn.
One of the most tragic beliefs widely shared by Blacks throughout the world is that White-controlled educational institutions—regardless of whether they are elementary schools or universities—will educate our children. Faith continues to prevail in spite of overwhelming evidence, which disputes this belief. Blacks continue to ignore the irrefutable truth that, in a racist social system, all institutions will reflect, protect, and sustain values that are consistent with racism. This should not be considered surprising or profound since all institutions serve to perpetuate the social theory of the group, which created them. Therefore, in any social system established by whites, the institutions will reflect racism.
Likewise, white-established institutions in “Black-controlled” countries [and communities] will continue to protect the welfare of whites’ interests regardless of their political ideology.
Consider here the intent and influence that shaped America’s Historical Black Colleges. The man who Morehouse College is named after, Old Man Morehouse, set forth the concept of the “talented tenth.” This was just one of many underhanded schemes presented to the then leaders of the Black community by the American Baptist Mission Society, the American Missionary Association, and John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and Jr. who industrialized America and done so by controlling the conscious input, or “deposits” as Freire has provided, of the masses. The particulars of this Blueprint read in part:
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there probably weren’t but about 1,700 college educated Negro people in AmeriKKKa, so once whites figured (chattel) slavery was over technically, and that some people had to be granted privileges in the society, (they wondered) could they set up a scheme where they could give one out of ten (negroes) something?
For every ten people that walk up to world white supremacy, they give one of them something, and they wanted the other nine to think that if they just acted like that one, they could in fact get the riches and promises of the AmeriKKKan dream. So they sold the Negro leadership (the idea), the gimmick of the “talented tenth,” that this ten percent will control ninety percent of the aspirations of our people by exalting and holding up this ten percent.
Old Man Morehouse was one of many founders of “Negro” institutions that bought into the cynicism of white supporters. He was sold on the fact that he would lead a university that would “train” the upper crust of the Negro (population).
One would like to believe Black leaders at the time would have been more skeptical of their white supporters and recognized the scheme as it played out. Yet we can credit their lack of awareness, or what was likely their willingness to partake in this system, to the blinding elation of white acceptance. This acceptance provided for them a sense of wholeness, a sense of being human, and thus a sense of esteem in the eyes of their white sympathizers. Subsequently, this would allow for the likes of the Rockefellers to exploit them and further the interest to build an industrial work force.
These interests would create the dependency (i.e., the control) that socialized the Negro masses with European ideals and values and, more importantly, the dependency that allowed Black Americans to this date to contribute to white wealth and Black poverty. “Capture the mind and the body will follow,” the Rockefellers and other industrialist surely reasoned. No longer could the Negro be considered chattel. However, his mind could be enslaved as Willie Lynch had already proven. And yet, the ex-slaves’ labor remained an asset to their fortunes. Thus northern industrialists set about to build institutions conducive to sculpting the subservient mindset necessary to man their developing industrial empires. The history of which Du Bois details in his ground shaking book Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil:
… the South has invested in Negro ignorance; some Northerners proposed limited education, not, they explained, to better the Negro, but merely to make the investment more profitable to present beneficiaries. They thus gained wide Southern support for schools like Hampton and Tuskegee. But could this program be expected long to satisfy colored folk? And was this shifty dodging of the real issue the wisest statesmanship? No! The real question in the South is the question of the permanency of present color caste. The problem, then, of the formal training of our colored children has been strangely complicated by the strong feeling of certain persons [n.b., Booker T. Washington] as to their future in America and the world. And the reaction toward this caste education has strengthened the idea of caste education throughout the world.
* * * *
It is here that a great movement in America has grievously sinned against the light. There has arisen among us a movement to make Public School primarily the hand-maiden of production. America is conceived of as existing for the sake of its mines, fields and factories, and not those factories, fields and mines existing for America. Consequently, the public schools are for training the mass of men as servants and laborers and mechanics to increase the land’s industrial efficiency.
Similar sentiments have been provided by Wilson:
Equal rights for southern Blacks was of little or no concern to northern businessmen. They had virtually no interest in transforming the region’s racial caste system. In fact, they sought to stabilize southern society by organizing its industrial market, restoring its agricultural prosperity, and achieving racial cooperation on southern White terms by educationally preparing Blacks to work efficiently within that system. “Negro industrialist training” was recognized by industrial philanthropists as the most appropriate form of education for Blacks, who were expected to help maintain the racial order and political stability, and help advance the material prosperity of the South by keeping to their assigned “place” and playing their designed roles in the social and economic system of that region….
King seemingly handicapped the struggle by limiting his educational intake to that which was offered by this perverse system. White institutions programmed him, his ideas, his values, and misgivings of America’s capitalist infrastructure. He idealistically and not realistically posited equality. Intoxicated with hope, King sought by means of integration an equality that is unattainable in a capitalist society for reasons that
…the problem contained in the conflict between the maintenance of individual freedom and the stress on the equality of men… rest on the proposition that an effort to create equality among men must inevitably constrain the efforts, fortunes, talents, and opportunities of at least some men. Otherwise, through the exercise of these properties, inequalities will arise as a matter of course. Yet to impose constraints is to limit the freedom of those affected, at least in the use of these personal properties. Hence… to proclaim a quest for equality may not only be illusory but, more significantly, demagogic and also deleterious to human liberty. The strain between liberty and equality is… generally resolved in favor of liberty, at the cost of a continuing inequality….
As noble as King’s “Dream” is, the reality before the ghetto today has proven it an overall failure. That is unless one is content with an eleven percent drop (from 35% to 24% since 1968) in poverty in the Black community.
Personally, I think of it as a failure. What all this equates to compares to what Lynne Zucker’s experiment in the movement of light demonstrates. In short, Zucker challenged a group of women to determine the distance that light moves in a darkened room. Little did they know the experiment was a gimmick because light does not move. Though, there was an “auto kinetic” effect or visual illusion of movement being that in a completely dark room there is no frame of reference from which motion can be assessed. Likewise, it is difficult to buy into King’s “Dream” because, in the case of Black Americans and other people of color, educational achievement has came to symbolize that “training,” that “credentialism” white America has so long distorted our reference point with. Like the construction of a house on sand, King’s education was the contorted product of elite manipulation. For they both functioned to enable the fortunes of the well-to-do. First by removing Black dollars from the hands of Black businessmen and placing them in the hands of white businessmen. Second, by creating an integrated work force, competition for jobs would create the ideal circumstances for business owners to exploit the willingness of Blacks to accept less pay for white jobs. As I’m the detail in the chapters to come, the concessions made to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement were not made in the interest of humanity, rather capitalism.
As with King, Malcolm too would be trained in the academe offered by the city of Boston. Though, not the ideal rather the unorthodox universities of the street. An eight-grade dropout, Malcolm’s intellectual ability was seemingly squandered away mastering the destruction taught in the ghetto. A bottom feeder, his story is all too known. He was cut from the cloth of abject poverty, fatherlessness, delinquency and other vices common to the ghetto. The deathstyle he led prior to a triumphant and transforming prison experience is another example of Dr. Akbar’s philosophy of training. Both he and King feed on the two-edge sword of knowledge that white America had put to them to consume.
For Malcolm, the lenses this placed on his worldview trained him to carry about as “Red”—a street hustla, con artist, junkie, and thief. Like many, he had been placed on the leash of destructive training. However, unlike most subjected to this process who come out flawed, rejected, and opaque, these elements would cast back to us a grade “A” jewel. This, we know, was due in part to his redemptive prison experience. Notably, he became a pupil to his own educational enormity. His words are instructive to this day:
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life! As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America….I don’t think anybody ever got more out of going to prison than I did… Where else, but in prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensely sometimes as much as fifteen hours a day?
Here’s where the beauty of Malcolm’s education exceeds the epistemology traditional to institutions of the like King attended. The distinction being, as Malcolm explained to Alex Haley: “You studied what he wanted you to learn about him in schools, I studied him in the streets and in prison, where you see the truth.” This is the danger of learning in white institutions.
Under the guidance of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm was able to sore to greatness as a commander at the lectern, commander of behavioral sciences, and commander of a movement that sought to achieve social and economic independence for the African race. For Malcolm the teachings of Elijah Muhammad were a reflection of those his father had taught as a loyal devotee of Garveyism. It was the immortal Marcus Garvey’s Philosophies & Opinions that the Nation of Islam had constructed its program upon. They strove to break the destructive and oppressive chains white America had shackled to the Black mindset. With the mystic and cult like Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad would exploit, for lack of better expression, the Negro’s need to believe in something other than the passivity of Christianity. “The Black Muslims,” writes George Breitman, “had reached Malcolm at a time of acute crisis in his life: A young man in his twenties, he was in prison (1946-52), alone, rebellious, groping to understand what had happened to him and where he fitted into the future.” He goes on to state:
A movement denouncing white oppression had enormous appeal to [Malcolm] because he felt he had been a victim of that oppression… Perhaps a non-religious movement of the right type might have recruited him at that time—but none came into touch with him, and the Black Muslims did. It was a religious conversion [Malcolm would easily adjust to] because the answers he was searching for were supplied by a religious movement; he embraced its religious along with its non-religious aspects. But its main attraction for him was its message that he had sunk to the depths because of white oppression and the Nation of Islam provided a vehicle to combat and end that oppression. (Ibid.)
This all appealed to Malcolm because the Garveyism his father had introduced to him as a child. Marcus Garvey and Garveyism proclaimed:We must free ourselves [from whites] mentally, spiritually, and politically. So long as we remain the religious slaves of another race, so long as we remain educationally the slaves of another race, so long as we remain politically the slaves of another race, so long shall other men trample upon us and call us an inferior people. But when we lift ourselves from the racial mire to the height of religious freedom, of political freedom, of social freedom, of educational freedom, then and then only will we start out to become a great race and ultimately make ourselves a mighty nation.
When assessing the educational backgrounds of Malcolm and King—one within the constraints of the white power structure, the other outside and in opposition of it—there’s no questioning the former was the product of the full 360 degrees of knowledge. King being bred of upper middle-class stock, like other essentially upper middle-class groups, was essentially conformist with white values and ideology. The irony of this was he wanted to assimilate into a system that had wronged so many people. Moreover, how was it we as Black Americans were to integrate into such a system without becoming oppressors ourselves? After all this was a capitalist system were big fish eat little ones.
King simply lacked the edge that Malcolm’s educational background would have afforded for him to see through America’s rhetoric of equality, freedom and justice for all. Malcolm’s background, particularly his studies while in prison, made it all too clear the vices of capitalism (i.e., oppression, racism, poverty, crime, etc.), that ran rapid in the Black community, were all part of the ill design of racist and capitalist thinking white America. That said, who really could relate and build the Black community? Seemingly, with all the calls to action the Black community is hearing today to take action on all fronts—from the household to the community—the message of Malcolm is becoming clearer and clearer as it echoes for us to stand in the virtue and reward of our community’s independence just as other races have.
But NO! We weren’t listening then and many aren’t listening today. Black folk weren’t trying to hear the brother. “All that Negro trippin’” was all they could say. “I want to get in the house with whitey. Yelp! That’s the best move.” We thought we were being denied something or missing out on something because we could not give our money at a white lunch table or attend white schools. Yet, we failed to realize that white schooling and spending our money in white establishments had perverted us so mentally, socially, and economically. The very school system that we thought offered us something we did not have, did not offer us anything but an eleven percent drop in our poverty rate and a 46.6% dropout rate once we integrated.
Moreover, it was not ignorance that accounted for our poverty. Rather, racism. Arguably, what accounted for this condition then accounts for it today. Sure racism is not as blatant today as in the past. Yet, when we look at the statistical data we see that racism and the systems of caste control are very much alive and working hard to maintain white privilege. For the same people who control the school system also control the prison system. It would only seem logical then that just as prisons are used as tools of caste control (Chapter 8), so too are schools. This becomes evident when considering the school-2-prison pipeline mass incarcerates young Black males at a disproportionate rate when compared to other races.
That said, Malcolm put to us the fact that capitalism, colonialism, and racism were fundamental to the inner-workings of white America’s oppressive and progressive economy. Accepted as such, he would also state that America would have to undergo fundamental changes in its economic system before changes would occur between the races. It would take King until the final days of his life to accept this. Consequently, he lead Black America to believe that once we integrated this would ameliorate our social and economic condition because, all of a sudden white America had upped its tokenism.
Moreover, Malcolm knew all too well the history of white America and how it was that white people had come into their social and economic position. It is a history of repine, racial quotas, and entitlements that tells of how they obtained their advantage. “The unequal distribution of power [i.e., wealth, capital, property, etc.] between Whites and Blacks,” writes Wilson, “did not originate from the fabled ‘economic genius’ of the former relative to the lack of it in the latter.” He goes on the explain nor is it the product of honest “hard work.” Because[w]hite power, based on the White monopolistic ownership of property and accumulated capital, is the alchemical product of “blood and fire,” i.e., of the genocidal murder by Whites of Native Americans, the outright theft of their lands and resources, the brutal enslavement and murder of Afrikans as well as the naked, direct exploitation of their uncompensated labor—all made possible by the unrestrained use of White-instigated physical violence, psychic terrorism [i.e., the doctrine of Willie Lynch], and psycho-political economic manipulation. Afrikans were brought to the Americas as the private property of Europeans. The surplus production of their labor was expropriated and accumulated both during and after their enslavement. This, along with the theft of Indian lands are the fundamental sources of European American-African American property-power relations to this very moment. Moreover, White America’s “long history of 100 percent racial quotas in favor of Whites” and its use of racial discrimination as “a standard form of cartel power” (Cross, 1987) has provided Whites (and some of their non-White immigrant group imitators) with the propertied means of bending the will and shaping the behavior of the relatively propertyless dependent Black Americans.In making reference to the work of Theodore Cross, Wilson borrows the following chart detailing America’s history of racial quotas. (See chart on following page) In addition, the Final Call Newspaper features an article telling of those false pronouncements of “hard work” white America has made to justify their social and economic standing:The foundation of American White supremacy sits tenuously on a rickety base of lies and deceptions about how Whites gained their wealth and status. A century and a half after slavery the median wealth of White families is $100,000; for Blacks families, it’s $5000. The belief that Whites achieved this 20 to 1 wealth advantage by HARD WORK is an absurd and a historical fantasy. Nonetheless, the airwaves are filled with self-righteous pronouncements of Caucasian commentators anxious to “advise” Blacks to “work hard” and to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” if they want to succeed in America. Not only do they seek to invent a fraudulent fairy tale that white washes a very bloody legacy, but they also aim to re-affirm the notion that “non-whites” are naturally inferior and lazy and are thus responsible for having comparatively nothing. The truth is a whole lot nastier than that… The mechanisms of government and private industry that were constructed to specifically hamstring Black prospects for success after slavery are extraordinary. In harmony, government and private industry, and all sectors of American society, instituted a series of White Affirmative Action programs for the benefit of WHITE EURO-AMERICANS ONLY, programs which gave them material advantages that had nothing whatever to do with either merit or “hard work.”Armed with this knowledge, it was Malcolm who was the socioeconomist and better understood the inner-workings of America’s capitalist system. His call for separation was a call to the Pan-African nation to essentially do as Garvey had instructed—to free ourselves of the physical and mental chains of European imperialism.[Malcolm] clearly understood that this system is rigged against the political, economic and cultural interests of… the Afro-American socialist because it was impossible to be a capitalist without being a racist… His foreign experience had led him to see that the Afro-American problem is a part of a “system,” both domestic and international, in which there is a vital relationship between capitalism, colonialism, and racism. He became convinced that the capitalist system fosters racism and uses it as an instrument of economic exploitation and political subjugation. The system establishes a colonial relationship between a dominant and subordinate group that is sustained by police brutality, calculated to keep the subjugated people terrified and psychologically castrated.
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