In Souls of Black Folks W.E.B. Du Bois tells of the story of John Jones, a happy-go-lucky Negro from the small town of Altamaha, Georgia. John is a free spirit who’s always laughing, smiling, and singing. He’s loud and boisterous. Unfortunately, John is not very productive in his endeavors. Of all people, John’s family arranges for him to attend college. His family and the greater community of Altamaha have pitched in to cover his expenses and tuition. John happily accepts the scholarship and off he goes North.
Being his usual self, John does not take college seriously. Consequently, he fails terribly at his lessons and his boisterous demeanor lands him a suspension. This, he realizes, will bring his family and he great shame. His family and the community have gone to great pains to afford him the opportunity to attend college. The shame he anticipates has forced him to realize for the first time he has done his family and community a great disservice. In a desperate attempt to correct his wrongs, John pleas with the dean of the school not to report his misdeeds to his family. He assures that if he is allowed to return the following semester, he will get some “act right!” The dean, realizing John’s fear of shaming his family has awoke in him the seriousness of his mistake in taking for granted his education, reluctantly agrees to allow John this final opportunity.
Indeed, John would return the following semester and hold true to his word. He becomes so engrossed in his studies he doesn’t notice the changes in his demeanor. No longer is John the happy-go-lucky Negro from Altamaha. He’s now focused and intrigued with the various subjects he’s elected to undertake: the fall of Rome, Greek mythology, the stars and planets, and the plight of Black America. Slowly, John’s education has changed him. He has now become a well-read scholar with ideas and aspirations. Unfortunately, however, he has become arrogant with his newfound knowledge. He believes he’s too good for Altamaha. Because of his arrogance, he conveniently finds excuse after excuse to prolong his return home. His family is eager to see him. His mother writes often inquiring as to his return. Yet, John puts them off. His dread of returning to Altamaha threatens his sense of prestige and privilege due to its abject poverty. John’s education and being in the North have afforded him some indulgence in the arts, politics, and other events customary to the parvenu.
Yet Jim Crow remains. It slaps John squarely in the face with reality. Because he is Black, he is to be excluded from white privilege. This, needless to say, frustrates him so. The rage it inspires within him provokes him to challenge Jim Crow dead-on by attempting to force himself onto white society. He is rejected time and time again. The greater his exclusion in obtaining equality, the greater he feels oppressed. He grows more and more militant by the day. His passions are inflared so now he realizes his calling to uplift his people from the mire of racism, inequality, and poverty. After years of putting off return to Altamaha, John finally has reason to return.
As the train rounds the bend into his hometown, John sees the town with new eyes. The immense level of poverty in which his fellow Altamahans are forced to live takes him aback. His observations are not simply based on what he sees, but moreso what he has learned of how these conditions are created. They strike at his heart for he knows the people of Altamaha are blinded by their oppression. Removing these blinders will be his greatest challenge. Strapped with this knowledge and the perceived wherewithal, John is full of hope and fight. He’s a bit too optimistic however.
His family and the Black community of Altamaha receive John with open arms. However, hostility lingers by their white counterparts who suspect correctly that John has become an uppity nigger full of ideas to change the plight of Black Altamaha. Despite the hostility, a celebration ensues. The town folk have rolled out the red carpet. There’s a parade and other festivities. The church has been dressed with all the bells and whistles. A formal ceremony is held to honor Altamaha’s first Black receiptant of a college education. Though the celebration would be short-lived.
Those closest to John begin to notice that this was not the John of the past-the happy-go-lucky Negro. No, this John was rather distant with ice in his eyes. When time came for him to address the community, John stood atop the pulpit and shocked the congregation by denouncing Christianity as a vice used by the oppressor to make mental slaves Black folk. He spoke fiercely of nation building amongst the Black masses, oppression, and a new educational directive to uplift Blacks from the mire of racism. He went on for quite sometime yet without approval from his audience. When done, only his sister would applaud him. The rest of the congregation sat speechless.
Where John had sought to enlighten his people, he offended them with his brilliance and ideas. Notably, his condemning of Christianity struck at the heart of Black Altamaha. They were god-fearing people who could tolerate no such blasphemy. John’s concepts of nation building and Black-centered education were too complex for his unschooled audience to understand. John may have well been talking Chinese.
Frustrated that neither he nor message was received, John fled the church to a nearby beach. There, he sat stirring into the sunset with anger in his heart. He couldn’t see beyond his fury enough to understand where he went wrong. Distracted by rage, he had not noticed his sister to take pursuit. She now appeared before him as a ghostly shadow to inquire further of his ideas and educational experience. “John,” she asked, “does it make everyone unhappy when they study and learn lots of things” he paused and smiled. “I’m afraid it does,” he responded. “And, John, are you glad you studied?” “Yes,” came the answer, slowly but positively. She continued to watch the flickering lights upon the sea, then said thoughtfully, “I think I am, a little, John.”
That John’s little sister was able to somewhat grasp his message speaks to what Frederick Douglass once said of the fact that, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” In the case of the people of Altamaha, they were broken from centuries of oppression. This made it almost impossible for them to relate to John. Notably, he failed to present his concepts in a way that would allow for them to understand where he was coming from. Consequently, he isolated himself from them due to his superior intellect. What took John years of study and change in habit to free his mind of the oppression that once held him mentally captive, he attempted to part with in a sermon. Just as he was to study for years and gain a profound insight on the world before him, so too the need for his people. So begins the process of cultivating vision.
Vision builds on knowledge, as does success. Without it people cannot aspire to new horizons because they cannot see where the journey before them will lead. Nor can they interpret the message of those who seek to push them in a new direction. While it is often said of mankind that we were created to believe and not to doubt, people tend not to be faithful to anything until they understand why they should. In the case of the Altamahans, they could not divest faith in John’s vision because of their lack of understanding and knowledge. Needless to say, this prevented them from galvanizing around his ideas. As noted, where John was once a student of vast studies, he failed to realize that, as a teacher, he was to gradually elevate the Altamahans’ conscious understanding of their predicament and its causes. This entailed, first and foremost, getting them to see their condition as a problem and not their natural lot in life. It entailed for the realization that the blame for their condition rest squarely on their shoulders.
That the Black community in Altamaha was to blame for their condition was the reality that they feared. They feared accountability for the construction and preserving of their own social, political, economic, and religious institutions. Notably, they had grown to rely on the institutions of their oppressors. Because of this, they were to blame for their condition and, to a large extent, the oppressed people that they had come to be.
The story of John and the people of Altamaha is the story I have told of Black America, especially those of whom reside in the ghetto-myself included. Having personally undertaken the pursuit of knowledge, as had John, I have come to know of the misery associated with gaining a more in-depth insight on the world before me and the challenge of enlightening the less endowed. The more I learn of the various institutional forces that operate in American society, the more iconoclastic I become. My studies have made me conscious of the fact that we live in an artificial society created by these forces that shape our reality. Too often, I encounter those who, like the Altamahans, are afraid to “wake up” to this very fact and assume accountability for their predicament. They are discouraged from reaching beyond their circumstance. Their intellectual ability to challenge themselves, their circumstances, and the insecurities that hold them hostage have been hindered by the reality created by their oppressor’s institutions. They have been affected by a design intent on keeping them mentally impoverished. As long as people are mentally impoverish and ignorant of the impact of this institutional design, they will ever be easy to manipulate into living a life of crime and poverty.
That we are poor, without social, political, or economic power is not necessarily the fault of those who create the Blueprint. Rather, it is our fault. Obsequious thoughts by power-thinking people create the ghetto. Again, we allow this design to affect our lives due to our ignorance of its inner-workings, which in turn allows for people outside our community to control the institutions that oppress it; that make for the destructive elements that we embrace as a deathstyle. For these reasons the blame for our condition falls squarely on our shoulders. Only when we accept this fact then, and only then, will we begin to “move on” eliminating those problems of mass incarceration, violence, poor education, drug economies, broken homes, and unpromising futures.
As this suggests, the problems before our communities will not disappear until we up and take control of our systems of education, economy, law enforcement, and other social and economic factors that contribute to our community development. If we continue to run from this truth then we will continue to see an assortment of individuals and groups that milk the chaos for what its worth. Their faces we are all too familiar with. They are the nation’s politicians who, prior to their election, are full of hope. They dupe us with promises to correct wrongs, to provide solutions to society’s ills, and to put things in order. Yet the very moment they step into office, their pledges are long forgotten. History has proved this time and time again. It proves the fact that they are simply chasing the money train. That the problems before the ghetto persist in face of all their problem-solving initiatives, is a tell in itself that the game is being thrown so as they can collect on their bets and lip service.
Notably, the solutions they advocate are prescribed by the very establishment that stands to benefit from the problem. For example, the same people who control the school system control the prison system. They advocate better education yet their schools are the pipeline to prison. It is for this reason that any solution that comes from the top-down and not the bottom-up must be rejected. For they are intended only to scratch at the surface of the problem so as it persists as a viable source to political and economic ambitions. These solutions are but mirages-the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, Better Education for the Poor, etc. Then, like hypocrites they audaciously condemn those who fall victim to the traps they set by reducing school budgets, off-shoring jobs, “green-lighting” drug trafficking, and decimating organizations that prevent gang violence. These are the politicians who are heavy on the throttle to systematically impose those very systems of education, law, and economy that I have written of within these pages that destroy our community. In all their problem-solving initiatives they act as if the game is not rigged in capitalist America where big fish eat little ones and those at the helm of the ship steer it in the direction of making crime, for example, functional for society.
That said, it is of no surprise as to why problems persist in the ghetto. If anything has been gained from the previous chapters, I hope it’s the fact that social and economic problems persist in the ghetto because of the immense level of political activity (and arguably the lack of it on our part) aimed at keeping the poor poor and the rich rich. That’s the plan, plain and simple. Chapters 1 through eight are but mere examples of the social, economic, and cultural occurrences that come of this political gamesmanship.
So how do we protect ourselves, our families and communities from this design that makes for the competitive society in which we live? What of solutions, if any, to the continual problems it causes in the ghetto? These are but frequently asked questions that everyone seems to have on their lips to provide an answer to. Even I myself have had such questions put to me. Of course, I don’t have all the answers. Nor is there any one solution to the number of problems before the ghetto. However, that’s not to say there is no solution to each problem. After all, they have their causes.
Theoretically, solutions are quite easy to come up with. In fact, the answer to a number of problems before the ghetto have been provided by committed scholars such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Dr. Na’im Akbar, Paulo Freire, Amos Wilson, and the many others cited throughout the course of this work. Notably, the solutions they advocate are grounded in the concepts of nation building, which center on cultural and economic organization. Where problems before the ghetto persist, it is because those experiencing them are not willing to accept the solutions provided by our Black scholars. Then too, people are simply not willing to make the necessary sacrifices and they lack discipline in all matters, which places them at an intellectual disadvantage.
It has been said that what we don’t know by way of knowledge, we will be exploited by! Accepted as such, the forging scholars point to the fact that problems before the ghetto (n.b., poor Black communities) can be traced to our educational disorganization. It would only seem logical then that our focal point for solutions begins with the search for a true educational experience as they suggest. As with Malcolm, this experience is more likely to be had within a prison cell than a college classroom for reasons articulated in chapter 5.
Be that as it may, I see more of the world through my narrow prison window than most people walking around in it because my worldview is clean and visionary like a window plane. No longer is my intellectual development constrained by the clutches of America’s perverse educational institution. Like shutters it operated to control the degree of clarity and vision I attained in insight and hope. It distorted the quality of light that beamed through the window plane of my worldview. No doubt, the darkness it created within me was deconstructive and a detriment to my community. Yet there has been inspiration found in the small beams of light provided by our great African scholars whose insight on the educational process has allowed for me to push back the shutters and clean the debris from the window plane. This has allowed for me to receive the full radiance of factors impinging on my growth and development. Immediately, as if I changed the lenses to which I viewed the world, my environment began to change as I became aware of the factors that allowed for me to make it a product of me instead of the other way around. As the light dominated the newfound reaches of my mind, I found myself no longer stumbling in the dark of my ignorance. No longer am I ignorant of the fact that American schools function primarily within the perimeters of “banking” and “training” concepts of education that, for example, operate to solidify the class positions of racial groups and to allow the elite to control the masses. No longer am I ignorant of the fact that these institutions function to indoctrinate an imperialist ideology that systematically works to destroy the norms, values, traditions, and languages of non-Europeans. This is the objective of the Dick Sloans of America.
That there is a near 50 percent high school dropout rate amongst Black children and less than eight percent of American students attend college is of no happenstance. Contrary to popular belief these figures do not represent a failing educational system.
Failure, we know, is a matter of perspective. If we look at the system as “wanting” to provide a quality education to American kids, it is an abysmal failure-and we cannot understand it. If, however, the objective is to utilize public education and state ran universities to control the flow of human capital made available to man the corporations and various government agencies set in place by America’s ruling class, then the above statistics represent a howling success. If we can understand this, the system’s “failure,” as well as its obstinate refusal to change its broken-down colonial model, becomes perfectly understandable.
Furthermore, when Black people in particular give credit and crisis to these statistics we affirm our deafness to “our” scholars who have been telling us for the past 100 years or so that the American educational institution was not designed to teach the oppressed anything other than how to remain oppressed. Said differently, the system was not designed to teach the oppressed to become the oppressor. I’ll spare the details of repeating chapter 5 and just say this with regards to colonial education: IT WAS DESIGNED TO FAIL US!
Chapter 9 excerpt from incarcerated author Ivan Kilgore’s recently published book Domestic Genocide: The Institutionalization of Society.
READ more excerpts at http://www.willisraisedblog.wordpress.com.
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