Black History is Not Only about Lives, It’s About Lessons :During Black History month, we focus our collective energy on celebrating, honoring, and paying homage and respect to the accomplishments, struggles, and lives of black leaders, fighters, and survivors that challenged, revolutionized, and confronted America’s oppressive, color-based system of disenfranchisement and white supremacy.
What we must realize, however, is that the power of Black History is not limited to the glorification of a few figures or the chronology of particular events or movements. The power of our history, rather, like the Ghanaian adinkra symbol, “sanfoka”, a bird flying forward while looking backwards, illuminates the interconnectivity of the past to the present. The past has the ability to continually influence, impact, and shape our present without our cognition. Conversely, when we actively access the past through oral history and research, we consciously rebirth the past and bridge the former and present dimensions. That is, it is in the lessons channeled through the lives of the past and not just the lives, in and of themselves, that provide blueprints for how we as a people can overcome, improve, and succeed.
As we approach the end of Black History month, it is fitting and imperative, then, that we focus our attention on the bequeathed advice, warnings, and philosophies that Carter Goodwin Woodson, father of Black History month left, especially as it relates to our psycho-fiscal liberation and advancement.
“The mere imparting of information is not education.” Woodson wrote this statement in the preface to his 1933 publication The Miseducation of the Negro to warn the newly liberated class of Africans of the dangers and futility of seeking social acceptance and financial wealth through the acquisition of European-centered education and values. During the post-Emancipation Era, blacks had unprecedented access to formal education at white institutions and white-replicated black institutions and ultimately found themselves in unchartered territory as it relates to constructing, forging, and solidifying divergent financial identities, occupational paths, and earning potentials independent of agriculture, sharecropping, and manual labor.
With the introduction of “formal education” as a tool toward socio-economic mobility, there simultaneously emerged a stratified and binary positioning of that which was associated with the black, land-bound, agrarian class and the white, institutional, elitist strata. The growing population of what Woodson termed the “highly educated Negro” blanketly embraced that which was considered “white” and demonized that which was considered “black”, thus elevating mind over body, institution over land, and convention over tradition.
And often to their (our) financial and psychological detriment…
The American educational system trained blacks to serve the economic interests of the white power class and implicitly, to work against, ignore, and sabotage the financial well-being of the black financial standing. For a people that were captured, enslaved, and indebted to servitude because of their superior and advanced understanding of land, nature, and agriculture and hired out as skilled laborers in woodwork, masonry, and domestic arenas throughout the pre and post-Emancipation periods, embarking on entrepreneurial endeavors that exploited these gifts and strengths would make perfect financial sense. Woodson found, however, that “highly educated Negroes” leaving schools of business administration despised and passed up the opportunities to generate wealth through “runn[ing] ice wagons, push[ing] banana carts, and sell[ing] peanuts among their own people” because they were trained exclusively in the psychology and economics of Wall Street, and not the financial dimension, structure, or nuance of the black financial belt. (Woodson, 1933)
This gapping hole in financial business sense and community pride afforded white ruling class to not only maintain, but exacerbate the disparity in wealth between these groups. Woodson drives this point when he recounts the distinct responses of a white professor and black instructor to being invited to run a laundry service for blacks. The former resigned his position at a university and became rich. The latter considered the suggestion an insult to his intelligence and position and did not become rich.
Woodson wrote this call to consciousness for middle class black America over eighty years ago. Its message, nonetheless, remains appropriate and timeless. Vanity and the desire for social acceptance continue to thwart our entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and happiness:
Self-awareness, confidence, and the ability to problem-solve are indicators of quality, true, and pure education. As a people, we have the benefit of the oral and written traditions of well-known scholars and lesser known everyday heroes to guide, coach, and support us through our journeys. This means that the process of re-education is possible, probable, and without pretense or mystery, thus allowing each man to be a personal revolution onto himself and his community.
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