Here we are again in February–Black History Month, or whatever the more politically-correct designation is currently. I am of two minds on the observance of it.
But, first, it is necessary to point to the history of Black History Month and to its creator, Carter G. Woodson:
Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. One of the first African Americans [sic] to receive a doctorate from Harvard, Woodson dedicated his career to the field of African-American history and lobbied extensively to establish Black History Month as a nationwide institution. He also wrote many historical works, including the 1933 book The Mis-Education of the Negro. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1950.
After attending Berea College in Kentucky, Woodson worked for the U.S. government as an education superintendent in the Philippines and undertook more travels before returning to the U.S. Woodson then earned his bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Chicago and went on to receive a doctorate from Harvard University in 1912—becoming the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from the prestigious institution, after W.E.B. Du Bois. After finishing his education, Woodson dedicated himself to the field of African-American history, working to make sure that the subject was taught in schools and studied by scholars. For his efforts, Woodson is often called the “Father of Black History.”
Woodson lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African-American history, which began in February 1926 with Negro History Week. The program was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. (Woodson had chosen February for the initial week-long celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.)
(Some misspellings are corrected and a link to Dr. Woodson’s most well-known work is added. About the emphasized sentence: occasionally, some grievance monger will betray an ironic ignorance of history by attributing to racism the fact that Black History Month occurs in the shortest month of the year.)
One of the most well-known quotes from Mis-Education applies to everyone, but it has special significance for black Americans.
When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.
(Other fascinating Woodson quotes are found here. Had Dr. Woodson been born a century later, his Tweeted quotes would no doubt be received quite unceremoniously by the black leftist Twitter mob.)
This quote is relevant to black persons now more so than in 1933, the year in which Mis-Education was published. Woodson’s thesis was that contemporaneous black Americans were being culturally indoctrinated rather than educated. Was he correct? Yes, and an example of that indoctrination’s aftermath is in order.
One can look to 1933 and note that, at state and local levels, a certain political party advocated and supported legal oppression of black Americans. In 2014, however, most black Americans are members of that same party. But has that party’s strategy changed? No; only its tactics have been changed. Earlier tactics were designed to control the physical, economic and political mobility of black Americans; but present-day tactics (language alert) and shorter-term strategies are designed to control our thinking.
Dr. Woodson posited that teaching Black History to black American students would make them equal to other Americans in their own minds—where it counts—and, thereby, make them better citizens.
It was a great and worthy cause, but like many other, great and worth causes, it has become warped and misshapen.
The First Mind
I used to have a ton of “black books”—fiction, history, philosophy, etc. At some point, however, I sold or gave most away because I needed more room on my bookshelves and, to be honest, the topic became boring–more “rah-rah Team Black!!,” rather than who, what, where, how or why. Navel-gazing is one of my favorite hobbies, but, at some point, one needs to take the eye off of self. (When my American dad asked me why I had gotten rid of most of the books, I replied: “I know how to be ‘black,’ Dad; it’s time to read about other things.”)
(I still occasionally read black history items; online, for the most part. One site, Neglected Voices, is a fascinating list of speeches from the first black members of the US Congress, all elected in the aftermath of the Civil War and all Republican. I actually learned quite a few things at that site–always a plus.)
Notice that I didn’t throw the books away. There are many Americans of all persuasions who need wider perspectives in the area of this country’s history, of which black history is an integral part. The problem I have, however, with the over-focus on that history is that it skews individual perspective, feeding pride, victimization and anger. The priming of those three emotions softens the ground for thought control.
In next week’s column, I’ll lay out the details of my second mind.
To be Continued…
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. Her first novel,Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2009; the second edition in 2012. Her new novel, Arlen’s Harem, is due in early 2014. Help her fund it and help keep her blog alive!