Dr. Carter G. Woodson has an extraordinary legacy. He is the father of Black history, the creator of Negro History Week which would expand and become Black History Month. The origin of Negro History week would include President Lincoln’s birthday (at the time he was a hero because people did not know he was an opportunist and it was in the best interest of the north that slavery did not exist for economic empowerment) and Fredrick Douglas’. His pivotal work “The Miseducation of the Negro” has changed the scope on scholarship for decades which is arguably his best work and what truly defines his legacy. A book that transcends times and space, a book that every generation from 1800s-2014 can relate to, a book that is sophisticated yet user friendly so everyone can understand it; this is one of the greatest books to critique white supremacy and black agency. Despite all the praise, this book is a gift and a curse. The curse is that the book is still relevant which shows us how much progress America has not made to rectify the issues presented in the book.
To be miseducated is not the same as being uneducated. Miseducation can be those who were taught in traditional schools but are not educated. Then, there are those who are self-educated. For example, Malcolm x, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Harold Cruse and many revolutionaries have no college degree but are highly educated. Then you have people like Charles Barkley, Don Lemon, TD Jakes, Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas and many others who have a college education but are not educated. The issue is that many black people who are self-educated have a difficult time finding work or a sustainable source of income because they have no credentials, or the skills they have are not put to use because they are not formally educated. We live in a society where credentials are more important than skill set. Many people with a formal education are also self-educated like Cornell West, Huey P. Newton, bell hooks, and many more. This is ideal in the current state of America.
Nothing has truly changed since the release of this book. The fact that his analysis is still relevant today is a major problem. People should not have to educate themselves to learn about their history. I was once told that Obama is not the first black president even though Kwame Nkrumah is the first post-colonial era president. When put into perspective, this shows black people are not connected to their roots and history. The overwhelming support for Obama was thrilling to see but also sad, because Kenyans were happy but black Americans are not supportive of the Kenyan leadership or the politics of their country. This is the product of a miseducation. Having no real ties or attempt to understand the history of African people or engage with the current politics on the continent is a result of miseducation.
Black history is almost nonexistent in schools. This type of education only promotes self-hatred and invisibility. With all the research and resources at our disposal, there is no reason why black history is not in schools. Africentric High School in Columbus, OH doesn’t even have a black history course (at one point it did, but it was an elective, not for a history credit) and it is an African centered school. Culturally relevant curricula are important for all people, especially black people. It gives youth hope that their school cares about who they are or who they were. It is powerful to understand that Africans are the genesis of modern civilization. I am sure white students feel empowered when they hear of the great history of their Greek and Roman ancestors. These are clear indicators that they are suppressing this information because knowledge is power and blacks with power will disrupt the status quo.
Leadership development is one of those over used phrases in which most people actually do not understand what leadership truly means. People think leadership is a position or a role. While it may include that, leadership is what assets you put forth to better life chances and opportunities for yourself and others. I have attended many rallies, programs, and events and one thing that a leader does well is listen to the people instead of waiting to respond. Woodson talks about leadership as a service to the community that one should die for if necessary. One leader in particular that followed this example was Fred Hampton. He was from the suburbs but decided to live with the people to serve the people and he ultimately died for the people. Woodson spoke of the “educated” leaving the masses instead of leading the masses. Too many formally educated black people leave the masses.
Woodson spoke of political education and how it is neglected in schools. Black people voted and supported Obama but have no idea what how politics truly function. They do not engage in local or state politics and that is where the real power is. Since reconstruction era, there have only been five black senators and there have only been four black governors in US history. Politics have only been available to the few. Black people need to engage in the political process by grooming candidates locally to start to build some power.
Woodson wrote, “conspicuous consumption is a result of successful enterprise, not the road to enterprise.” The misuse of these funds has been disastrous. Black people are consumers in this capitalist society and the only way to get ahead is to have ownership of what you produce. According to black demographics.com, “Black owned businesses in the United States increased 60.5% between 2002 and 2007 totaling of 1.9 million Black firms Blackdemogrpahics.com). While this is impressive, only 5% of these firms actually hire people. Furthermore, majority of these businesses are in health care, personal care, social services, repair, and laundry. These businesses only make up 7% of all US businesses and majority of them do not generate capital. Black people do not need any more hair salons or independent haircare creators, blacks need more businesses that generate funds for the community. We need to strive for Walmart’s not mom and pops (though they are needed, but we need to compete). Woodson warmed black people about the lack of businesses but it did not mention the need for large businesses that could compete with the spike in globalization.
Woodson wrote extensively about the black church. The black church is still the beacon of black communities across the country. The history of the black church is powerful being the first institutions for blacks in this country. The church was the first space for education and was a space of hope. But the church was and is an institution established by white supremacy (even AME). The religion was forced upon enslaved Africans so taking the religion of your former enslaver is problematic. Unlike in the past, the church was a place of political liberation. Many black churches do not discuss politics and have become very passive. Mega churches perpetuate class divisions and replicate the dominant hegemonic culture. I would even argue that most churches discourage people from finding their roots whether it is out of ignorance or for the fact that black folk historical foundation is not Christian but through one of the many forms of African spiritually. Black people are just starting to respond to a black or brown Jesus so we are a long way from spiritual liberation.
The scholarship on the African diaspora is extensive, yet it is not taught in public schools. While many colleges have black studies or cultural studies courses; majors are low and the enrollment into those courses are not impressive. Blacks are not educated to get educated about themselves. The list of African diaspora based scholarship is amazing, yet black people are not interested or ignorant of its importance. The cultural hegemony in this country is very strong. Though, in my opinion, the level of consciousness is raising thanks to social media, uprising throughout the world, and unfortunately, because of the blatant racist activity that has been captivated through video footage.
This book is a great tool to understand the past and present issues on education, traditional and nontraditional, politics, economics, racism, and so much more. This book changed my life when I first read it and anyone that takes a critical eye at this work, will be transformed as well. This is the main reason why youth should just not read the book, but engage in the concepts in the book. It will give them a better historical analysis in this critical time and space.