“No people can begin their history in slavery. God has never created anybody in slavery. All people are first created free, then they are enslaved. So any African beginning their history in the United States of America is a stupid African beginning their history in slavery. And if you begin your history in slavery, the best you can hope to be is a good slave.”—Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael)
History is boring, they say; there’s nothing interesting about. It’s just a bunch of dates and people that are too hard to remember at one time. Why is the teaching and learning of history important anyway? It has nothing to do with my ability to be a productive citizen, and it has nothing to do with how I make my money. It’s a useless discipline. These are common sentiments often heard from students, but strikingly, I hear the same from brainwashed or better yet, “whitewashed” adults. I am ashamed when I hear an adult Black man or woman grumble how he/she hates the discussion of history. They hated it in high school and they hate it even more so in casual conversation as adults. Considering our plight as Black Americans, I find it purely appalling, downright shameful for any African-American man or woman to not be thoroughly engaged in the teaching and learning of history—be it in a classroom setting or in open discussions.
In regards to our language, the Black vernacular, etymologists proclaim we have contributed absolutely nothing to modern American language. Our native tongue has been taken from us and we’ve been brutally forced to assimilate with the dominate culture. In regards to our history, Black American and African history, the historian tells us we have yet to contribute anything worthwhile to be considered for serious critical and historical analysis. They won’t even give us credit for the election and reelection of Barack Obama! They tell us he’s not really Black, he’s mixed! If I understand history correctly, they’re the ones who came up with the “One-Drop” rule, not us. Our history, they say, begins and ends with slavery. I guess this explains why you can peruse through practically any history book and find a tiny chapter dedicated to our struggle; correction, not necessarily our struggle, but our sale, lease and ownership as American chattel—detested slaves, the Black smudge of Americanism. ‘Our’story begins far before the Europeans raped and ravaged Africa. It begins with the first human beings who ever walked this planet Earth. It begins with the first civilizations that began to sprout among the Nile River and the Great Rift Valley in what is now modern-day Ethiopia. It begins with the ancient empires of Kush, Sumer, Kemet, Timbuktu—civilizations that predated Greek and Roman societies. It begins with the first accounts of a spoken language, written and artistic expression through song, dance, and cave paintings. We are not primitive. We are a proud and dignified people.
“Until lions have historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” –African proverb
“Our”story has been taken from us, deliberately torn and shredded from the pages of time and history, and you mean to tell me you’re not enraged? For years, the only history taught in American schools, in both white and Black institutions, perpetuated stereotypes of inferiority, docility, imprudence, ignorance, apathy, aggression and violence that only fueled the relentless flames of racism that engulfed crosses of the Holy Trinity in front yards; flames that engulfed schools, churches, businesses, homes, PEOPLE! These flames of racism found itself at the Little residence where a young Malcolm along with 6 other sisters and brothers came running out into the cold as they watched their only home burn down; flames of racism that burned from the muskets used to gun down millions of innocent Black babies, women and men from the so-called Dark Continent during European conquest or more appropriately termed, the African Holocaust; it found itself chopping off hands and heads in the Congo of Africa; it found itself on the blade of the knife used to castrate thousands of Kenyan men in the Mau Mau insurrections.
Black man, Black woman, you are a fool! You’re brainwashed into feeling that the study of history has no interest, no concern to you whatsoever. As much as I absolutely hate the perpetuation of stereotypes, I probably hate Black men and women who find no interest in history just as disgusting and embarrassing. Do you not see your apathy or disinterest in our history not only continues to perpetuate a stereotype, but you’re also doing exactly what they want you to do! They don’t want you to know your history because to them, there isn’t any. You have none. How do you expect to teach your kids and your kid’s kids how to be proud sistas and brothas if you’re aren’t? And no, you can’t be a proud Black man or woman with no sense of history, no knowledge of self. You just can’t be.
“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.” –Malcolm X
There’s a reason why they pulled your history from textbooks and only left the gruesomeness of slavery. Hell, some books even teach you that slaves were contented with their wretched condition! They exterminated “our”story because they want you to have no knowledge of self. They want you to understand that you are nothing without them. They gave you all that you have, all that you need, and that’s all that you need to know. Period.
Our moral and social upliftment does not begin until we begin to educate ourselves first, and then educate our children, while simultaneously educating others. The study of history teaches us to be proud Black men and women. It teaches us to learn from the mistakes of others while capitalizing on the talents of those we consider our shining Black achievements, our unsung heroes and heroines: Stokely Carmichael, Patrice Lumumba, Fannie Lou Hamer, Nina Simone, Fred Hampton, Shirley Chisholm, Marva Collins, Betty Shabazz, Myrlie Evers, Nat Turner. The list goes on. History teaches us to properly tool ourselves and our communities for the advancement of our people. It teachers us to be resilient, strong, powerful, dignified and unified with a strong sense of community. So don’t ever say you’re not interested in history. Engage yourselves in conversation. Listen. Learn. Educate. Black Thought & Renaissance
Mark Twain is quoted as having said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” A lot of students I teach, young men I mentor, and even a few friends know how adamant I am about reading, and probably more important than that, encouraging others to do the same. Education, or the lack thereof, has always been used to control Negroes. In Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, he recounts his earliest memory of trying to learn to read. Here, he recalls an instance when his master’s mistress was scolded for teaching the young Fredrick the A,B, and C: “’A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world…He would become unmanageable, and of no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy’…I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the Black men.” What makes slavery and oppression so damning is more than the physical trauma; it’s the psychological damage that have kept us an almost biological, economical, and educational underclass in America. So how do we first begin to break the psychological chains that have impinged on our upward maturation to become as powerful as we once were before the European invasions began in Africa? The answer is in the crystallization of knowledge of self through absorption of ethno-cultural conscious works: readings, speeches, arts, and movies. We’ll begin with books for now.
I wasn’t always a reader. The most I read, during my pre-X days (you’ll understand what I mean by that in a second) were basketball magazines like SLAM and hip-hop mags like XXL and The Source. I literally have hundreds of these magazines that I’ve collected over the years stashed in my home right now. Most brothas and sistas can trace the development of their Black consciousness back to one moment in time of inspiration, insight, and stimulation. It’s like remembering exactly where you were or what you were doing on 9/11, or the day Jay Z’s Blueprint dropped (same day as 9/11. I was in the mall in Dothan, AL picking up my copy. Lol!) , or especially the day you heard Barack Obama was elected POTUS. That’s pretty much how it happens. Like me, mental liberation begins with reading that one great piece of work. The Autobiography of Malcolm X unequivocally changed my life, and I didn’t read it until my SECOND year at Alabama A&M University. I owe my cultural consciousness, and even my motivation to teach and mentor Black males to one man: Malcolm X aka El Hajj Malik el Shabazz aka Omowale. It completely changed my view on life and opened my eyes to the psychological effects of American race relations. From the Autobiography, I began to branch out other things and other works. And that’s how my story began.
To hopefully aid in somewhat of a cultural enlightenment for you, I’ve compiled a list of books that every Black family should have in their homes. Not only is this list for yourself, but think about your kids. Psychological slavery STOPS right in our own homes. In African, Hispanic, Asian societies they really empathize teaching the younger generation the ways of the clan, the family, the community, and the culture as a whole. They teach their kids the customs, social taboos, and especially their history. The only group that I can think of that does not pass down this sort of knowledge is Black America. Why? Because we don’t know much about our history ourselves! So this list is for you AND your kids. As you kids get older, make sure they’re familiar with these works and better yet, it shields them to an already Eurocentric school curriculum that undermines the tragic history of this country and in Africa; and it undermines our own intellectual achievements. So when Ms. Suzy “White” tries to teach your son or daughter that Malcolm X was a demagogue, Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman are the only heroes/heroines we have, or that the Black Panther Party was as regressive and self-destructive as the slave uprisings, you can teach you kids the TRUTH! Anyway, here’s the list, but there’s a disclaimer: this is not, by any means, a complete list. There are many I will miss or some that you think should be included. My journey is still going; I’ve been a reader for like 7 years and I have a LONG way to go, so if I’m missing something, post it in the comments section and that way we’ll have a running list. Here goes:
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
- Assata by Assata Shakur (if this book doesn’t enrage you, then you must not have a pulse)
- Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Philosophy and Opinions by Marcus Garvey
- Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys vol. 1 and 2 (if you are a teacher or a parent to a Black male, you better read this book!) by Jawanzaa Kunjufu
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (for those of you who like good fiction books)
- To Die for the People; Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable: probably the most impartial account of Malcolm’s life to date.
Gandhi: An Autobiography (Yes, Gandhi’s book is the s***!)
- Martin and Malcolm in America by James Cone (good parallel into the lives of two of our greatest leaders)
- Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu (this is not a “Black” book per se, but EVERYBODY should read this!)
- A Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass by Fredrick Douglass
- The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson (If you don’t read any book on this list, you better read this one. It’s just that powerful!)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (another good fiction book. I fell in love with it in an all-white AP English class in high school.)
- Gifted Hands by Ben Carson (if you have kids, you better read this and especially your kids. Ben Carson was academically ranked at the BOTTOM of his class; kids called him dumb; no father in the home; robbed and stabbed people in the streets; momma made him read a book a week for his mental liberation and he’s world renown as the greatest brain surgeon ever!)
- Nigger by Dick Gregory
- The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (just a really, really good inspirational story)
- Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen (all this stuff they teach you in school that is inaccurate or just downright fabricated. Can we say Thanksgiving anyone? How about bastard Christopher Columbus?)
- Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler (about a controversial lynching that took place in Georgia that they are covering up until this very day! It’s not even mentioned in the state’s 8th grade GA History textbooks!)
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (it’s a novel of an African perspective of European colonization)
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (but read this with the side-eye because she really painted us in a bad light. But it’s essential to American literary history and understanding)
- Black Boy by Richard Wright
- King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Horschild (how the Belgians raped and ravaged in the Congo)
- Imperial Reckoning (the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya had all the white folks scared to death—literally)
- The N Word by Jabari Asim (I stopped saying the N-word after I read this book in 2007. I haven’t referred to myself or another Negro as a n**** since then).
- Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams (this is a book that should be read by ALL Black men and ALL single mothers/fathers who are raising Black men. And its written by a dude from our generation!)
- Losing the Race by John McWhorter (McWhorter is social conservative but he makes some really valid points about the need for us to stop using race as an excuse of underachievement and ignorance)
- Letters to a Young Brotha by Hill Harper
- Letters to a Young Sista by Hill Harper
- How to Break the Chains of Psychological Slavery by Na’Im Akbar
- Unbank the Fire: Visions for the Education of African American Children by Dr. Janice E. Hale (I met her!)
- Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
- Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon
- Betty Shabazz by Rickford (that’s Malcolm X’s wife. She was a remarkable woman who doesn’t get as nearly as much credit and recognition as does Coretta Scott King. Hey, it’s kinda the same thing between Martin and Malcolm, huh?)
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (this lady was a slave who was raped by her master and she ran away, only to NOT leave the plantation! She hid in her mother’s attic, about the size of your closet, for over 7 years! She watched her kids grow up through a small crack in the boards. They never even knew she was up there!)
- The Black Students Guide to A Positive Education by Baba Zak A. Kondo (this is when I first learned about ancient African empires that I never even knew existed. It talked about how many Greeks came down and borrowed ideas from some of these kingdoms. It even has a book list like this that’s how I initially started building my library. If you know someone in college, get them this book as a gift.)
- Oh, and try selected works by Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay
This may surprise you quite a bit, but I’ve heard from quizzical Blacks that my efforts to transform the young Black male psyche are covertly racist. My effort to teach these young brothas how to maneuver around the potholes and roadside boulders of negative gender and racial stereotypes is discriminatory. They ask why other kids aren’t allowed to be a part of the program. They wonder why the curriculum is infused with so much Black history and culture. “Kids from other backgrounds have problems, too”, they say. From whites I receive a lot of support, surprisingly. I’m not saying I don’t get much support from Blacks, either. I’m just saying it sometimes takes be aback because I expect them (whites) to be more critical of my goals and objectives of my educational program for young Black males rather than the unexpected praise I get from them. I’m sure they’re some whites who are critical of it, too; but I’ve had random whites, and some who I work with, who’ve offered to financially donate regardless of the fact I haven’t acquired my 501(c)3 yet. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a guilty conscious lingering in there somewhere. Maybe they’re more willing to give and support because of some hidden culpability they feel. Maybe they view me as the “credit” to my race whose efforts to “save” my poor downtrodden brethren is worthy of applause, which is actually a credit to their concealed prejudices, right? Maybe they’re less openly critical about it since whites, I feel, are ultra-conscious about being perceived as racist and take amazing strides to keep us from honing in on any perceived racial prejudices that they may remotely harbor (I was hit with the “My best friend is Black…” the other day while on the second job, and all I did was tell the supervisor I thought she was cool.”) Or maybe, just maybe, they’re purely genuine supporters because they wholeheartedly care about the socio-political and educational advancement of African-Americans considering our incredible plight, especially our males. I don’t know. It’s hard to judge.
Yes, it’s hard to gauge why others choose to support me, or not to support me. In 2012, efforts solely designed for one particular group of people is regressive. It paralyzes the tremendous strides and all that we’ve overcome as a country. It condones segregation. Whatever—blah, blah blah. Most, if not all my blog posts and outreach efforts, written about on this site and the other (Southern Education Desk), are suggestions, concerns, and reflective epiphanies that are fundamentally rooted in my passion for the social and educational upliftment of the African-American community beginning with our youth. One of my primary objectives as an educator, a Black man, is to be a positive representation of pure Black manhood for the young brothas who look like me, who remind me of the brothas that I grew up with back in Aliceville, AL. That does not mean students and parents of other cultural fabrics cannot benefit from being adherents to my words, actions, or participants in my program, PYB culturally-relevant educational outreach and mentoring. So, America, this is what my program is all about. Yes, other kids from other groups can benefit, but I wholeheartedly believe that the dynamic blend between the historical, economic, cultural, and social factors have created a unique experience for the American Black man, an experience that no other human being can even come close to understanding or relating to. Yes, white boys are fatherless, too. Many don’t know how to tie ties, many don’t know how to speak well, and many come from dire economic backgrounds; but, they are not judged by the same standards as Black men are. For the most part, racial stereotypes work in their favor, not ours. They still benefit from the “white privilege”. They’re not immediately judged off of appearance, be it skin color or style of dress. They’re not judged by the way they walk or talk. We are. Our kids are. If a white kid is considered a problem kid, that’s just it—he’s a problem kid. If a Black kid is considered a problem kid, we start hearing a totally different set of pronouns: those kids are problem kids, those people, them, they. So I feel it’s going to take us to change that. Me.
As Black men, our obstacles are unique for us. Therefore, my program is culturally designed to meet the social, educational and emotional needs of the Black man. I can relate to their struggles and their concerns because I’ve been there, and actually, just may very well still be there. The other Black men that I bring in as guest speakers can too. There is invisible glue, I feel, that bonds us together. Yes, this glue is rooted in skin color, but with that brings a common heritage and culture, a way of speaking to one another that may be perceived as foreign language to some outsiders. I’m a Black man and as a Black man, I can connect to these young brothas in ways that they’re white teachers cannot. And I’m not saying white teachers are useless in making a connection with Black kids. I’m just saying there are some things that they won’t ever be able to relate to or understand because of the cultural barriers much like it’s quite difficult for me to make those connections with the Hispanic young men in my program; but, I do not discriminate who I welcome into this program or who I mentor. Whites, Hispanics, Middle Easterners can all be Positive Young B.r.o.t.h.a.s., too. I’ve had mentees of just about every cultural fabric I can think of and I believe what they took from my program is an understanding of our issues, of our culture, our strides, our obstacles. I believe they saw something different in young Black America than the misrepresentations they may have seen on BET, MTV and their local news stations. If anything, I need students of all representations because those are the students that may hold the power of influence to transform the hearts and minds of their ethnic peers. They’re part of our future, too. They’re also apart of the transformation of the public perception of the Black man. If racism, prejudice and bigotry start at home, then I believe I have the power to change that if they’re apart of this program. These kids will be employees one day, college students, maybe even employers. They’ll be the one who’ll view Black men impartially, without the racial biasness and prejudice that continues to hinder our progress.
My intention is in no way to be divisive or as some people surprisingly assess it, an exercise in reverse racism. I don’t know about you, but to me, racism is not defined as a strong and undying commitment to the preservation and restoration of one’s history, culture, and social progression. Racism exposes itself in how we treat one another—the subtle and not so subtle prejudices solely grounded in racial and ethnic variations. If I am a reverse racist, then so be it, if that’s what you want to call it. I’ll be that. I do not hide my love for Black America, Black aesthetic, Black culture, Black history. It’s who I am. It’s what I’m unwaveringly committed to. I’ve told several students that the person I am today, essentially, is the manifestation of the efforts of those that came before me, my heroes. Our heroes. I’m only doing what they bestowed upon me. I’m talking about Malcolm , Martin, Assata, Douglass, DuBois, Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Woodson, Carver. Hell, even Washington. This may not be fitting, but as finished that last sentence, I couldn’t help but to think of a quote by Snoop Dogg: “He is I and I am him”.
“If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success…” Malcolm X