This article on black education deals with a part of my childhood training that has been a source of great frustration for me. Both of my parents worked on plantations, raising cotton. Their families were sharecroppers. First, let me explain that not all black people responded to the mortifications and degradations imposed upon them by overseers in the same way. Some let the insults catapult them to great levels of determination to prove their own worth. Many others absorbed these blows, letting the pain sink deep. My parents belonged to the second group. That being said, I can categorically state that parts of my childhood training were direct results of training or conditioning inflicted upon my parents from those cotton fields which go straight back to slavery.
Here is an example of what I mean.
I was born, raised, and still live in the South. Quite often, my parents used my siblings and me to fetch and carry for them. “Pam, bring me a glass of ice water.” “Go put my plate in the sink.” This in itself does not seem too bad, but I was expected to perform these tasks as if nothing gave me greater pleasure or I risked getting a whipping or received a threat of one for showing discontent. Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents. They did the best they could for us, but a great many of their parental skills came from the legacy that was passed down to them straight from the cotton field, including a general disregard for my rights as an individual. Mostly, I was ordered to do things, not asked.
I’m not saying that my parents treated my siblings and me like Joe Jackson treated his children, but from personal experience, I understand some of what Michael Jackson went through as a child. To vilify Joe Jackson; however, without examining the slave system of behavior that he inherited too easily makes him a scapegoat for something far more sinister than he was capable of creating. Black education rarely includes studying how nearly 300 years of systemically imposed hatred for oneself has influenced the way we raise our children.
Here is another example.
I began working at the age of 14. I was very careful to be responsible with my money. My mother saw nothing wrong with taking my money to give to other family members who needed it. This was an attitude of hers. Her mother was the same way. They were both mothers of African descent with a heritage of communal living. Now, as an adult, I understand that for them, they were merely protecting their family; however, it is the method that I question. Where did they learn to take what did not belong to them without any feeling of wrongdoing? Wasn’t the premise of American slavery that the fruits of a slave’s labor belonged not to the slave, but the master?
What about my needs? Aren’t they just as valuable as the needs of the other family members, especially since I earned the money? This is a very complex issue.
I love the concept of communal living. It can be so beautiful. It is how our ancestors survived slavery and segregation. Black people have a strong history of communities pooling resources to send one or two students to college in hope – not insistence – of them returning to help the community. They just wanted to see somebody make it. This was hope at its most fundamental level. As beautiful as this sentiment was, it created an unforeseen problem.
Communal living may have helped to fund the education of many blacks, but Western education dominated the curricula and it was and still is based upon individualism. Where is the balance? What has this imbalance done to our communities? For these questions, black education has yet to provide answers.