“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
— Marianne Williamson
There is a classic Marlon Brando line from the movie “On the Waterfront” where he passionately proclaims “ I could’ve been a contender. I could have been somebody.”
As I watched the children board school buses for the first day of class, I found myself mumbling that line as I reflected on my less than stellar academic career.
I never made the honor roll; I kinda hung out at the B- level. Sad thing about it was I could have easily been a straight A student, I just chose not to do it.
It’s not like I wasn’t bright enough, as the high percentiles on my California Achievement tests would prove. But being the resident smart person, especially during my teen years, did not quite jell with the hardcore, rap guy image I was trying to portray. Sadly, I was not alone in my dark journey to academic self sabotage.
Being an academically gifted black kid in America is the proverbial catch 22. White America fears your intelligence, and you fear yourself.
See, we live in a society where black people, especially black men ain’t supposed to be smart. While our white and Asian counterparts are busy figuring out how to build rockets and stuff, we are taught that our greatest endeavor should be mastering the art of doing the human beatbox while bouncing a basketball.
It must be noted that this ideology did not start with today’s generation nor with my peers. This is rooted, as are most black pathologies, in slavery. Until the latter half of the 19th century, it was illegal for black people to read. Matter of fact, it was a crime, in some instances, that could get you killed.
This is compounded by the proponents of scientific racism who were dead set on proving that black folk were intellectually inferior to white people. Even after slavery was abolished, to be tagged as being an “uppity negro” was tantamount to having a bullseye tattooed on one’s back, especially below the Mason Dixon line.
So playing dumb, for black folk , became a survival skill.
For the Hip Hop generation, the dumbing down of black youth became commercialized, as mental mediocracy became a marketing scheme in the entertainment industry.
There is a theory called the the Hip Hop Conspiracy that says the regression of Hip Hop started in 1992 after the LA Rebellions aka “The Rodney King verdict “ when the “powers that be” finely caught on that street gangs were being politicized via rap music. To counter this, a diabolical scheme was launched to destroy music with a message and replace it with what would eventually become the barely discernible “mumble rap “ of today.
This , compounded with the fate of black men like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King who dared to flex their mental muscles made many black men seek sanctuary in alleyways instead of libraries.
Is this conspiracy far fetched? Maybe. But it does fit the timeline.
Fortunately, I eventually escaped “the conspiracy” because someone told me that knowledge was power and somewhere down the line I decided that I would rather fight than flee. But I often wonder how my life would have been different if I would have had this revelation sooner than later.
So, what about the other African-American children who weren’t so lucky? The ones that weren’t able to shake the intellectual inferiority complex and went sliding down the dark hole of the school to prison pipeline? One suggestion is that this school year, every African American parent should study the works of Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and the late Dr. Asa Hilliard who boldly suggested that black academic failure is no accident.
I know many reading this will say it is all a bunch of malarkey. Who, in their right minds would purposely put stumbling blocks in front of African-American children to stop them from being all that they can be. The answer is simple. Those who want to preserve the status quo and to forever keep black folk subjugated under the illusion of white supremacy.
As James Baldwin put it “If I am not who you say I am, then you are not who you think you are.”
Paul Scott’s column appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF