Assimilation, Consciousness, Afrocentricity, and Critical Race Theory

To Be

I was born in Washington, DC to African American parents who were empowered by the recent legislation resulting from the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. My mother worked for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone company and my father worked for Potomac Electric Power Company. I was their first child and they wanted me to have a “good” education. Hence, they moved our family to Landover, Maryland so that I could attend public school there.

I went to Kenilworth Elementary School in Bowie, MD. During the early 80s, bussing was still practiced in Prince George’s County, MD so I was bussed from Landover, a predominantly African American working class community, to Bowie, a predominantly Euro-American middle class community. At the time, I did not realize that I was a part of a desegregating initiative. I always wondered why I had to catch a bus to school when Glenridge Elementary School was a ten minute walk from my house. It was at Kenilworth Elementary School where I met white children for the first time. And it was at Kenilworth Elementary School where my racial consciousness began.

Awakening

Being bussed into Bowie challenged my self-esteem and caused me to question my self-confidence. Ms. Bailey, my first-grade teacher of European descent, gave the class a caveman cartoon coloring sheet. She directed everyone to color the sheet which would be hung up on display. I loved coloring, so I was happy to color my caveman. I took my brown crayon and colored his loincloth. Then I took my black crayon and colored his skin. I was quite proud of my piece until I looked at Pamela’s coloring sheet. Pamela sat at the desk next to me. She too had colored the caveman’s loincloth brown, but the skin of her caveman was peach. I looked back at my coloring sheet, flabbergasted. What had I done? How could I have colored the skin of my caveman black? I looked at my crayons. I had eight colors. I looked at Pamela’s crayons. She had 64 colors. Why didn’t my mother get me 64 colors? I thought. I asked Pamela if I could borrow her peach crayon. She approved. I took the crayon and began to color over the black skin of my caveman to no avail. I asked Ms. Bailey if I could have another coloring page. Her answer was no. I stood there, staring at the black and peach caveman I had colored before balling it up and throwing it into the trash can. I now know that that was the first sign of me having double consciousness in my life. Shuford (2001) submitted,

“While Du Bois considered double-consciousness to be distorting and damaging (“always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity”), it also provided African Americans with a unique critical perspective that could be used to give voice to manifold experiences and to motivate collective action” (p. 316).

Since I had no choice whether to assimilate with the white majority or not, I was granted a unique critical perspective on race. Being immersed in a black community all my life up until the age of seven, my first encounter with white children was both uneasy yet familiar. I was familiar with European culture because of television and children’s books; however, talking to and playing with white children was uneasy. Their form of play and discourse was both foreign and alien to me which always placed me at odds with the white females in my class. For example, when I was in grade four, I realized that I was the only African American female in my class after having a dispute with Billy Jean, who was a white female that sat across from me. I looked for another female who could sympathize with me, only to discover that Donald, a male, was the only other African American student in my class. This was the first time in my life that I felt like an outsider.

Becoming

The great historian John Henrik Clarke ended almost all of his famous speeches by saying,

“history is a clock that people use to tell their time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are and what they are” (Bourne, 1996).

American public education provided me with a defective clock and a disoriented compass. American public education closed my mind and shaped my dysconscious racism (King & Swartz, 2016). “Dysconscious racism is an uncritical habit of mind that lacks any ethical judgment regarding or critique of systemic racial inequity” (King & Swartz, 2016, p. 68). As a result, I was unable to discern race as a social construct in my reality and to critique my circumstance as an African American and as a female in the United States. Shuford (2001) submitted that, “racial categories and identities are reciprocally influenced intersections of ontological commitments, discourses, social perceptions, and embodied social activities reinforced by multilayered systems of rewards and penalties” (p. 303). If these racial categories and identities were to dissolve, then an existential fear would emerge within the white mind. As Asante (1993) asserted, “the fear that one might cease to exist without us to give them their sense of identity” is the deeper fear of the dominant group (p.135). Hence, in order to maintain race as a social construct, these racial categories and identities have to be believed as natural to humanity (Asante & Dove, 2021). As of today, I’ve spent 49 years of my life reinforcing racist and classist assumptions. My nescience caused me to agree to the “domination contract,” (Mills, p. 1386) and to maintain the “color-coded schedule of rights and prescriptions of justice,” (Mills, 2008, p. 1382).

At the end of 2022, one of Kanye West’s rants on the African holocaust gave me pause. I Googled African holocaust and the search results revealed a YouTube lecture of Dr. John Henrik Clarke. While watching that lecture, I realized that the version of history I knew was based on a defective clock and a disoriented compass. My Euro-American public education taught me that my ancestral history began with slavery. Using that faulty timeframe, the lessons my teachers taught ignored the antiquity of ancient Egypt prior to the Greco-Roman conquest. Hence, I was subliminally taught that persons from Africa were subhuman and worthy of being disrespected. The white children and the black children that I interacted with during my primary and secondary education would insult each other and me with phrases like African booty scratcher and you so black jokes. This caused me to distance myself from all things African which included my ethnicity and heritage. My historical compass was “misoriented by receiving and accepting false information” and disoriented by trying to act on it (Asante, 1993, p. 138).

Belonging

As I matriculated through primary and secondary education, I became more and more disenchanted with public education. In the late 80s and early 90s, individualism, materialism, and competition increased in popular culture. Consequently, one’s identity was not only associated with race and gender, now class and academic achievement were added to the mix of intersectionality. Fashion brands and GPAs contributed to the rung of the social ladder that was now more visible to me. In my colonized mind, the way up the social ladder was with my own merit. I now understand that even “meritocratic discourse is laced with racist and classist assumptions that ensure hard work alone is insufficient for marginalized groups to excel” (Patton, 2016, p. 318).

Regardless of my “hard work,” I was never recognized in school assemblies nor praised by my teachers. The white students on the other hand were always praised and paraded in front of me. By the time I reached the twelfth grade, the feeling of inferiority took hold of me even more. My father sympathized with my feelings of inferiority while my mother did not. Her tough love made me take the SAT and her tough love forced me to go to college. Tertiary educational opportunities were limited for me given my poor performance on the SAT. Nonetheless, I was accepted at Bowie State University, a historically black college in Bowie, MD. It was there where I finally felt like I belonged.

Critical Race Theory

“The codification of race is in reality founded on a clever, devious lie that focuses on differences as genetically determined” (Asante & Dove, 2021, p. 40). Critical Race Theory (CRT) as Crenshaw theorized it, “is a lens that allows one to see where power emerges and collides and where it interlocks and intersects” (Asante & Dove, 2021, p. 182). CRT unfortunately is not capable of combating the devious lie that race codification is based on. Still, CRT seeks to “raise questions, engage in conscientious dialogue, and produce research in which [it] would serve as a tool and framework to unsettle racelessness” in various sectors of society (Patton, 2016, p. 316).

Asante and Dove (2021) posed the question, “what happens if there is no race” (p. 182). They answer it by saying, “it destroys the need for discursive arguments related to rankings” (p. Asante & Dove, 2021, 182). In a sense, it removes the need for theories of race as a social construct, intersectionality, and interest convergence. I personally do not have any hope in CRT being able to cancel the domination contract that African Americans commit to daily under direst. As of now, it is the only tool that non-whites have to theorize race in a way that white contemporary political philosophers, who operate in alternative realities, could acknowledge.  I believe that CRT is an upgrade to the Civil Rights Movement. It’s the Civil Rights Movement 2.0. The Civil Rights Movement of the 60s was about getting everyone equal access, thereby ending legal segregation and overt discrimination, so that everyone, regardless of their race, had equal rights under the law.

Critical Race Theory, on the other hand, is more concerned with what happens once everyone has access. CRT represents a focus on substantive and material equality that goes beyond the legal framework. It interrogates the structures, practices, and beliefs that maintain racial disparities. It acknowledges that despite the progress made by the Civil Rights Movement, racial inequality persists and must be addressed at a deeper level. This for me illustrates the adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

References

Asante, M. K. (1993). Racism, Consciousness, and Afrocentricity. In Early G. L. (Ed.), Lure and loathing: essays on race identity and the ambivalence of assimilation. Penguin Books.

Asante M. K. & Dove N. (2021). Being human being : transforming the race discourse. Universal Write Publications.

Bourne, S. C. (1996). John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk. Black Dot Media.

King J. E. & Swartz E. (2016). The afrocentric praxis of teaching for freedom: connecting culture to learning. Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group.

Mills, C. (2008). Racial Liberalism. PMLA, 123(5), 1380-1397

Patton, L. D. (2016). Disrupting postsecondary prose: Toward a critical race theory of higher education. Urban Education, 51(3), 315-342.

Shuford, J. (2001). Four Dr Boisian contributions to critical race theory. Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society, 37(3), 301-337.

Pan-Africanists everyone should know

Pan-Africanism is a socio-political philosophy and movement that seeks to promote solidarity and unity among people of African descent worldwide. It emphasizes the common history, culture, and experiences of people of African descent, regardless of their geographic location.

Key goals of Pan-Africanism include:

1. Advocating for the rights and equality of people of African descent.
2. Promoting self-reliance, self-determination, and economic independence for African nations and communities.
3. Opposing colonialism, imperialism, racism, and other forms of oppression that have historically affected people of African descent.
4. Fostering unity and cooperation among African nations and the African diaspora to address common challenges and pursue shared opportunities.

Prominent Pan-Africanists have included figures such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, and others who have played significant roles in advocating for the rights and empowerment of people of African descent globally. For more information on these prominent figures, read more about them below:

Pan-African advocates include leaders such as:

Toussaint Louverture

Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Henri Christophe

François Duvalier

Aimé Césaire

Haile Selassie

Idi Amin Dada Oumee

Edward Wilmot Blyden

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Patrice Lumumba

Julius Nyerere

Robert Sobukwe

Ahmed Sékou Touré

Kwame Nkrumah

Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya

King Sobhuza II

Robert Mugabe

Thomas Sankara

Kwame Ture

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli

Muammar Gaddafi

Walter Rodney

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Bantu Stephen Biko

Grassroots organizers such as: 

Joseph Robert Love

Marcus Garvey, and 

Malcolm X

Academics such as: 

W. E. B. Du Bois

Anténor Firmin

John Glover Jackson

Valentin-Yves Mudimbe

Psychologists such as:

Amos Nelson Wilson,

Na’im Akbar,

Wade W. Nobles,

Bobby Eugene Wright,

Ray Hagins 

Pan-Africanism stresses the need for “collective self-reliance”.Pan-Africanism exists as a governmental and grassroots objective.  Pan-Africanists believe that solidarity will enable the continent to fulfil its potential to independently provide for all its people. Crucially, an all-African alliance would empower African people globally.

Why pedagogy will never work for people of African descent.

The true meaning of words has been taken for granted, as the general semantics movement has had a profound impact upon human perception. The general semantics movement, is a field of study that focuses on how language and symbols (names, labels) influence human perception and behavior. It was founded by Alfred Korzybski in the early 20th century and was fully articulated in his book “Science and Sanity” published in 1933.

General semantics proposes that our perceptions of reality are shaped by the way we use language and symbols to represent the world around us. It emphasizes the importance of understanding how our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by the words we use and the meanings we assign to them. By becoming more aware of how language shapes our perceptions, general semantics aims to help individuals develop more accurate and flexible ways of thinking and communicating with a Eurocentric worldview.

The movement promotes the idea that through increased awareness of language and its effects on perception, individuals can improve their ability to navigate the complexities of modern (Eurocentric) life, reduce misunderstandings (as terms are defined within the context of the situation), and enhance overall well-being for individuals who choose to function with a Eurocentric worldview.

The true meaning of the word pedagogy, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymological, referred to a slave who escorted boys to school and supervised them, typically serving as a teacher or trainer. The word pedagogy originates from the Greek word paidagōgós, was derived from “pais,” meaning “child,” and “agōgós,” meaning “leader” or “guide.” However, the Greek word “paidagōgós” does has a focus on the concept of a male child. The term “pais” in Greek specifically refers to a male child, so “paidagōgós” was originally used to describe the slave who accompanied and supervised boys on their way to school in ancient Greece.

In ancient Greek society, education was often segregated by gender, with boys and girls receiving different types of education. The role of the “paidagōgós” was primarily associated with escorting and supervising boys, as they were the ones who typically received formal education outside the home. A “paidiskē” was a female slave or attendant who looked after the home, as women were not typically given a formal education.

So, while paidagōgós was predominantly associated with the education of male children in ancient Greece, the term paidiskē was used for the supervision and care of female children by female slaves. Over time, the meaning of pedagogy has evolved to refer to the theory and practice of education and teaching methods, rather than just the act of escorting or supervising male students. This is where the general semantics movement redefined the connotation and denotation of the word pedagogy.

True meaning of words are essential for fostering understanding of reality. The general semantics movement created an opening for human cognitive and social perception that permits stereotypes and biased thinking when language was moved from its denotative meaning of words to its connotative meanings. The denotative meaning of a word is its literal, dictionary definition, while the connotative meaning includes the neologisms, emotional, and associative implications that go beyond the denotative meaning.

The general semantics movement teaches the consciousness of abstracting, the awareness that our verbal and non-verbal representations are not the things they represent. Neologisms serve as a reminder that language is a tool we use to abstract from reality, and that there is a continual need to refine and develop that tool to better fit our experiences and understandings. Neologisms are manifestations of the dynamic and adaptable nature of language and thought. This permits the continued power of the oppressor, allowing for the the malleability of neocolonialism to reinvent itself as needed. In the context of neocolonialism, neologisms can play a role in its reinvention and perpetuation in several ways:

1. Creating a New Vocabulary for Old Practices: Neocolonialism often replicates the unequal power relations of classical colonialism in a contemporary context, where control and influence are exerted through economic, political, and cultural pressures rather than direct military or governmental control. Neologisms can provide fresh terminology that masks the exploitative nature of these relationships, presenting them as new or innovative when they may simply be the same colonial dynamics under a different guise.

2. Legitimizing Economic Practices: Terms like “free trade,” “globalization,” or “economic partnership” can be used to describe relationships that, in practice, might result in the economic domination of one country over another. These neologisms can serve to legitimize and normalize economic policies and practices that reinforce neocolonial structures.

3. Technological and Cultural Dominance: In the digital age, neologisms related to technology often emerge from the dominant cultural and economic powers, which can lead to a form of digital or cultural neocolonialism. Terms like “digital native” or “information superhighway” can be seen as part of a narrative that privileges certain forms of knowledge and communication, potentially marginalizing non-Western or indigenous ways of knowing and interacting with the world.

4. Rebranding Intervention: Political and military interventions by powerful nations in less powerful ones are often framed using neologisms or euphemisms. Phrases like “nation-building,” “regime change,” or “humanitarian intervention” can serve to provide a more acceptable face to actions that may be driven by neocolonial motives.

5. Soft Power: The concept of “soft power” itself is a neologism that describes how countries can influence others through cultural or ideological means, rather than through coercion or force. The spread of language, media, consumer culture, and values can be a subtle form of neocolonialism, with new terms often emerging to describe the supposedly benign spread of ideas and lifestyles.

6. Sustainability and Development: Neologisms related to sustainability and development, such as “green economy” or “sustainable development,” can sometimes be used to continue extractive economic models under the guise of environmental consciousness or progressive development strategies. This can allow neocolonial relationships to persist while ostensibly adopting a more ethical approach.

In essence, neologisms can be a powerful tool in the reinvention and maintenance of neocolonialism by framing exploitative relationships in the language of progress, partnership, and innovation. This can make it more difficult to recognize and critique the continuation of colonial patterns of power and influence in the modern world. Understanding the implications of these newly coined terms is essential in critically assessing their role in global power dynamics.

Korzybski’s famous dictum, “The map is not the territory,” encapsulates the idea that our perceptions and descriptions of the world (the map) are not the same as the actual world (the territory). This means that the words and symbols we use to represent reality are inherently limited and can never fully capture the complexity of the external world.

Stereotypes are oversimplified and generalized beliefs or ideas about a group of people, which can lead to prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. Biased thinking is the tendency to make judgments based on preconceived notions or preferences, often leading to unfair treatment of individuals or groups. The general semantics movement acknowledges the limitations in human cognition and the propensity for abstracting processes that can lead to stereotyping and bias. In essence, the movement recognizes that our attempts to simplify and categorize the world around us using language can inadvertently create a fertile ground for stereotypes and biases to take root.

Through the lens of general semantics, we understand that our language can both reflect and reinforce stereotypes and biases. For instance, the labels and categories we create can become entrenched in our language and thought patterns, making it difficult to see individuals or situations with fresh eyes or from different perspectives. This can result in a feedback loop where language not only expresses our existing stereotypes and biases but also perpetuates them.

In essence, the term pedagogy has come to signify the ongoing failure to address educational challenges faced by Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora. Consequently, terms such as critical pedagogy, revolutionary pedagogy, ubuntu pedagogy, resistance pedagogy, and fugitive pedagogy have emerged as concepts associated with identity politics. We cannot wait for a more human form of pedagogy (Asa Hilliard, 1998). Pedagogy falls short in its ability to truly liberate African people.

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