The title of Carter G. Woodson’s famous book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, says it all. It is shameful and quite sad to hear and read some of the things (in reference to Black people) that are purported to be facts. In many cases we are our own worst enemies because we promulgate much of the nonsense that takes hold in our neighborhoods, and we suffer tremendously for doing so. As the saying goes, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. Our penchant for being ‘experts’ in everything not only makes us look silly and ill-informed, in many cases it causes us to play right into the negative self-fulfilling prophecy of subordination and subjugation. That’s a sad state of affairs, especially in light of the ‘fact’ that Woodson did his best to warn us about the dangers of being mis-educated.
Take economic empowerment, for instance. We hear so much information about what we need to do to achievement it, what we need to have to obtain it, and how we can overcome our third-class economic position in this nation. Admittedly, there are quite a few Black people in this country who have achieved very high levels of individual economic empowerment, and they should be commended. However, our collective economic position is in great jeopardy, one of the main reasons for which is mis-information and mis-education.
I encourage folks who read my column, watch my television show, and hear me on radio programs, to always check out what I say. Do your own research and study to determine if what I assert to be fact is true. That’s really the only way we can be truly informed. In addition, checking for ourselves many times leads to a stronger collective position and a more acceptable economic strategy—long term and short term.
Take a look at political empowerment and ask yourself why we lack real power in the halls of Congress, on the Supreme Court, and yes, in the White House. Much of our condition in that arena can be attributed to the messages and sound bites we get every day from political pundits, many of whom have no real interest in educating Black people. They simply adopt an agenda that someone has given them and regurgitate it to us. In the process, they further mis-educate and mis-lead our people. And by the way, they get paid very handsomely to play that role.
Every election cycle Black people are bombarded with all the clichés about why we should vote, how our vote is very powerful, and how others died for the right to vote. All of that is well and good. But how can a people that rally, register, and make such a big deal about voting be so ill informed? How can we always be at the end of line when the perks are handed out, if we are the ones who put the most energy in the political process? Are we that naïve? Or are we just mis-educated and uniformed?
Quite frankly, I don’t have all the solutions to our dilemma (I wish I did), but I do know a couple of things: We must change our behavior toward ourselves and others; and we must select our ‘leaders’ very carefully. Otherwise, we will surely continue to find ourselves at the bottom of the economic and political ladders.
In his response to the ‘Negro question,’ Frederick Douglass said: “Everybody has asked the question, ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! Give (the Negro) a chance to make his own way. He will work as readily for himself as (for) the White man.”
Obviously, Douglass had great confidence in his people, but then again he was a true leader of our people, not some temporary puppet who took his orders from folks who wanted to keep us in our place. He promoted independence and self-reliance and encouraged us, through his newspaper, the North Star, to stand up and take care of ourselves. He and many others did not settle for rumors, gossip, and innuendo. Instead, they relied on facts, work, and sacrifice.
If we, Black people, would muster the same level of interest and energy in economic empowerment as we have for politics, we would be successful. We would not fall prey to the charlatans and the talking heads. And we would be able to fulfill what Douglass said. Unfortunately, today, if we were left alone and the establishment did ‘nothing with us,’ many of us would be completely lost.
(Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his website, <blackonomics. com>)