by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I did an interview recently discussing the extraordinary life of activist poet Amiri Baraka. Baraka was a man of courage, dignity and commitment who paved the way for all of us to be stronger than we’ve ever been before. Baraka’s life was full of many of the ups and downs that we fear might come from being identified as a “trouble making negro,” and I am inspired by the fact that he survived.
I mention brother Baraka because most black youth don’t know him. If they’ve heard his name, they have no idea what he actually accomplished. The potential erasure of brother Baraka from the memory banks of the masses is no accident, for they’ve done it thousands of times before. In fact, Baraka’s life is erased from our memory for the same reason that they will never teach your child that black babies were once used as alligator bait.
These are the stories that will never be told in the public school system, which seems to think that black history started with slavery, progressed with a passive civil rights movement and ended with our first black president. We’re taught that integration brought in an era of Utopian equality. Baraka won’t likely be featured on a McDonald’s commercial during Black History Month. He will never be the kind of black American hero to be stamped, approved and validated by an establishment that has committed itself to the psychological colonization of black people in America.
But when you think about it, oppressing the memory of Baraka actually makes perfect sense. If you are in a position of power, why in the world would you encourage a “lesser” class of people to challenge your authority? Why in the world would you want to inspire them to command opportunities and outcomes that are equivalent to your own? It makes almost no sense whatsoever that the pre-existing power structure would do anything OTHER than promote leaders who are consistent with the policies and objectives of the undeniably racist establishment (watch the second installment of the film “The Hunger Games” to understand mind games that are used to oppress large groups of people).
The point here is that black people must walk away from the habit of looking to white America to tell us who our leaders and important historical figures are going to be. Most black people who love President Barack Obama didn’t start voting for him until he was able to win in Iowa, a state that is majority white. We typically begin to love celebrities when they’ve been embraced in mainstream (read: white-controlled) media. We tend to give more respect to those of us who’ve gone into white-male dominated corporate America and achieved positions of prominence (Black entrepreneurship is incredibly low because we’ve long been trained to work for other people).
Let’s be clear: Waiting the descendants of your historical oppressors to validate your leaders is like the lion allowing the hunter to tell him which path to take every morning. There is no incentive, whatsoever, for the oppressive establishment to teach our children about men like Brother Baraka, nor is it their job. Instead, it is our job as parents to teach our kids about their heroes and to also teach them to have enough self-respect to ignore docile, manipulative black public figures who’ve been fed to them by mass media.
The Internet changes the game. By virtue of a simple Google search, you can find out almost anything you’ve ever wanted to know about every black historical concept imaginable. You can read articles by empowered thinkers like Dr. Wilmer Leon, Yvette Carnell or Dr. Umar Johnson, who may never get a chance to host a show on MSNBC. You can teach YOUR kids, YOUR way so that they are not sucked into a line of thinking which makes them believe that blackness is something that needs to be washed off like dirt or some kind of disease. They must know that they are wonderful just the way they are.
Homeschool your kids, even if they attend another school during the day. This is part of the New Paradigm for Black America. Teach them at night, on weekends and during the summers. Teach them to be excellent in everything they do so that they enter the world with the strength to crush any racist obstacle that might lie in their way. The parent is the first teacher and the first role model, so you are the guardian of their universe.