”When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
– Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro
Dr. Carter Godwin Wilson founded Black History Week, what we now celebrate as Black History Month, in 1926. Dr. Woodson graduated with his Ph.D. from Harvard University, and in 1933 he authored The Miseducation of the Negro, amongst the countless other contributions he made to the world.
Every year, I ask myself how I will celebrate this sacred space and time, when even Hallmark has to acknowledge and celebrate African Americans and our contributions to the world. I have attended rallies, marches, sit-ins, small intellectual gatherings, and I have spoken in many places over the years in celebration of this great month; but this year? I am going to listen, watch and learn so I can teach.
I am going to view the premiere of a documentary about slavery and its brutalities; going to celebrate the Student African American Brotherhood of MCTC as they celebrate one year of service; going to the University of Minnesota Morris to fellowship with the Black Student Union, I am going to feed our family on Soul Food Sunday; I am going to read one book by a Black author I’ve never read before; and I am going to remind every Black person I know or touch just how beautiful it is to be Black!
What if every Black person could wake up in the morning, look at our skin and shout (as Harriet Tubman did when she first escaped slavery in 1865), “When I crossed that line, I looked down at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything!”
In spite of what the world has done to make Black people feel ashamed, unwanted and tarnished, still we rise. How many others can endure what our people are enduring and still rise to the place where Black is celebrated in the world’s eye?
Dr. Woodson was right on in 1933, and he is right on now. Formalized education developed to erase our history and contributions — our legacy in this world — teaches us to adjust. The consequence of formalized education according to James Baldwin: “Education is for white people indoctrination, and for black people, subjugation.”
So much of the revisionist history we are taught is steeped in the lies of our unworthiness. It is easy to see why so many people’s backs are bent, why they find the back door on their own rather than to risk the potential humiliation or rejection that might result from trying the front door.
If your eyes are open, sadly, it is all too easy to see. Some might say I lack good sense, but after all the ancestors paid for me, I am walking in the front door, back straight, every time.
Let this month be your resistance — invest in self-knowledge. Whether you are eight or 68, make this the month of your emancipation, the one Dr. King told us to sign in ink.
Learn a Black fact each day and then share it; use Facebook and let your Black facts go viral. Tweet quotes from great Black people, past and present; celebrate Black intellect and spread it all over the world.
Donate to a Black organization, buy from a Black-owned business, volunteer your time in the Black community, feed a hungry family, read your babies books about the wonders of being Black.
Google Black history, research the story of someone you didn’t read about in school, then share the story with the people you know, and know that in doing so you are preserving our history for generations to come. Learn so you can teach, teach so you can resist.
Thank you, Dad, for inspiring this column.
Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.