Essay #7. Education is Still The Best Bet For Defeating Racism and Poverty

I write this piece at the risk of sounding repetitive. It’s too important of a problem, especially in today’s version of America, to not keep on the forefront of peoples’ mind. To rule a people, it is generally thought that you must control how they think. You must control what they think. Last, but not least, you must control their ability to evolve in their thinking.

AN ACT TO PREVENT ALL PERSONS FROM TEACHING SLAVES TO READ OR WRITE, THE USE OF FIGURES EXCEPTED
Whereas the teaching of slaves to read and write, has a tendency to excite dis-satisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion, to the manifest injury of the citizens of this State: Therefore, Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That any free person, who shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any slave within the State to read or write, the use of figures excepted, or shall give or sell to such slave or slaves any books or pamphlets, shall be liable to indictment in any court of record in this State having jurisdiction thereof, and upon conviction, shall, at the discretion of the court, if a white man or woman, be fined not less than one hundred dollars, nor more than two hundred dollars, or imprisoned; and if a free person of color, shall be fined, imprisoned, or whipped, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding thirty nine lashes, nor less than twenty lashes. Source: “Act Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1830—1831” (Raleigh: 1831). From Wikipedia.

A website titled “Fight Municipal Court Abuse (court.rchp.com) includes the following in its list of significant anti-black laws:

  • 1819, Missouri: Prohibited assembling or teaching slaves to read or write
  • 1829, Georgia: Prohibited teaching blacks to read, punished by fine and imprisonment
  • 1832, Alabama and Virginia: Prohibited whites from teaching blacks to read or write, punished by fines and floggings
  • 1833, Georgia: Prohibited blacks from working in reading or writing jobs (via an employment law), and prohibited teaching blacks, punished by fines and whippings (via an anti-literacy law)
  • 1847, Missouri: Prohibited teaching blacks to read or write

The last of these was only 171 years ago. Many other states passed similar anti-literacy laws; some with even stricter punishments. Think about the mindset put into place to make such educational control happen. There’s no way those legislative and attitudinal policies go away overnight. While not all states adopted such laws, many did. So, what does old anti-literacy laws have to do with people today? Today, the lack of an education effects all poor and disenfranchised people. However, I don’t think I’d be stepping out on a limb by saying education is especially important to people of color in general and Black people in particular.

As someone who has worked with low income students for over 22 years, it saddens me when I see students who don’t take their education seriously. What makes me angry is seeing this country downplay the importance of educating the poor and those stuck in generational poverty. Think about it, of all the things slave owners could do and did, to their slaves, why was keeping them uneducated so important? There’s something called Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which basically says that our language, thoughts and the words we use, shape how we view our environment and the world we live in. Therefore, if someone, or if a group or institution, can control how you’re educated, they can then have the ability to control what you think.

So, if a group of people remain uneducated, then they will be at the mercy of the rich and powerful. Sooner or later the rich and powerful will realize that it is to their benefit that not only should people of color be uneducated, but everyone who isn’t rich and powerful, should be un-educated. Recently, I asked a classroom full of high school students, who happen to be Mexican, most of them low income, how are they feeling about their future. They said that they were scared. I few days later, I asked a classroom of low-income White, high school students, the same question. They said that they were scared. How can a country that is supposed to be so advanced, create such fear in its young?

Apparently, there’s no longer a need for anti-literacy laws. Produce fear in the young and they’ll under-achieve. There’s no fear of giving the talented athletes a ton of money, because a lot of them won’t be educated enough to be a threat to the rich and the powerful. What would happen if Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods thought like Mohammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick and really gave a shit about racism and the poor? Give Kaepernick time and people will begin to accept him being mentioned in the same breath as Ali. They’re linked today because they were punished for their beliefs. Ali was punished by the government, in the 60’s. Kaepernick was punish by the American people, in 2016. Both were victims of racism. Some American people hid their racism by calling their dislike of Kaepernick, patriotism. But racism called by any other name is still racism.

Because of what I see going on in this country, from the White House to the outhouse (well actually the White House has become an outhouse, sorry I couldn’t resist); I had to tell both groups of high school students, I too am scared. But I also told them that their greatest weapon is their ability to think. I told them, “If my knees didn’t hurt so bad, I’d get down on them and I’d beg you not to allow anyone to steal your education away from you.” I often told them, being uneducated (educated isn’t always about having college degrees), makes a person feel that they have few choices. And the truth of the matter is, in general, uneducated people do have fewer choices. An education, most of the time, gives a person a way and an opportunity of seeing and exploring, oftentimes, seen and unseen choices and avenues.

Someone had on Facebook not too long ago, a picture of a Black person trying to climb a tree and another Black person is pulling him/her down. As Black people we must learn; if we aren’t helping our young climb, we are aiding those who are pulling them down. And I don’t mean sending them to basketball camps. In the same Facebook picture there was a White person climbing a tree and someone is actually trying to push him/her up the tree. I don’t know how old the picture was, but I would update the picture by showing the new America, which would show the rich and powerful at the top of the tree, cutting off branches that say “education, freedom, future, peace of mind”. What I’m trying to say is, we’ve reached the point where racism exist amongst those who have very little, because those who have a lot want it to. They want us to keep fighting amongst ourselves, while they take away our education and opportunities, which are our lifeline to a better way of life.