Monday, May 22, 2017

SHOULD AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY BE A REQUIRED SUBJECT IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS

SHOULD AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY BE A REQUIRED SUBJECT IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS
By Fahim A. Knight-El

Image result for black history images
Black history for me as many of my reading audience, perhaps already know, is a very passionate​ subject in which I take very serious. Some years ago, my three sons were in the public school system as students. My middle son ran into some obstacles about his love for black history (I taught all of my children​ to love their blackness and to embrace their culture and heritage) and on this one occasion a mis-educated and hankerchef head Negro teacher was attempting to deter him from writing a paper on a non-traditional African American leader. The teacher had a shallow perspective on African American history and our contribution to civilization.

This school district constituted Negro teachers and white teachers (both of them shared the same mindset) I took on these Uncle Tom Negro teachers and educators. I wrote a book titled, A Children Manual in African American History, in defense of my son and in defense of every black child in that school district. I wanted to let them know that there were many more historical African American leaders other than George Washington Carver, Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. I highlighted twenty so-called African American personalities in that book such as: David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Phillis Wheatley, Marian Anderson, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, Kwame Ture, Oba Adefumi, Louis Farrakhan, Carter G. Woodson, Noble Drew Ali, Mary Church Terrell, Elijah Muhammad, W.E.B Dubois, etc.

I explained to my son during this process that if we do not like​ what Negro and white educators are writing and presenting then it is our responsibility and obligation to write and record our own history (this became one of those true teachable moments). But if you dare take this type of non-compromising position, you must be willing to often pay a huge personal price, because there are consequences that comes along when you dare to speak truth to power, I paid and my children paid a heavy price for standing up and challenging white supremacy and their Negro overseers. If had to do it all over again I would do it the exact same way.

The teaching of Black History in the public schools should be considered an academic mandate to be taught as part of the overall curriculum and incorporated as an extension of American History (required beyond just being a student elective) that should serve as a prerequisite for all U.S. public school students. Moreover, which will create culture diversity in learning and foster better understanding about the social, political and economic plight of African American people and their descendents, and the contribution they made in American history and on the stage of world civilization.

Also Black History could be used in the classroom to build positive self-esteem and self-awareness amongst African American students and improve academic achievement. This writer finds this research important because my late grandparents and my Elders informed me that during the Jim Crow (Plessy v. Ferguson 1896) and segregation era in America, in particular in the old south black history was taught in the segregated black school districts and classrooms as a required mandate, it instilled racial pride and connected blacks to the social progress they made prior to slavery, during slavery and up until civil rights movement of the 1950s (Brown v. Board of Education 1954) and 1964 Civil Rights Act were only social progression steps of attempting to legally remedy the political, economic and social challenges that were confronting black people in the 1950s and 1960s (but if we as so-called African Americans​ were honest with ourselves, it is enough clear evidence that has been rendered over the last sixty years to prove that integration has failed us as a people).

This writer will use various scholars, historians and social scientist (mainly secondary sources) to build a scholarly case of why it is important to include the teaching of Black History in the public school classrooms by analyzing and assessing the historiography in which to allow the evidence to substantiate the necessity of Black History being inclusive as part of the pedagogy of the American public educational process.

This research also will briefly look at the systemic effects of Chattel Slavery, Jim Crow and the positive and negative impact segregation had on the educational development of class curriculum (fostering educational disparities) and the roll black history need to continue to play. I would argue that the teaching of Black History could benefit all races, colors and nationalities when it comes to creating a learning environment that promotes educational diversity and an inclusionary teaching dynamic that could increase tolerance amongst students and people who may come from different socio-economic backgrounds and culture experiences. Yet, this writer, will address the critics and opponents of black history who do not view the teaching of black history in the classroom as needing to be mandatory within the American educational curriculum. This writer must be forthcoming and admit that based on the research length this thesis will have limitations in scholarly scope, but nevertheless, will attempt to expand the conversation and discussion relative to the value and importance of having black history being taught in the public systems school classrooms​.

Dr. James Standifer in the 1987 edition of "Journal of Negro Education" argues the importance of educational diversity and inclusion. Standifer argued that the present day teachers with out doubt have been better trained in the application of teaching methodology, which is a step in the right direction. But argued that there should be more training and attention around creating healthier learning environments that stems from working to better understand cultural diversity. And strengthen human relations by synthesizing and infusing into the educational curriculum an appreciation for the culture of ethno-marginalized people such as Asian-American, African American, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc. Standifer argued the above mentioned multicultural approach of ethnic inclusion was more valuable to a society that is in a social, political and economic transition and the curriculum should dictate this by moving away from any previous or present educational models or curriculums that negated multicultural diversity 

Standifer places tremendous value and focus on creating a curriculum that gives way to infusing learning more into a melting pot in which culture was seen as a vehicle to expand student’s worldview and enhance learning, as opposed to allowing culture to serve as a stagnate and divisive antagonistic contradiction. I think that Standifer was a visionary who understood thirty years ago that culture bias, stereotypes, racism, etc., could be eradicated by providing unlimited culture exposure to students; the ultimate goal was building tolerance on the academic level. Standifer argued four major goals and objectives of supporting educational inclusion. 1). To help students develop positive and realistic self-concepts regardless of race, sex, or culture background; (2) to help students understand that both sexes and diverse racial/cultural groups have valuable contributions to the heritage of the United States of America and that this rich diversity enriches and strengthen our country; (3) to help students understand that all persons are members of the human race and have common needs, feelings, and problems, while stimulating their appreciation for the uniques of each individual and culture group; and (4) to help students develop positive interpersonal and intergroup communication techniques as well as motivation to play an active role in the solution of societal conflicts." (James A. Standifer. “The Multicultural, Nonsexist  Principle: We Can't Afford to Ignore It”; The Journal of Negro Education: A Howard University Quarterly Review Issues Incidents to the Education of Black People volume 56 (1987): 471-474 print).

After the 2008 presidential election of America's first so-called black President Barack Obama there was talk that the United States as a nation had transitioned into a post-racial era, which early on some believed that the social and the racial dynamics inside the United States had forever changed with his election of Obama as U.S commander-in-chief. But there were some public intellectuals who were skeptical of this notion such as Dr. Eric Michael Dyson, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Dr. Cornel West, Tavis Smiley and black nationalist leader Minister Louis Farrakhan who attempted to caution us about the so-called post racial era being ushered in with President Barack Obama becoming the first African American president (they argued that according to the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department the racial divide was acerbated after 2008).

Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) known as the Father of Black History understood that the so-called American Negro had a long and worthy history that had been systematically covered up and distorted. It would be the work of Woodson in a formal way in 1926 establishing Black History Week and early on in 1916 founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History that brought attention to the need of treating black history as being totally inclusive of United States history and creating a broader level of academic respectability for it as a discipline in and outside the classroom.

Yet, his contemporary Dr. W.E.B. Dubois (1868-1963) who was the first African American in 1895 to receive a Ph.D in history from Harvard University ​and would play a major intellectual role in writing scholarly defenses and re-counting ancient and modern African civilizations that predated American slavery. Dubois and Woodson produced bodies of historiography, which meticulously redefined the historical meaning of black history and how it would be viewed for decades to come, in particular in the world of academia. Dubois and Woodson were professional historians whose scholarship stood as empirical models​ and served as an indication that blacks played a major role on the stage of human civilization. Dr. Carter G. Woodson first published the Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933, and was the second African American to receive a Ph.D in history from Harvard University in 1912 behind W.E. B. Dubois who was awarded a Ph.D from Harvard in 1895 (and wrote the dissertation titled, Suppression of the African Slave Trade).

He explored and critiqued the historical effect American education has had on the so-called American Negro. Woodson maintained that American education was rooted in a Eurocentric and European historical paradigm where European history was viewed as superior to other people's cultures and having falsely thought of themselves as being the citadel of civilization. Thus, African Americans were taught that they were inferior and were urged to admire European historical accomplishments over the contributions that African people had made on the stage of human civilization. The text books were written to reflect the social, political and economic views of the dominant white culture. It was perhaps this negation that has historically fostered the need for African Americans to establish and develop schools and academies that gave recognition to their contributions to world civilizations and American history other than their contributions as slaves. Thus, due to very little official records were being recorded and kept on the African slaves, most of the early history of the black experience had to be pieced milled together from U.S. Census reports and most it was not recorded—it was a crime against humanity because so-called African-Americans have a difficult time trying to retrace our history back to our native home and land of Africa, which often ends in a dead end (oftentimes when we attempt to reconstruct our genealogy roots or family tree, it only allows us to trace our history back to the American slave plantations). Woodson argued that educated blacks have received a mis-education and it has had a negative impact on their worldview and failure to become economically, politically and socially sovereign and autonomous as a free people. He further argued that American blacks will not come to a true historical realization until they know and embrace their own history and culture prior to Chattel slavery and come to know the great African civilizations of Egypt, Mali, Ghana and Songhai (Carter G. Woodson. Mis-Education of the Negro. New York: Tribeca Books, 2013).

However, we should never overlook early black nationalist race leaders such as Paul Cuffee, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad and perhaps the greatest of them of all was Marcus Mosiah Garvey who popularized the Back to Africa Movement and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N I.A.) it would be Garvey' s teaching of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism that redefined what it meant to be black and African—he pointed us to Africa by redefining African history, the symbolism, imagery, and created a sense of black racial pride that has been unmatched in American in history. Garvey also published a magazine called the "Negro World" which published rare black history and accomplishments made by Africans in the Diaspora and on the African continent. Edward Wilmont Blyden in his writings also made a tremendous contribution to exposing the world to the extensiveness of African contributions to world civilization. This writer cited the above scholars and activist as an attempt to argue against the white supremacy agenda who has always attempted to negate the historical contributions of black people, perhaps this racist phenomenon has been detrimental to the collective social progress of the people of the United States. This writer sees the potential benefits of implementing African American history as a subject matter to be taught in the public schools as being a first step and positive redress to rewriting the narrative. This type of critical thinking and analyzing possess the potential of producing positive effects by imploring a curriculum and subject to further create cultural sensitivity and diversity in schools amongst all students. My research assessment will also argue that the educational classroom could be used to alter damaging and negative societal and educational stereotypes such as racism, discrimination, and demeaning images.

This writer find it necessary even in 2017 to reflect back on the historical effect that Chattel Slavery (1555-1865) created and produced, it was perhaps one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity. Blacks were kidnapped and snatched from their native lands and countries, denied the right to speak their native Bantu languages, stripped of their names, culture, religion, mores, folkways, etc., during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Middle Passage. Moreover, sold into Chattel Slavery in which on the plantation, it caused for families to be divided and sold from plantation to plantation.

The former Yale University professor Dr. John Blassingame in his seminal work titled, The Slave Community, analyzed​ the effect that Chattel Slavery had on black slave families and the shaping of the slave personality. Black slaves were prohibited from being allowed to read and write, in which learning was illegal and against the rules and laws of the institution of slavery.

African Slaves could be flogged and whip or even killed, if caught with a book. Kenneth Stampp in his work titled, Peculiar Institution, he surveyed almost every facet of American slave plantation life and he too argued that it was an inhumane and denigrating system (both economically and racially inspired and maintained). The black slaves were eventually allowed to be preached to and taught a Biblical Christian education and initially this was the only allowable formal education approved for the slave. This quasi educational process was initially conducted by the white slave master and later a trained black overseer. The Christian education was steeped in white supremacy ideological theories where blacks were taught that they were the descendants of the Biblical Ham and was a cursed people and they were taught to obey their masters, this social engineering process created a social and psychological models of white superiority and black inferiority (this was the devastation of the white Christian missionaries had on teaching us a slave doctrine in which Tariq Nasheed in his documentary titled, Hidden Colors 4 explores the intent and effect of white Christianity teachings of indoctrination.

Dr. Naim Akbar was a former professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee Florida. A former columnist for the "Muhammad Speaks" newspaper  under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad known back then as Brother Luther X. Weems (published a powerful little book titled, The Community of Self) and host of other books: Know thyself, Visions for Black men, Akbar's Papers in African Psychology, Light from Ancient Africa, Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery, etc. He became the National Representative of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and the American Muslim Mission in the late 1970s and because of his political, and cultural views on black nationalism he had a very short tenure with this apolitical Islamic organization. He also was the former president of the Association of Black Psychologist and member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. and became one​ of the premier scholars of the African-centered movement. Akbar as I stated above had written numerous books relating to the black experience. Akbar argued as a social scientist and as an Afrocentric mental health expert that the 300 years dehumanization process imposed on African Americans by Chattel Slavery left a people psychologically and historically scarred. Akbar continues to argue that the images (created lasting false complexities of superiority among white Americans and inferiority complexities among black Americans or ex-slaves). Dr. Joy DeGruy in her book titled, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, she substantiated Akbar' s contentions relative to the collective damage that slavery had on past, present and on the possible future psyche of those descendants who share the African DNA (DeGruy argues that the black slaves were never allowed to heal). Akbar stated that this phenomenon was more devastating than the physical bondage imposed on blacks under Chattel Slavery in which white supremacy schools of thought created racial and culture disparities. It led to​ unlevel learning fields that supported educational discrimination, stereotypes and attributed to racism being taught in public and private schools. He pointed out that even the image of the Divine (God and Jesus) was represented and portrayed as being white skinned Caucasian (and European).

The American educational system was built on a curriculum of lacking inclusion (Western Civilization in some instances outright lied and distorted history to the detriment of indigenous people) in which they taught that all the major contributions made in world civilization were made by Europeans and lacked respect and appreciation for indigenous people's culture and heritage (this led to white supremacy, genocide, land thievery, exploitation of natural resources and raping and robbing throughout the planet). This in my opinion justifies the need to teach black history in the public school system in order to right the wrong. Akbar states that white supremacy images, symbols, folkways, rites, sacraments, rituals, etc., taught to African Americans during slavery have created a mental bondage in which caused invisible chains that even in 2017 in some instances it has hindered social progress and has proven to be more devastating than the actual physical chains imposed by Chattel Slavery. Akbar also argued that African Americans have to free their minds from Eurocentric culture and ideals. He counters with a solution with putting forth African centered education that promotes positive self-images and working from a psychological perspective to teach black people the knowledge of self. His perspectives were in ideological line with Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad views on education (Naim Akbar. Breaking the Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery. Tallahassee, Florida: Mind Productions and Associates, Inc. 1996).   

The author Curtis Alexander hails in his book title, Elijah Muhammad on African American Education: A Guide for. African American and Black Studies Program , that Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had it right, in particular building and establishing their own parochial schools (Muhammad University of Islam), which gave them the latitude to devise a black nationalist centered curriculum. The teaching of black history was essential to the Black Muslims pedagogy and was the center of their ideological educational framework (although this was taking place within a private educational setting, nevertheless, I equally believe that this impacted the course of public education as well). Alexander, although, was not a member of the Nation of Islam, he seemed to be moved by Muhammad's do-for-self, and black independence philosophy, which allowed this group to build self-regulating institutions and controlled the curriculum. This gave the Black Muslims an autonym to control the educational destiny of their schools and children. I think Alexander's research allows us a glimpse into the role black nationalism and religious nationalism has played in shaping and defining the importance of black history relative to American education in the United States. The author further defines the ideological foundation of the Black Muslim program in which they were ostracized, ridiculed and condemned for implementing and teachings the importance of black history in a society that had historically created a white supremacy educational worldview (Curtis E. Alexander. Elijah Muhammad on African American Education: A Guide for. African American and Black Studies Program. Chesapeake, Virginia, 1989).

Dr. Earl Thorpe was a former professor of history at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina who also taught at Harvard University alongside authoring Black Historians: A Critique he published nine books and over twenty-five scholarly articles (another one of his acclaim books was titled, The Central Theme of Black History).Thorpe's thesis was an evaluation and historical assessment of various timesframes of black historians and/or professional African American historians who wrote scholarly writings and taught black history and history in general, mainly on the college and university level (all of the black historians reviewed by Thorpe had a scholarly passion towards teaching and promoting black history as a curriculum). Thorpe was an advocate of black scholars having the responsibility of creating a scholarly environment that was rooted in empirical objectivity and as a discipline black history would have met the rigorousness of scholarly scrutiny to justify its importance and value to the overall field of American history. Moreover, Thorpe surveyed the historical time frames: 1800-1896, 1896-1939, and 1930-1960. Thorpe cited various scholars and their works to the field and study of black history in which gives the readers an understanding of the intellectualism behind the historiography that helped shape and mold black history. There is no doubt we are standing on the foundation of black scholars such as W.E.B Dubois and Carter G. Woodson and contribution they made to the study of black history (Earl E. Thorpe. Black Historians: A Critique. New York, New York: William and Morrow and Company, 1958.

Dr. John Hope Franklin retired as a professor Emeritus of history at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Perhaps one of the most well respected historians of the 20th century. His book From Slavery to Freedom is the most widely read and used black history text books in the world in which many editions have been published in various languages. Dr. Franklin wrote as a professional historian who seemed more concerned with presenting information that met the academic standards of being scientific and presenting black history as a scholarly discourse. Some might argue that his approach to analyzing black history was more of being in line with bourgeoisie values and with a non-threaten approach to appease the white world of academia. Yet, in the beginning of the book Dr. Franklin surveyed the powerful and great African kingdoms and gives the readers a glimpse into African civilizations prior to European colonialism and imperialism. He argues that black history was essentially American history and should be treated beyond just being an insignificant footnote or an afterthought in United States history. Dr Franklin meticulous surveyed and documented over 250 years of black history from when the first slave ships docked in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 to the Emancipation Proclamation (1862) and the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution that so-called freed the slaves (1865). No one scholar makes a better argument of the importance of recording and teachings black history than Dr. John Hope Franklin (John Hope Franklin. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New.York, : Alfred A. Knopf, 1980). 

Willis G.Huggins and John G. Jackson published this book A Guide to Studies in African History in 1934, in which Huggins was an Assistant Teacher of Social Studies at Bushwick High School, New York. Dr. John G. Jackson was known for his most popular work titled, Introduction to African Civilization. This small book standout because Huggins was a social studies teacher in the public school. These two scholars perhaps like Joel Augusta Rogers researched and found African presence and contributions in the so-called 'New World' before the arrival of Europeans. For example, in Latin America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santa Domingo, etc., blacks were there even before the Columbus expeditions in 1492, and prior to other European conquistadors venturing into the Americas, but for black students what one perhaps will find astonishing about this work was the historical impact the Nubian Moors in the 8th Century under Tarik Ibn Zaid had on southern Europe, in particular on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The Moors in 711 AD had conquered Spain and introduced pave streets, public and private bathing facilities, lit streets, etc., in Cordova, Seville, and Barcelona some of the Moorish architecture history is well preserved. It was these black Nubian Moors that after the Dark Ages brought civilization throughout European society. Jackson and Huggins desired to prove that black people had a worthy history that was worth mentioning and give it the scholarly recognition it deserved. This research was taking place during the period of Jim Crow and the Harlem Renaissance; and like Dubois, Woodson, Hansberry, Franklin, etc; they all wrote with a passion to uncover facts about the so-called American Negro and yet to equally prove to their white historian counterparts that they possessed the ability to be empirical and objective as black social scientist (Jackson, John G. Jackson and Willis N. Huggins, . A Guide to Studies in African History. New York, New York: The Federation of History Club, 1934).

Dr. Molefi Asante was a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia in history and black studies. Perhaps in the late 1980s and 1990s a group of black intellectuals surveyed academia and determined that African (black people) were not receiving the scholarly attention for their contributions to civilization. The Afrocentric movement created a new level of excitement in African history, traditions, cultures, etc., it was a semi-intellectual explosion, moreover, this movement was being led by the likes of Dr. Leonard Jeffries, IvanVan Sertima, Asa Hilliard, Mualana Karenga, John Henrik Clarke, Amos Wilson, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, Marimbe Ani, Cheikh Anta Diop, etc. This movement as stated above created a reinvigoration for the need to bring black history back into the schools, because Eurocentric scholars had omitted pertinent factual historical information about African and black people in world history and had systematically disseminated lies, distortions and half-truths about African people's contributions to human civilization. Asante did not offer anything new because prior to Afrocentric thoughts and theories Pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist leaders have argued for over a century the need to redefine the history of African people to reflect a historical narrative beyond Chattel Slavery and beyond the Europeans interpretations. Yet, the difference was Afrocentric thought had moved into the world of academia and for the first time on a large scale, it was forcing a different type of debate amongst the scholarly community relative to inclusion (Molefi Kete Asante. Afrocentricity. New York, New York: Africa World Press, 1988). 

Dr. Mary Lefkowitz in her book titled, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History wrote the anti-thesis as a historical critique to Afrocentricity, which Dr. George G.M. James, Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Molefi Asante, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef A. A. Ben Jochannan, etc., argued that western theoreticians had always viewed Africa as an object rather than a subject and saw Africa as the Dark Continent who made no contribution to world civilization. Dr. Lefkowitz was a Humanities professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. (she led some of the scholarly attacks against Dr. Tony Martin who authored the book titled, The Jewish OnSlaught: Dispatches From Wellesley Battlefront). She argued against Egypt (Kemet) being black and Nubian and attributed Egypt (Kemet) greatness to having historical relations with Greek society where by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., have received the credit as being great enlightened master teachers, but George G.M. James in his book titled, Stolen Legacy argued that Greek Mythology was essentially Egyptian Philosophy and they stole their knowledge from the Nubian blacks of Kemet. This writer viewed Lefkowitz contentions as being a scholarly insult because it quasi sought to denigrate the intellectualism of black people as being incapable of introducing world civilization to Europeans and others around the world. The building and construction of the pyramids has mystified Europeans for centuries in which Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop posed the question in the title of his book African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality and unlike Lefkowitz, he made the case that Africa from North Africa down to South Africa was black. Although, Diop understood that due to outside invasions from the Persians, Turks, Arabs, Semites, Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, etc., which led to the  miscegenation in Kemet. However, there was little doubt that the original people that occupied Egypt were black skinned Nubians. This alone beckons the need for black history to be taught in the public schools system.(Lefkowitz, Mary. Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. New York, New York: Basic Books, 1997).

Lastly, this writer thinks it would be a positive step in the right direction to mandate and include black history as part of the curriculum in United States publc schools with the educational objective of contributing to enhancing racial diversity and helping tear down artificial barriers such as cultural biases, racism, stereotypes and all forms of discrimination in the public school system and outside. Moreover, the teaching of black history has the potential of creating a level of tolerance​ and sensitivity amongst all people who may differ in national origin, ethnic and racial, religious and/or culturally. Finally this writer believes that it could also be used to inspire African American students to be more motivated to achieve academically.

Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-El can be reached at fahimknight@yahoo.com

Monday, May 1, 2017

COLIN KAEPERNICK AND AMERICAN PATRIOTISM: CIVICS 101

COLIN KAEPERNICK AND AMERICAN PATRIOTISM: CIVICS 101
 
 
By Fahim A. Knight-El


Image result for kaepernick AND BLACK POWER

Thesis Statement: Colin Kaepernick's protest, dissention and refusal to stand for the playing of the United States National Anthem must be viewed outside of the superficial question of patriotism and understood as an act of free speech, which was protected under the United States Constitution.

I                                                                
                                                                  Introduction

This research will attempt to frame a current event issue of social justice involving Colin Kaepernick an African American professional football player, in particular by assessing and evaluating in a limited way race, police brutality, patriotism and social justice within a non quantitative scope. This writer must admit from the outcome that this will not be an exhaustive research, it will have some scholarly and journalistic limitations and shortcomings, but this writer will make every attempt to remain objective and empirical throughout the essay. 

Kaepernick's political position created a sizable amount of controversy during the 2016-2017 NFL football season, because he stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem in protest of the killings of unarmed black men by white law enforcement officers. This writer will seek to distinguish patriotism, Americanism and what is deemed subversive action and place Kaepernick social protest beyond the question of an act of sedition and treason.[1] 

11                                                  Kaepernick: Right to Dissent

Kaepernick protest action whether or not we viewed his behavior as being distasteful and/or un-American or viewed him as a hero and/or a true American patriot. It really did not matter because this writer after assessing and analyzing the data has come to the conclusion that Kaepernick social protest on the football field must be protected as free speech and under his First Amendment Right to dissent.[2]

His political stance gained national attraction in which other NFL players, college athletes and even high school athletes joined on to Kaepernick stance to expand the conversation about race, police brutality and justice. My research will only serve as a microcosm to a much larger and extensive problem in the United States, which is the unresolved question of race and racism.[3]

Colin Kaepernick as stated above is a National Football League (NFL) professional athlete and quarterback of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Let me try to historically and presently make an attempt to contextualize my argument by briefly bringing an understanding of the social, political and economic landscape of the United States of America from 2012 thru 2016. Moreover, by given brief attention into recent political events, which have impacted African Americans relative to addressing the issues of police brutality and the judicial system. The scholar Michelle Alexander in her book titled, The New Jim Crow, explores the systemic outcomes of a judicial and criminal justice apparatus that have been race based and has led to mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. 


III                                  Treyvone Martin Speaking From the Grave

It was perhaps the Treyvone Martin's case in Florida that involved a young black teenager who was walking from the store and entered into his father's neighborhood where he was deemed suspicious based on racist biased stereotypes and possibly from those stereotypes, it was determined that Martin had criminal intent on his mind in which this led to Martin being followed, accosted and was eventually murdered by George Zimmerman (a white security guard).[4]

The Florida judicial system found Zimmerman not guilty of murder and acquitted him based on citizens living in Sanford, Florida having the right to defend ones self under a law called stand your ground law. The legal exoneration of Zimmerman created emotions on both sides (was it a racist murder or self-defense justifiable homicide).[5] Thus, once again for some this incident was a microcosm into America’s racial history, which led to the argument of the impact of race, justice and fairness within the judicial system relative to people of color.[6] 

Many in the African American community felt that Martin was unjustly murdered and this was historically consistent with black men being killed by white police officers and law enforcement agents throughout American History. It would be this judicial case that became the impetus for the establishment of the Black Lives Matter movement in which this grassroots protest organization brought national attention to police brutality and the high incidents of unarmed African American men being killed by white law enforcement officers across America

 IV                                                     Black Lives do Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement begin spearheading large mass protest demonstrations throughout America via marches, boycotts and in some cases outright confrontations with law enforcement ensued. This was typified in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer and in Baltimore, Maryland where Freddie Gray was killed while in police custody.[7]  The political momentum extended to the colleges and universities campuses where students joined on to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement demanding responsible policing and holding law enforcement officers accountable when they break the law. This type of mobilization was best highlighted by students at the University of California at Berkeley, a white prestigious university who stood in defiance and in rebellion and the University of Missouri football team who also stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and agenda.

We do not live in a vacuum (nor a bubble) and this writer thinks that Colin Kaepernick, although, he is wealthy and privileged as a professional athlete begin seeing the world outside of the bubble, and sought to engage himself within a social issue that had extended far beyond the comfort of his personal wealth status, which he himself being a black man in America could easily identify. Perhaps being exposed to the mass medium reports, both electronic and print about the high profile killings of unarmed African American men resonated with Kaepernick. It possibly led him to question the social internal contradictions and was the premises of these law enforcement murders more rooted in the unresolved question of race and racism in America


V                 America was Founded on Racism and White Supremacy

This writer maintains that these incidents sensitized Kaepernick to the agony, pain and suffering of black mothers and fathers having to bury their sons and daughters prematurely (it sprung him into becoming proactive). Race as an antagonistic contradiction in American history has been in existence since the inception of this nation's early development; this was best analyzed by professor Derrick Bell in his book titled, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism [8] and Cornel West in his book titled, Race Matters also deals with how intertwined race has been as a social phenomenon, throughout American history impacting every facet of our social, political, and economic fiber since our sojourn in America beginning with Chattel Slavery (1619-1865); this social dilemma continues to have lasting effects on race relations in the United States even as I write this essay. 

Also, Andrew Hacker in his book titled, Two Nations: Black and White Separate, Hostile, Unequal, In this thesis he examines the racist and white supremacy mindset that evolved along side the first white settlers who arrived in the so-called 'New World' during the early 1600s (colonial America) and encountered the Native Americans (race therefore after would become a problem).[9]

VI                            Kaepernick Protest was About Speaking Truth to Power

Kaepernick was not considered a Black Nationalist or an activist, but he felt obligated as a black American to address the killings of unarmed black men by white law enforcement officers by using his high profile position and status as a professional athlete to condemn, rebuke and stood with those who were deemed victims of an unjust system. But beneath Kaepernick's tactic and strategy of not to stand and salute the American flag and the national anthem, was him having the fundamental and Constitutional right to exercise lawful dissension.

Some viewed his kneeling protest as an act of sedition and treason. Kaepernick critics were equating patriotism with a false flag waving mindset and failed to understand that the U.S. Founding Fathers in the language of the Preamble to the constitution for saw and imposed language that would lead us more toward a perfect democracy.


VII                                   Black Athletes Who Stood For Social Justice

Yet, he was not the first high profile African American athlete to take up the cause of social justice, perhaps one of the most well known black athletes to do so was former 1960 U. S. Olympic gold medalist[10] and heavy weight boxing champion of the world Muhammad Ali who had joined the Nation of Islam and had become a Muslim under Elijah Muhammad who in the 1960s refused to be inducted into the United States arm forces citing himself as a religious conscience objector.[11] 

Ali condemned the United States military industrial complex and openly refused to fight in Vietnam. His stance brought international attention to the political validity (relative to imperialism and aggression) of the United States being militarily involved in Southeast Asia and using black men as political tools and as cannon fodder in achieving American reactionary foreign policy objectives.[12]

Also, at the 1968, Mexico City Olympic Games in which John Carlos and Tommy Smith, two American track and field athletes who received the silver and bronze medals respectively, but at the medal ceremony, they both raised their black gloved fists in solidarity with the Black Power movement of the 1960s that was being led by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.[13] There was a revolutionary mood in America in the 1960s with black nationalists personalities such as Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Stokley Carmichael, H.Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, etc. 

I do not think we could equate Kaepernick's protest intentions and motives of possessing and having the political implications of the above mentioned Black Power advocates, but yet they shared a similar political thread, which was addressing injustice and police brutality in the black community. The Black Panther Party in their "Ten Point Plan" (‘What the Panthers Want, What We Believe’) was critical of police brutality and believed the people had a right to defend themselves by any means necessary against such brutality.[14]

VIII                     Patriotism, Americanism and Citizenship: What does this Mean?

Kaepernick was not advocating arm resistance or any form of violence against the United States Government; he like many in the African American community sought to dramatize police brutality by creating a larger conversation about race and policing, as well as drawing attention to injustice. His refusal to stand when U.S. National Anthem was being sung went much deeper into the social and political complexities of Americanism and how has this been applied to a marginalized people who have been referred to as hyphenated Americans (African-Americans). 

Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in 1903, confronted this social dilemma in his monumental book titled, The Souls of Black Folk, what he referred to as "twoness" the duplicity and ambivalence of being a the so-called American Negro and torn between being American and African in the United States.[15] This in my opinion was the social dichotomy which rested the foundation of Kaepernick's civil disobedience and refusal to acknowledge the American flag and national anthem; his kneeling served more as a denunciation and exposing the perceived hypocrisy of what they stated it meant to be an American citizen as conveyed in the 1776 Declaration of Independence; “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain in unalienable rights among these are  Life,  Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.[16] 

Yet, African Americans being unjustly gunned downed and murdered by white law enforcement officer left a lot to be desired relative to the question of patriotism and Americanism from Kaepernick's vanish point.  These racially motivated incidents of killing unarmed black men left the impression that blacks were not being treated with justice and therefore, the flag and American patriotism were being defined differently by Kaepernick because of these injustices. 

This much this writer applauded Kaepernick social justice stance and for using his large public stage to expose and draw attention to the systemic practices of racism and police brutality in America. Kaepernick pundits and critics did not understand and was intentionally overlooking that Kaepernick protest was protected under the First Amendment Right to the United States Constitution, which guarantees and protects every American to having the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. 
         
His failing to stand during the playing of the national anthem did not violate U.S. law, it has to be received as protected free speech. We have to understand that the real litmus test to free speech is how do we receive speech that we disagree on and do we allow it to co-exist along side speech that we find agreeable.
                

IX                      Final Thoughts on Race, Racism, Policing and Free Speech

Lastly, Kaepernick is the epitome of what it means to be a patriot, in which the Founding Fathers created and established a democracy that would be rooted in a check and balance governmental system. They allowed for dissention to be an alternative to tyranny, oppression and injustice and the legality of such would be protected under the United States Constitution. Kaepernick refusal to stand at the raising of the United States flag and singing of the national anthem was definitely an act of dissent, but it wasn't necessarily un-American and should have never been viewed as a question of patriotism or treason. Some of us in the Kaepernick argument failed in the fundamental understanding of what Constitutional intent was conveying pursuant to what is referred to as protected free speech in which Kaepernick was exercising. 

There was no doubt Kaepernick's involvement as a high profile celebrity in the above mentioned social justice cause has drawn attention to the question of race, racism and police brutality aimed at black men in which in my opinion his involvement expanded the conversation. However, he did lose some credibility when he revealed that he did not vote in the last presidential election and his critics viewed this overt political neglected as the highest level of hypocrisy because part of change can be determined at the ballot box. Yet, this did not sway me away from seeing the larger picture of Kaepernick's social activism and the importance of his involvement. 

Yet, this writer thinks and understands by this being a contemporary issue, it is entirely too early for social scientist and historians to assess and evaluate relative to making a scientific judgment on the long term benefits and shortcomings of Kaepernick activism. The historiography is still developing and will perhaps be many years before we could make a true scholarly assessment of the personalities and events surrounding Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter movement and the impact they had on reshaping the conversation relating to race and policing in present and future America

This writer is also fully aware that Kaepernick's daring to engage in such controversial social justice issue could have a negative adverse consequence on his career as an athlete. He essentially was challenging the status quo in which the National Football League is a powerful and influential corporation whereas it generates huge amounts of profits and revenue. They have the power to 'black ball' Kaepernick as away of serving notice on other black athletes who would dare to engage in controversial social justice issues. Athletes are viewed as gladiators who are paid handsomely to entertain and to always think inside the box[17].

                                                                 NOTES

[1] John McWorter.Colin Kaepernick Had No Choice but to Kneel”; Internet article Time.com http://time.com/4504014/colin-kaepernick-kneel/ September 22, 2016.      
[2] Nancy Armour. How national anthem protests bring out the worst in people”; Internet article USA TODAY Sports http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/nancy-armour/2016/09/25/colin-kaepernick-anthem-protests-backlash-social-media-emails/91076216/  September 25, 2016.      
[3]Ibid, Armour.
[4]Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice”; Internet article the Atlantic.com https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/ July 15, 2013.  
[5]Author William P. Benjamin, African Americans in the Criminal Justice. (New York: Vantage Press, 1996) vii- vii.  
[6]Ibid, Benjamin.  
[7]Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. (New York: Atria Books, 2016).
[8] Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. (New York: Basic Books, 1992) xiv-xv.
[9]Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White Separate, Hostile, Unequal. (New York: Scribner Publishing, 2003) 3-4.   
[10]Karl Evanzz,  The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. (New York: Random House, 1999) 330-331. 
[11]Ibid, 331.
[12]Ibid, 330-331.   
[13] Edna and Art Rust. Jr., Art Rust’s Illustrated History of the Black Athlete. (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985) 358-559.    
[14]Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey P. Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1994) 109-110.    
[15] W.E.B Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk. (New York: Signet Classic, 1903) 45.
[16]Ibid, McWorter.  
[17]William C. Rhoden, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. (New York: Random House, 2006) 2-3.



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