Saturday, 30 June 2012 19:55

The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson : Book Review by Ozodi Osuji

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Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro. (Chicago: African-American Images, 1933) 218 Pages. 
A Book Review By Ozodi Osuji

Dr. Woodson (1875-1950) is an interesting man; interesting because he was born shortly after slavery ended in the United States and still he managed to give himself a world class education (he was the second black man, after W.E.B Dubois, to obtain a doctorate degree from Harvard University and like Dubois he, too, studied in Europe, Paris, France, and travelled extensively in Africa and other parts of the world). Dr. Woodson was very cosmopolitan from his extensive travels around the world and therefore his observations are urbane and to be taken seriously.

It should be observed that when Dr. Woodson obtained his doctorate black folks were still not considered intelligent enough to be hired by white universities, so, like Dr. Dubois he settled for teaching at secondary schools and later Howard University, Washington DC. Dr. Woodson's experience with the public school system (K through 12) and the black university system gave him unique opportunity to observe how Negroes were educated during his time and the result of that education.

Further, it should be noted that he lived at the time Booker T. Washington and Dr. Dubois were battling it out as to the best way to educate newly freed slaves. Booker agreed with those white folks who believed that Negroes seem to have limited intelligence and are not suited for higher education in the liberal arts and sciences and thus should be trained in the trades (vocational training). Booker built his Tuskegee Institute to train Negroes as carpenters, mechanics, agricultural workers etc.Carter G._Woodson

Dr. Dubois believed that the Negro is as intelligent as anyone else and ought to be given the opportunity to pursue higher education. He observed that like in other races about "ten percent" (his term, not mine, mine is that 33% of all kids ought to go to university and study science and technology, paid for by society) of the people are really very intelligent and naturally meant to be educated at the professional level. The point is that doors should not be closed to the Negro in higher education; offer him the same education that you offer white children and let natural selection determine how far he goes.

Booker would not hear that and insisted that given the racism of white America that whites are not going to hire educated Negros any way so why train them to frustrate them with unemployment, why not give them vocational training with which at least they could obtain jobs?

Many white folks do not feel threatened by black mechanics but feel scared shitless by black professors. Adolf Hitler, in his books, Mein Kampf and Table Talks, had talked about the need to limit black and Slavic Eastern Europeans (white folks, mind you) to only elementary school education, to train them to do minor jobs but never to allow them to go to higher institutions of learning lest they feel the equal of whites and challenge them. As Hitler saw it, just give them sufficient education to read the instructions that their Aryan masters give to them and leave it at that. Booker agreed with Hitler and similar white racists and wanted to accommodate them.

Booker's mother was a recent slave from Africa, an Igbo woman; her slave master had gotten her pregnant hence Booker was a mulatto.

Dr. Woodson saw the debate between Booker T and Dubois play itself out. He appreciated the merits of both sides but steered clear of the debate for that was not where he was meant to make his contribution. The man's was destined to make contribution in other areas, and, boy, did he do so!

I should observe that although I just read this book all that the man said about the mis-education of the Negro is already known to me either through osmosis (that is, absorbed from other Negroes) or through my own direct observation.

Thematically this book dealt with such topics as the outside control of Negro education; that is, the white power establishment decides what is taught at negro schools and who does the teaching, funds what they want to fund and do not fund what they do not perceive as in their self-interests, such as teaching that Negroes had glorious pasts; it is in their self-interests to teach that Africa is the heart of darkness and that nothing good came from it in the past and, as such, nothing good is expected to come from it in the present and future; this is calculated to make the negro feel inferior about his past and to elevate his master to high heavens.

Dr. Woodson would like to change the situation and have Negroes control their education and teach about subjects that made Negroes feel fine about their past history hence their present selves.

Many negroes are at the margins of society and are not gainfully employed; they do not have the requisite skills that the economy needs (today the American economy needs those with technical skills and jobs in those areas go begging yet a large number of Negroes do not have jobs for they do not have the right skills. If you studied black studies, what exactly would you do with it when the economy needs computer programmers and medical doctors? You would teach it? The Negro community has a surfeit of teachers and ministers but isn't it time it had professionals in other areas, areas demanded by a technologically complex society?

The unskilled and unemployed Negro gravitates to criminal activities to make a living and the result is that Negroes constitute over half of the inmates of US jails and prisons. A people who are twelve percent of the population produce over fifty percent of the incarcerated population; something is wrong with this picture.

The few educated Negroes tend to feel estranged from the mass of uneducated Negroes and often flee to white suburbs (where whites tolerate them but do not really see them as their equals). Wouldn't it be nice if they stayed in the black community? You wish, right? But don't the educated of the white race also flee from white trailer trash? Is there any particular justification for those who can afford it to live in the ghettos where the air is more polluted than in the country side hence court earlier death as is the case for Negroes? Should educated Negroes have death wish in the service of the Negro community or should all of them strive to break out of inner city slums and breathe fresh air in the country side?

Professionally educated Negroes are caught between a rock and a hard place; they neither belong to the Negro masses nor to the white community; therefore, many of them are discouraged. They eat and eat and die from heart attack and stroke at an early age whereas their white counterparts live to be over eighty.

The white power structure does not encourage Negroes to learn about the nature of the American polity, read the US constitution for to do so is to know their rights and fight for them and that is not tolerated. As we speak, Republican governors and those state legislatures controlled by Republicans are throwing road blocks to illiterate blacks' path to exercising their citizenship rights: voting; they are making it difficult for African Americans to vote by requiring certain identity cards. Many African Americans do not have the right identity cards saying that they are who they claim to be or live where they claim to live (many of them cannot even open bank accounts because of this identity card issue and have to cash their checks at check cashing joints and those take certain cuts from their checks).

One would think that a Democratic polity would want many people to vote but instead the American Republican democracy discourages Negroes from voting! In the past they used to have such obstacles as poll taxes, reading and literacy tests; they did whatever they felt was not in favor of the Negro to prevent him from voting, such as apportionment (gerrymandering) shenanigans that made sure that negroes were not a majority in any legislative district to be able to elect the legislator; they cut negro neighborhoods and spread the pieces into white districts and that way guaranteed that white folks would win elections. Today there are about forty million Negroes out of a total US population of three hundred and ten million persons. Generally, each Congressional district is about half a million persons. By that standard there ought to be, at least, 80 black Congressmen and, at least, 10 black Senators but in reality there are only 43 black Congressmen and no black Senator.

It is amazing that a country that goes around the world preaching how democracy is the best form of government discourages a large section of its people from participating in democracy.

The book talks about such other things as the Negroes need to produce a service oriented leadership, a leadership with clear vision on how to uplift the down trodden race, the need to produce leaders and workers who serve the negro community and not hirelings doing the bidding of the white race. Other subjects were broached but they all basically say the same thing: train the Negro to respect himself and respect his fellow Negroes and serve the Negro community and ultimately the American nation. I am not going to dwell on all the topics addressed by Dr. Woodson but, instead, will expatiate on topics that I feel are still germane in today's negro-social discourse.

I should also observe that what the man said about the Negro appear to have been addressed by America's responses to the Negro question since the 1960s. It appears that efforts have been made to redress the problems he observed.

The black studies movement that now exist at major American universities appear to have resulted from an effort to address the issues that Dr. Woodson highlighted in the past (his book is actually a series of lectures and articles he gave, collated into a book in 1933).

Alas, the black mission of injecting what is now called afrocentricism into American education to correct its perceived eurocentricism has not appeared to solve the problem of the Negro, for the Negro American and African is still as problematic as ever. Nothing in the black man has changed from how Dr. Woodson described him in the first part of the twentieth century. The black man I see around me today is exactly as Dr. Woodson described him almost a hundred years ago!

Let me tell you how I see the black man; I will do so by citing examples from personal experience. I walk into a store and the cashier is a black woman. She would be extremely unprofessional, disrespectful, sullen and often disregarding of my presence. She would treat the customer as if she does not care that he is there to spend his money on her business. The customer, you feel disrespected and angry and do what you come to do and leave and resolve never to patronize her store again.

Now compare and contrast with what happens with an encounter with a white sales woman. You walk into a store and the cashier is a white woman. She smiles at you; she asks you if you found all that you were looking for and generally treats you respectfully; you feel respected and before you know it you take your business to her store, come next time you want to shop.

You enter a bus and the driver is a black man. He completely ignores you and as far as he is concerned you do not even exist.

Compare and contrast with a white bus driver. You enter a bus and the driver is a white man. The moment you enter the bus he says, come aboard. Howdy? The man generally has a welcoming smile on his face. When you leave he says to you, have a good day, sir.

Now who has provided you with a better service, the sullen black driver who does not seem to understand that the bus rider is employing him or the white driver who makes you feel so good that you park your car and take buses to work?

You go to black universities (such as Howard University) and you see the professors all dressed in suits and look like business executives. You go to their classes and what they teach is deficient. Now go to a white university, especially the top ones, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley, and UCLA etc. You see the professors in khaki pants, in simple shirt and generally bent over books, reading, writing and doing research. You see them walking from libraries or laboratories to their classrooms and offices. They engage you in intellectual discussions. In their classrooms you feel that they are true professors (a professor is a person who has learned a subject and dedicates his life to professing it, teaching and writing about it).

Black professors are there to seem very important clowns but not as persons dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

You go to a hospital where the doctors are black. They appear in suits and generally see you as a beggar that they are condescending to treat. They are generally third rate and do not know what they are doing (try this after you see one: go get a copy of Physicians' Desk Reference book and read the diagnoses and medications the black doctor gave you; the chances are that one out of two times he misdiagnosed your problem and gave you the wrong medications).

In Africa the medical doctors don't even bother trying to be medical doctors, they do not bother treating their patients; you could be bleeding to death and if you do not have money to bribe Nigerian doctors they would ignore you.

Dr. Woodson observed these sorts of things going on in his world and asked how it came to be that black folks behave as they behave. He attributed it to the miseducation of black folk. Apparently, he believed that the problem is socially caused.

Like many African-Americans, Dr. Woodson tended to believe that black folk's problems were caused by the man, by white folks.

According to this view of things, everything wrong with the Negro is always caused by white men. The unarticulated presupposition of this philosophy is that Negroes are children and are therefore never responsible for their fate; only those presupposed to be adults, hence responsible for their behaviors, white folks are perceived to be responsible for Negroes problems.

In Africa the leaders are mostly criminals stealing from the people and never doing anything to uplift the people. Whose fault is it?

We are told that it is the white man's fault. They tell us that African leaders are merely the neocolonial servants of their white masters. They are the compradors in a neocolonial world; idiots put into offices by their white masters to stabilize their countries and make them easier for white men to come and take the raw material they need to serve their industries, transform them into saleable products and return the manufactured products back to Africa and sell them at exorbitant prices to Africans hence perpetuating Africans poverty.

The metropolis (West) exploits the periphery (Africa). It is always the white man's fault that nothing good comes out of Africa.

It is the white man's fault that British run secondary schools in Nigeria produced graduates who were as good as any boy who went to Eton, Harrow and other elite secondary schools in Britain and such graduates from contemporary Nigerian secondary schools cannot be considered elementary school graduates.

The only British built university in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, used to graduate students who were as good as any college graduate in Britain. Now, Nigerian university graduates cannot be seen as fit graduates from secondary schools.

So, what are the suited black professors doing, are they not supposed to be professors, teachers taking pride in producing well educated students?

In Nigeria the college instructors literally see themselves as there to collect bribes from their students and fuck (pardon my French) their female students for grades. That is correct; what passes as professors in Nigeria are crooks in higher education and the result is the collapsed education system in Nigeria.

Now, whose fault is it? You got it right if you blamed it on the white man. You see, nothing is ever the black man's fault. He is a five year old child and is not responsible for his behavior. Europeans are adults and as such are responsible for black (children) folk's lives. According to this logic, everything wrong with the black man must be blamed on the white man.

This blaming of the white man actually began when Africans, like savages, ran around their neck of the woods capturing their people and marching them across the Sahara desert and selling them to Arabs (which they did from about 700 AD to about 1900 AD), and later selling them to Europeans (from about 1500 to 1900 AD).

For over 1000 years Africans sold their people to Arabs and Europeans and the only explanation they could come up with for this dreadful behavior is that other people (white folks, they don't even blame Arabs to whom they sold more Africans)made them do it. I say shame on them. They ought to feel guilty and remorseful for their ancestors' outrageous behavior. I say that contemporary African states be made to pay reparation to black Americans and black Arabs, say give ten percent of their annual budgets to those they sold (for a specified amount of time, say, 100 years). Africans must make amends for the crime of their ancestors before they can stop thinking that they can just commit crimes, as they now do by transforming their governments into criminal activities, and have no consequences for their behaviors. As long as the world tolerates Africans always blaming other persons for their antisocial behaviors nothing good is going to come out of Africa. Africa will remain a place of suffering; Africans will continue to be those the rest of the world have pity for and give some handouts out of compassion.

(Of course, white folks and Arabs also must be made to pay reparation to those Africans they used as slaves in Europe, America and Arabia.)

Now, whose fault is it that these people sold their own people? If you guessed white folks you got it right. It is not Africans fault that they captured their people and sold them to whomever wanted to buy them, it is the buyers fault.

One would think that since the buyer is white and therefore not identified with blacks that his crime is less heinous than the black seller who ought to identify with his own black people hence not sell them. No, we are given convoluted arguments on how slavery is an economic thing, how the economy of Europe and America need black slaves to work in the fields and Europeans thus stimulated Africans into selling their people, so it is the white man's fault that slavery existed.

Of course, the buyer of slaves, Arabs and whites, were guilty but the point is that Africans are also guilty. But instead of appreciating the role of Africans in selling their people, Africans glibly blame the sordid episode of selling their people to white folk on white folks.

To say that Africans ought to take fifty percent of the blame for slavery (as I insist they must) is to be accused of self-hatred by African idiots masquerading as scholars (those who produce illiterates as university graduates).

Nothing is ever the Africans fault is the trip these people are on. The trip has led to misgoverning in all of Africa.

No African country is properly governed. The reason why Africans house has fallen is, I believe, because Africans do not take responsibility for their behavior; they are always blaming others for their fate.

If they are not blaming white folks, each tribe is blaming other tribes for their fate. In Nigeria, all Nigerians blame whites for the shitty nature of Nigeria; thereafter, each Nigerian tribe blames other tribes for its fate.

Igbos blame Hausas and Yoruba's for their rotten fate. In the meantime their leaders cart the money they ought to have expended developing their people to Western banks. Igbo land is like what you would expect in the tenth century, and no one is trying to modernize it. But whose fault is it? Why, Hausa or Yoruba, of course!

At the individual level Africans do not take responsibility for the outcomes of their behaviors. They are always talking about how God is responsible for their fate (or they blame their failures on other people). Even when Nigerians steal government money to become rich they thank their God, for apparently he enabled them to steal and become rich!

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176