Saturday, September 25, 2010

Historically Black Coonin'

Historically Black Coonin':
Institutionalizing Lower Learning

Paul Scott

Dr. Carter G. DuBois was exhausted after pouring all of his energy into an hour long lecture on the colonization of Africa. Out of breath and with sweat pouring down his face, he asked his college freshman class if there were any questions. Nonchalantly smackin' bubble gum, scantily dressed, Lakesia Jackson raised her hand and asked, "Yeah, Doc, can you teach us how to "dougie?" This prompted the rest of the class to break into an impromptu dance routine, transforming Dubois' World History 101 class into a scene from BET's "106 and Park..."

The recent education edition of Ebony magazine featured a picture well dressed Morehouse students standing behind a brotha in a bandanna with his pants saggin' . While the article dealt with the issue of dress codes on black college campuses, the symbolism and deeper meaning of the picture was clear; our future black leaders have become followers of a pop culture that has historically portrayed black people as "coons," "Sambos" and "jungle bunnies."

Once upon a time ,Historically Black Colleges and Universities were the homes of future great politicians, scientists and educators; people who would make a life long commitment to uplifting the race. Unfortunately, the highest aspiration of some students in 2010 is to become the next Nicki Minaj or Waka Flocka Flame. What happened? When did HBCU start standing for "Historically Black Coonin' and Underachievement?"

There was a period in our history when education was honored by black folks. According to WEB DuBois in his book, "Black Reconstruction," the very feeling of inferiority which slavery forced upon them fathered an intense desire to rise out of their condition by means of education."

However, almost 150 years out of slavery, the obtainment of knowledge is no longer seen as a privilege of the more fortunate, only a reason to party for four (or more) years and then get a job.

While many old heads will argue that this is a new phenomenon, as early as 1957, Dr. E. Franklin Frazier wrote in his book, "Black Bourgeoisie" that after World War I the attitude of black college students started to change, as many began to rebel against the "puritanical attitudes" of the northern missionaries who founded the early colleges. They began to see a college degree as merely , " the chief means of achieving social and economic mobility." Herein lies the genesis of our jacked up priorities.

Some argue that during the Civil Rights movement too much attention was placed on integration, giving young African Americans the false impression that educational integration , in and of itself, was the key to social equality. So, instead of honoring our African traditions, they started to want to "be like white folks."

This is not to say that we have not had our shining moments when being black and intelligent was fashionable, as one can point to the Black Power era of the late 60's and early 70's and also the Black consciousness era of the late 80's early 90's, however, it must be noted in the same manner that pop culture turned black revolutionaries into pimps in the 70's, by the mid 90's it had transformed Afro-centric scholars into gangsta rappers.

This is the trend that continues today, as many students have embraced "street culture" as a form of rebellion, producing a generation of "rebels without a clue." In his essay, "The Black Child," Dr. Bobby Wright challenges the false idea held by many African Americans of the Hip Hop generation who believe "white s do not control the streets in the black Community nor the behavior of Blacks on those streets." According to Dr. Wright "whites have more control or at least as much control over those in the streets than over those in universities."

Though often misunderstood, the purpose of WEB DuBois' idea of a talented tenth was never to create a group of elitist, stuck up gangsta snobs, but a group of enlightened African Americans who have as their mission statement the upliftment of those who did not have the opportunity to obtain a higher level of education.

This is what is so disappointing about the attitude on so many college campuses; they have failed in their mission to uplift the downtrodden.

The best example of the problem is the strange relationship between HBCU's and Hip Hop. Every year thousands upon thousands of dollars are paid to Hip Hop artists who promote Black on Black violence, drug dealin' and are living caricatures of historical black negative stereotypes during Homecoming season. Last year, students on the campuses of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University protested the use of student funds going towards funding the mental genocide (mentacide) of young black people. Unfortunately, a year later, we still see black universities bank rolling negative behavior.

While the focus of this article is historically black colleges and universities, in truth, it is just a symptom of a larger problem. Black folks in general have lost respect for knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Every school year in every city in America, we are bombarded with numerous stories about the achievement gap between black students and their peers, which gives our children the false impression that they are intellectually inferior to their white counterparts.

It must be noted that the problem of the "dumbing down" of African Americans cannot be just limited to the youth. We are living in a society where grown black folks have made shows such as "The House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns" the most successful in cable TV history, while programs that could enlighten black people struggle to find an audience.

In order to reverse this trend, it is time for those who know better to step up and HBCU's can play a vital role.

Students and administrators on college campuses must get their priorities straight. It is no secret that many HBCU's are located in the middle of the 'hood so it makes no sense to have that many smart black folks gathered in one place and yet have black folks struggling for survival right outside of their gates. HBCU's must not only develop the minds of black young people on campus but must develop ways to heal the 'hoods that surround them. Also, while many universities train their students to become economists and business leaders, why are black businesses in their cities struggling to make ends meet, especially black bookstores?

Lastly, HBCU's must make better use of student funds for hosting programs for not only the students but for the local black community. It is a shame that the same student government association that can find $20,000 dollars to bring Young Jeezy on campus for one night to rap about "Thug Motivation" cannot find the resources to bring in Afro-centric scholars, researchers and historians to campus to hold workshops to motivate the students to be strong black men and women.

So, black students, the choice is yours, are you going to take a stand or continue to watch your people being destroyed for lack of knowledge ?

As Dr. Carter G Woodson wrote in the "Mis Education of the Negro," " No people can go forward when the majority of those who know better have chosen to go backward."

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots For more information on the Intelligence Over Ignorance lecture series on Race, Rap Religion and Revolution contact (919) 451-8283 or