Last night I went to the Baltimore Racial Justice Action’s 13th of the month event on Cultural and Racial Appropriation. I took the BRJA class for white people in the spring, and it was a really helpful way to think and talk systematically about issues of white supremacy and racism. My learning partner, a BRJA member assigned to me for one-on-one discussion, was an inspiration to me. At last night’s event, she reminded us that almost all of the work we do around anti-racism is based in the intellectual work of Black people. She emphasized the importance of giving credit regularly and loudly, and I didn’t do that well enough in my blog post yesterday. Any writing or thinking that I do on transforming schooling for Black students draws on the intellectual work of a number of amazing Black authors, and on conversation largely with Black colleagues.
I want to say a little more specifically about Teresa Perry. Her extended essay “Up from the Parched Earth” in the book Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement among African-American Students isn’t about “gifted” education per se…it’s about taking seriously the idea of Black students as intellectuals. Her work on the historical importance of education for Black communities, the work of Black schools during Jim Crow, the prevalence of the “ideology of intellectual inferiority,” and the need to develop a praxis of achievement for African-American youth in schools has made it difficult to see how a sense of colorblind schooling helps Black students.
Further, and I can’t do her justice now, but I’ve been blown away by the work of Sylvia Wynter. Her writing is complex and I’m struggling to get it in a deeper way, but in the most basic sense, she describes how our post-Enlightenment thought overemphasizes the white man of the upper classes as human. She suggests that the large-scale revolutions in European thought over past centuries have involved redefinitions of the human, from (again this is overgeneralized and simplified from her work) Human as religious subject to Human as political subject to Human as biological subject, per Darwin and misunderstandings of “race.” That we have in science abandoned most of these ideas doesn’t mean that our societal definitions don’t continue to draw on them in the grossest way possible. Therefore, the need for a redefinition of the Human, based now on “our existence as hybridly nature-culture beings.” Further, the question in that redefinition is how “we can be enabled to free ourselves from our subordination to the one culture, the one descriptive statement that is the condition of us being in the mode of being that we are” (she cites Epstein here).
These are just two of the many Black intellectuals whose work has transformed my thinking in the past few years. Given that it’s possible to be considered educated and not know many of these folks, unless you are a specialist in anti-racist work or Black studies, I’d like to share some of the most transformative ideas I’ve read in coming weeks, because these Black scholars deserve a far wider reach, in education and in general.