NO MORE TESTS: WE SHOULD MEASURE BLACK KIDS ON THEIR "DESIRE TO KNOW." (St. Ibram, 2019)
The roots of this notion polluting our schools that it's racist to make a black student actually answer the question.
The organization 1776Unites, founded by my mentor and model Bob Woodson, has tweeted out a video where various black people decry a now fashionable idea that “whiteness” includes being smart. As in, precise, objective, fond of the written word, oriented towards dispassion, on time.
Those things are all manifestations of intelligence, vigilance, discipline. But according to our Elect folk, we black people are best off channeling our Crazy Badass Mothafucka. Because that’s more “authentic.” And, I get the feeling, fun to watch.
Because so many think that the battle that I and others are waging against Critical Race Theory’s transmogrification into education for children is an obsession with something that isn’t a real problem, I want to explore a bit. Someone I deeply respect not long ago surmised to me that the idea that black kids should be exempt from real standards is something being promulgated via mere paper “handouts,” and that the real problem is censorship from the right. I just don’t think so.
First, watch this, the 1776Unites video. Just a few minutes.
And now, as to what we are referring to, it starts actually before last summer. I knew something was really wrong when in 2019 at a conference in New York City for the city’s principals and superintendents, participants were presented with an idea that to teach with sensitivity to race issues meant keeping certain issues in mind.
These included ways of looking at things that are “white” rather than correct: namely, objectivity, individualism, and valuing the written word. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was fine with this, happily telling the media that it’s white people’s job to do the “work” of identifying the racist assumptions in how they go about their business.
So: to stand outside of matters and analyze them with one’s own private mind, and perhaps couch one’s conclusions with the considered artifice of writing rather than the spontaneity of speaking, is inauthentic for black and Latino people. It is racist to impose such things on black and Latino (and Native American?) kids. Or at best, brown kids should be taught this uptight “white” business only as a gloomy alternative to the realness of just hanging out sharing passing personal impressions via chatting.
And this goes even further back. I recall reading a black academic casually writing that “linear reasoning” is something somehow “other” for black students as far back as the 1990s. I even encountered him, as a grad student, in an elevator then. This was long before anybody not my friend knew who I was; I had written nothing. But I followed his writings, and asked him very genially what he meant. He very genially said he didn’t remember writing what I was referring to. Maybe he didn’t. It was, for the record – get this – my main inspiration Shelby Steele’s twin brother Claude, a psychologist.
But this Carranza business in NYC was not just an eccentric happening at one meeting in one city one year. It is now, well, epidemic.
The Voice and Speech Trainers Association has posted a “White Supremacy Culture Daily Self-Check-in” ushering members through exactly this kind of mantra, including “The belief that progress is bigger and more” and “Fear of open conflict” as “white” things to cleanse yourself of. In other words, one is supposed to distrust wanting to expand or increase, and one is to cherish people yelling at each other, which, I’m sorry, is a cute way of saying that America needs some ghetto authenticity in the way people talk to each other when they disagree.
If you find this stuff peculiar, talk to someone you know who has attended a school of education and you will likely find that they are quite familiar with the perspective. It is totemically put forth, for example, in a book by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun called Dismantling Racism: a Workbook for Social Change Groups. Note this codeword dismantling – the Elect idea that studiously abjuring, in some abstract sense, “whiteness” is a necessary prelude to a new world order.
This view of precision and detachment as white is a view about, more economically, reason. The idea is that to master close reasoning is suspect. It is exactly the roots of the “Math is Racist” notion, and if you want a whiff of how religiously people can glom on to such ideas, take a look at my Twitter feed in the week after I posted about that here.
Yet, seeing this educational philosophy laid out in the sunlight, The Elect cannot dismiss it as fringe “kookiness” -- unless they want to insult the curators of a national museum devoted to celebrating the very black people The Elect live to liberate. At the African-American History Museum in Washington, D.C., for a hot minute or two in 2020 you could see a variation on the Jones-Okun business, an expanded presentation of what we must reject as “white” evil. An educational poster was displayed that slammed not only objectivity, individualism, and writing, but linear thinking, quantitative reasoning, the Protestant work ethic, planning for the future, and being on time.
Yes, this was real – from people who surely bemoan the stereotype of black people as dumb and lazy! Again, only a mental override could explain why the people responsible for this display would allow that emblazonment of precisely the stereotypes lobbed at black people for centuries. Tarring whites as imposers of alien values felt more important than considering that the poster depicted black people as gorillas – and was created by a white woman!
And because this was enshrined at America’s flagship museum of black history, we can’t say that this sort of thing is just “woo-woo” sidebar nonsense. The museum yanked it down when the media got a sniff, but they had made a highly indicative statement in having hung it in the first place. Namely, they subordinated logic – that black people should not embrace being semiliterate, unanalytical and tardy – to the religious score of identifying racism regardless of logic (as in, here, the racism of whites expecting blacks to in any way be “like them”). Let us pray.
The Elect’s last stand will be that this was just a mistake made by a curator or two at that one museum. But the idea that it is unfair to expect quantitative reasoning from black people has taken quite a hold among many black academics.
I have heard a respected black American academic openly assert, to a mostly white audience cowed into allowing it as a valid perspective, that to require black scholars in the social sciences to crunch numbers is racist. The idea seems to be that mathematical reasoning is not “how we black people think” and that telling stories and expressing feelings is of equivalent empirical force to what numbers teach. But no one asks for an explanation as to how, because they know that the response would be their censure on social media as a moral pervert.
She was not the only black scholar I have heard making this kind of argument, and many academics reading this likely have heard it. So, now, have Mr. and Mrs. Reading-Person America. Ibram Kendi is an advocate of the idea that precision, and being able to demonstrate it, is to ask black kids to perform “inauthentically.” That there are ways of “knowing” beyond the kind that require rigorous training to master is behind passages such as his venturing in the Elect Biblical testament How to Be an Antiracist:
“What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments? What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know?”
Anyone who sings of this book as prophecy is saying that a passage like that makes sense, despite it being a savage smack in the face on any black person in America. Translation: we should elevate that which students take in subconsciously without effort – e.g. street smarts, emotional empathy, and “spunk.” If a white man smilingly encouraged black people to be satisfied with this he would look like a bigot in a daguerrotype. Kendi thinks we should redefine braininess as just being “swell.” As opposed to the oh-so-benighted idea of helping black kids do better on tests – but no: to him that’s giving in to “whiteness.” But the world of decentered “whiteness” – i.e. that spunky, funky, holistic, intuitive world where everybody dances to hiphop and does what they feel like and, if they do science, focus on telling the older folks that they need to pay more attention to spunky, funky, holistic, intuitive, hip-hoppyness -- would be one without electricity.
And in this Kendi is not a lone wolf, but a representative of a kind of thinking that has become “a thing” especially in the 2010s. Glenn Singleton is a black man and heads a diversity consultant firm. Asked how this notion of precision as whiteness will prepare brown kids for the world as we know it, he spoke of “a new world, a world, first and foremost, where we have elevated the consciousness, where we pay attention to the human being.” Note that first, this means nothing whatsoever. Note second that if it makes any kind of sense at all, it is as scripture. It sounds like something somewhere between Lost Horizon and The Ten Commandments, and has no more place in a modern educational philosophy than the Rigveda. The “diversity consultant” like Singleton is a priest.
Any white person who embraces the idea that precision is “white” is, quite simply, a bigot.
I pity them because what made them a bigot was infection by a virus idea.
There are worms which, as larvae, burrow into a grasshopper’s brain. (How does he know? I happen to like this kind of stuff – although I suppose it’s all a little precise for a black man …) The worms, as adults, are aquatic. They affect the grasshopper’s brain such that when the worms become adults, the grasshopper’s brain is transformed into driving the poor thing to seek water, dive into it, and drown – but allows the worms to be in water and thrive and reproduce.
Elect ideology makes good, smart white people drown themselves in nonsense.
I must admit John, I use my iPhone’s “Look Up” feature for word definitions quite often when I read your posts. Learning lots! Thanks.
Some of this sounds like recycled countercultural anti-establishment notions about work and conformity etc. along with a dose of anti-intellectualism. That any of it is being put forth as a serious path forward for the already undereducated, both Black and White, tells me that our society is in deep trouble.