The African centered ideal is designed to fuel an enculturation process that serves to reject the norm of African inferiority placed on Black people in one of the three routes prescribed by Goffman for stigmatized groups (Goffman: 1963). The philosophical and spiritual perspectives that are the cornerstone of African centered thought are critical points that researchers often miss when examining the African centered education movement.
Studies of African centered education curriculums, in America, that begin and limit their search to the physical evidence of culture as developed by ex-African slaves in America never analyze the true intent and promise of Afrocentricity (Dodson: 1983; Edwards: 1999). A brief look at W.E.B. DuBois and the concept of the Talented Tenth is a primer on the results obtained by teaching African-American children that their history on this Earth began as slaves.
One of the greatest minds ever produced among the African race by the American education system was W.E.B. Dubois. DuBois was one of the intellectual leaders of the African-American community. His lifelong dream was to help the African race achieve equality on the world stage. He experienced many disappointments along his chosen path and failed to accomplish his dream due, in large part, to the misinformation he received as part of his European based education (DuBois: 1958; DuBois: 1968; DuBois: 1938).
DuBois was educated at liberal White schools in Massachusetts where he was always a distinct minority. Until he attended Fisk University DuBois never went to a school that had a majority Black student body. Late in his life DuBois wrote that upon his graduation from Fisk University in June 1888 he had no real understanding and was never taught in any history class, in high school or college, of the racial and economic foundations of the European assault on Africa (DuBois: 1940).
When the nations of Europe met to divide Afrika amongst themselves at Berlin Conference of 1885 he wholly believed the propaganda put out by the European governments that it was an act of civilization for the benevolent “tutelage” of savages. He was so uninformed about the true intent and actions of the countries of Europe throughout the world that he chose Bismarck, the leader of Germany in the 1880’s, as his personal hero and role model (DuBois: 1940).
The education received by DuBois instilled in him the belief that, in his own words:
“The Negro people had no traditions to fall back upon, no long established customs, no strong family ties, and no well defined social classes. I was blithely European and imperialist in outlook; democratic as democracy was conceived in America” (Dubois: 1940).
His European outlook blinded him to the hundreds of centuries Africans successfully navigated life prior to the arrival of Europeans. DuBois’ choice of Bismarck of Germany as his hero and role model is typical of Black youths raised and educated in an exclusively European environment.
It is common for Black youths to experience low self-esteem and a degree of self-hatred as a result of an education and life style devoid of positive African models (Banks & Grambs: 1972). Many sociologists endorse the idea that the self arises by interacting with and reacting to other members of society (Mead: 1934; Cooley: 1956). The self image of young Africans all over the world has been developed in the lowest levels of a caste system based on color that is shaped, defined, and evaluated by a generalized other which is racist or shaped by racists (Poussaint & Atkinson: 1972).
For W.E.B. DuBois and other African-American children living in White America the generalized other whose attitudes she or he assumes and the looking glass into which she or he gazes both reflect the same judgement of inferiority because of their Black skin.
W.E.B. DuBois promoted a theory for the creation of a leadership class of “Negroes” who would uplift the African race that he coined the Talented Tenth (DuBois: 1903). He calculated that approximately ten percent of the Africans in America could be developed to constitute a “Black Elite” that would train and educate the masses of African-Americans. The creation of this so-called “Black Elite” was actually a continuation of the caste system begun during slavery by White slave owners.
DuBois traced his heritage to mulatto parents (DuBois: 1904). Many present-day members of the Talented Tenth trace their ancestral heritage to the mixed-race children of White slave masters or a worker inside the house of the slave master (Graham: 1999). It was illegal to educate an African slave but the house slaves were taught just enough to work in the master’s house efficiently. This was a position of status among the African slaves on the plantation.
Northern philanthropic and religious organizations created the Negro colleges and universities of Wilberforce, Avery, Lincoln, Howard, Hampton, Fisk, Atlanta, St. Augustine’s, and others immediately before and after the American civil war (Morgan: 1972). The children of house slaves and mulatto children of White owners were chosen to attend these schools and became the Talented Tenth with the end of legal slavery.
These schools produced nearly all the college educated African-American leaders prior to World War II. The Negro students who attended these schools began fraternities and sororities in emulation of white college students (Cokely: 1998). Membership in these invitation-only groups has served as a secret society for the “Black Elite” who believe, to this day, that they are superior to less educated African-Americans (Graham: 1999).
The policy of racial segregation, enforced legally and socially by the government of the United States, meant that the “Black Elite” or Talented Tenth had no choice but to live among the common masses of the Black people. They quickly became the business and social leaders of the Black communities of America. Their leadership positions gave them financial clout over other Blacks. Members of the Talented Tenth lived in sections of the more expensive homes within Black neighborhoods in the United States. This allowed them a modicum of separation from the working class Black person.
The limited separation along class lines in the Black community was not financially harmful to African-Americans as a whole. In the first half of the twentieth century intragroup social capital in the African-American community facilitated cooperation among its various segments (Orr: 1999). The concept of social capital has been defined as the development of trust, norms, and networks that help a society operate smoothly and efficiently (Putnam: 1993).
The accumulation of Black Social Capital gave Black leaders the clout to protect and expand their business and individual interests (Going Back to T-Town: 1997; Wilson and Cohassey: 1998). In the second half of the 20th century intergroup social capital between the Black and White communities was invested in the hands of the Black Talented Tenth and White business/political leaders. The education received by the Talented Tenth produced an overabundance of teachers and preachers who were, for the most part, ill-equipped to negotiate and interact as equals with White corporate and business leaders (Orr: 1999; DuBois: 1903).
As African-American leaders and White leaders cooperated on projects intergroup social capital was developed in the general pattern of black leaders giving whites political support in exchange for patronage and menial jobs. This is a classic big city political machine strategy of distributing jobs that do not have any political power to individuals who could deliver the votes (Royko: 1988; Cohen and Taylor: 2000).
The patronage system and machine style political maneuvers affected the distribution of intragroup social capital within the Black community by rewarding individuals and small groups not the Black community at large. This became a divisive factor in the Black community since broad community wide issues were not addressed (Duncan: 1999).
Legal segregation in housing and business, in America, ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1965. The end of legal segregation signaled the opportunity for the descendents of the “African” house slaves to re-join the descendents of their former slave masters. The Talented Tenth sold their businesses, sent their children to White schools and went to work for White companies. Some members of the Talented Tenth were gradually allowed to move into certain areas of the White community.
A residual effect of their being “allowed” to integrate some white neighborhoods was a lack of access to both intergroup and intragroup social capital for working class African-Americans. The removal of financial and civic cooperation from the African-American community at-large is a component of the financial freefall that is culminating in the destruction of Black communities all over America.
White business/political interests have used race to keep the masses divided without necessarily being racists. It makes good business sense to create a class of people to work for you and help you hold the masses back at the same time. This is the strategy used by the ruling class to control the middle and lower classes of White people throughout the world (Epperson: 1985; Icke: 1995). The educated Negroes of the Talented Tenth were given the mandate to keep the majority of more “Africanized” Negroes under control. That is the true purpose of the Talented Tenth.
When Dubois spoke of them as a vanguard group that would bring culture and knowledge to the “poor misfortunate Negro” he thought European culture and knowledge was the ultimate expression of life. The methods he developed and advocated for improving the lives of African-Americans were tools for the creation of a class of workers for White social interests. It is unfortunate that he did not fully understand the psychologically divisively negative nature of the Eurocentric indoctrination he promoted as an improvement.
Dubois and many other Blacks thought that people of African descent could best prove to the world that they have the ability to create and achieve on a level equal to other races by working with white people. Dubois was a Sociologist trained in Berlin and Harvard. At Harvard he studied philosophy with William James and George Santayana. He studied in Berlin for one year with many scholars including Max Weber, a giant in the field of Sociology. Dubois originated and directed the first large-scale sociological survey in America. This project was named after the subjects of his study “The Philadelphia Negro“.
Very few sociology books even mention Dubois. Louis Latimer was a Black man who, as an assistant to Thomas Edison, invented a carbon filament that greatly extended the life of the light bulb. This made it possible for Thomas Edison’s invention to be marketed to the masses. Latimer also helped develop patents for Westinghouse and General Electric and supervised the installation of the public lighting systems in New York, Montreal, Philadelphia, and London.
Many people of today are not aware of Dubois, Latimer, or their African-American peers. Most still feel that the people of Africa have contributed nothing to humanity. It is more than ironic that for all his efforts the accomplishments of Dubois and his African-American peers have been ignored like the prior accomplishments of the people of Africa.
The descendents of the African field slaves have developed and progressed along a slightly different, more independent path. A path that embodies rediscovering and implementing the essence of their African ancestors. [T]he knowledge held by the people and cultures of the African continent has provided an intellectual stimulus for all of Europe and by extension America as well. The mineral, agricultural, and human wealth of the African continent is the physical source of Europe’s rise to world dominance. Scholars and governments all over the world have obscured this.
The division of cultures by Europeans into the artificial categories of civilized and pre-civilized has gone hand in hand with their categorization of information as historic or pre-historic to create an illusion of hierarchy. This fictitious hierarchical arrangement has been used to indoctrinate Europeans to believe that the highest, most well developed humans in the “history” of mankind are the European people. Every instructional institution in American culture supports and promotes this mental construct. This mental construct is one of the intellectual sources for the myriad forms of racism and segregation indulged in by American society.
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