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I was gifted an advanced screening of “Judas and the Black Messiah” earlier this week and it affirmed just how much education equals power, while simultaneously being a threat to “power.” I’m about to make it make sense.
Real quick background for those who are unaware of the history—which, in my opinion, is the flaw in our power and a flex in upholding systems of white supremacy—the movie tells the story of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman, Fred Hampton, and how a FBI mole infiltrated the group to help destroy it in the late 1960s.
Fred Hampton—who I’m honored to say is a fellow Chicagoan—understood the necessity of mobilizing multiple oppressed groups against white supremacist capitalism and socialism, while also building infrastructure and self-determination in Black communities.
No doubt bro was a GOAT, but like other great revolutionaries that preceded him, his power and influence were threats that had to be eliminated by guardians of white supremacy. This is why the FBI and Chicago Police Department murdered him in 1969.
So for anyone who can’t grasp how scared this country is of people standing in their power and rising up against oppression, definitely check this movie out.
Now getting back to this fact that education equals—and is a threat to—power.
The “powers that be” never have and never will want people to understand America’s deep-rooted history in upholding racism and classism to oppress the masses. That’s glaringly evident in the public school system’s sheer unwillingness to teach and tell the whole truth about our past.
Prime example—as we speak, Republicans are talking about punishing schools that teach the 1619 Project.
Then you have this goofy-ass, “all lives matter” gubernatorial candidate in Michigan named Austin Chenge who’s campaigning on getting rid of Black history month altogether—claiming it’s offensive, unfair, illegal. He wants to declare February “American History Month”.
The jacked-up part about it—he’s African American! But we’ve been known that all skin folk ain’t kinfolk.
I’ve said this time and time again, they don’t want Black kids knowing that throughout history, Black people fought back because public education was and is being used to reinforce subservience.
Going too deep into el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz’s push for Black nationalism is an absolute “no” because it just might inspire Black people to take control of our own social, economic and political apparatus, crippling white capitalism. Textbooks and teachers will play it safe and tell our kids that Malcolm X was a preacher (they may or may not include his religious affiliation to Islam because of how divisive the world has made it) who said “By any means necessary” without even explaining what that meant. And, they won’t tell you that el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz and Malcolm X are actually the same person and how that came to be.
I didn’t learn about Fred Hampton in school, but telling us about how he organized all of these oppressed groups with the truth of how our conditions align might just risk the chance of me or someone else leading the charge in building a diverse coalition of revolutionaries.
And hell, the architects of public education probably even second-guessed telling us about Dr. Martin Luther King’s push for equality. But since his philosophy was rooted in non-violence, they allowed for more in-depth teachings about his advocacy. Maybe they considered him a safe negro.
So God forbid Black kids be educated and emboldened to rise up against these unjust, racist and tyrannical systems that oppressed their great, great grandparents, everyone that came behind them and seeks to does the same to them. That would certainly be a wrench in America’s plan to keep us “in our place” and “under control”.
Oh, and don’t let poor white people find out their skin color doesn’t give them the same privileges as rich white people. Because in case they thought so, I’m here to tell the “Poors” that classism is indeed a thing.
The shade is, during and post-slavery, white elitists did everything in their power to keep their poor brethren politically and economically disenfranchised by also denying them access to education.
Masterless Men shows that, rather than united by a shared commitment to slavery, the antebellum white South was deeply divided by class. Poor whites in this era “were directly prevented from enjoying many of the privileges of whiteness.” Most lived in shoddy housing, suffered from poor diets, and found work opportunities to be low-paying and unreliable. In addition to these everyday realities, the book is filled with striking examples of their mistreatment by the antebellum legal system, which she argues was “primarily structured around incarcerating poor whites.” At the extreme end, she provides vivid descriptions of poor whites sold into indentured servitude or subjected to harsh corporal punishment by both legal and extralegal forces.
Damn, this sounds a lot like what us Black people go through—and I don’t remember this being discussed in my U.S. History class. Looks like y’all skin folk ain’t kinfolk either, Poors—not even your teachers.
W.E.B. DuBois once said, “The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro.” Not only is this true for us, it’s the elites’ broader thinking when it comes to all oppressed people and they’ve been able to offset these dangers through suppressing and whitewashing history and overall, denying us access to a quality education.
At the end of the day, our fight should have never been with each other but against the “elitists” who continue to make sure we’re divided in this social construct of race instead of united in the commonality of our struggle. Brother Fred Hampton knew this as did a handful of activists who came before and have come after him.
So now that we know more of the truth, it’s time for the Black Messiah (us) to get some retribution from Judas (them) by commanding equity, respect and freedom through coalition building, advocacy and activism. And where does that begin? In repurposing education as a tool of liberation and dismantling oppressive systems of power.
An original version of this article can be found at Education Post.
Tanesha Peeples is the Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post. Her mission is to use her education, passion and experience to empower marginalized populations. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, she is a Chicago Public Schools alumna and proud Englewoodian. Check out her blogging about “Hope and Outrage.”