In this Aug. 24, 2019 file photo, Jerome Jones explores inside the Fort Monroe Visitor And Education Center during the First African Landing Commemorative Ceremony at Fort Monroe, Va. Officials observed the arrival of enslaved Africans 400 years earlier to what is now Virginia. Proposals in Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi would prohibit schools from using a New York Times project that focused on slavery's legacy. (Jonathon Gruenke/The Daily Press via AP)
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The notion that Black people, and Black students in particular, are “less than” has been reinforced by mainstream media. Society perpetuates colorism, oppressive institutions and prejudiced ideological constructs dating back to the day we stepped foot on this land as enslaved Africans.

While Black History Month is the perfect time to begin some of this unlearning, I don’t expect any of us to go hard for 28 days (we’re in a leap year) and emerge on March 1st as brand new Black people. Realistically, the illusion of inferiority has been a curse in our communities for generations, so to gradually shift from that brainwashing to self-actualization will take time.

But the journey has to begin somewhere, and I think the best place to start is with chipping away at the trust we have in our public school system.

John King, Jr. meets with student
John King, Jr., former US Secretary of Education and candidate for Governor of Maryland, meets with high school student. (Photo: John King for Governor website)

Education system hinder Black youth

Even though I fantasize about every Black parent snatching their child out of public schools to bankrupt the system, I know throwing the whole thing away will have a negative effect on us, too (similar to the aftermath of Brown v. Board when Black educators lost their jobs and our communities were further destabilized). But if you’re one of those people who think the public school system is doing everything it can for Black kids, let me let you know right now that it’s not. In fact, it was never designed to truly educate Black students. If you need receipts, here you go:

  • First, why would a country that once persecuted our ancestors for attempting to learn how to read and then later enact laws that put restrictions on the extent to which we could learn have a change of heart? It wouldn’t—a leopard doesn’t change its spots.
  • Second, if we don’t trust the criminal “justice” system, why would we trust a public school system built by the same White men whose main interests are protecting their power and privilege? The public school system grooms Black people at an early age to enter into the criminal “justice” system by reprimanding, suspending and expelling them from school at disproportionate rates—impressing upon these young minds that they’re delinquents. And they’ve strategically built the school-to-prison pipeline to not only deter Black people from getting an education, but to continue the industry of profiting off of chattel slavery through mass incarceration. It’s all connected.
  • Third, the system has mostly taught our Black kids that their history in the U.S. begins with slavery, ends with Dr. Martin Luther King having a dream and depicts Malcolm X and the Black Panthers as unruly negroes. The deliberate erasure of our contributions, movements and cultural evolution from the traditional system purposely perpetuates inferiority.
Black parents assisting their kids with homework
Black students doing homework with their parents. (Stock photo)

No such thing as an “achievement gap”

And because of the aforementioned, we also have to detach ourselves from the definitions of “perfection” and “achievement” set by White supremacy culture with the ultimate goal of keeping us “in our place.” That’s how we’ve gotten caught up in this whole “achievement gap” nonsense that paints an utterly ridiculous picture of Black kids not being able to achieve at the same level as White kids.

Is there an “achievement” gap? Nah. Is there an opportunity gap? Absolutely!

These are just a few examples of where we can start. But, we’d be irresponsible not to coalesce this unlearning with self-taught knowledge for the purposes of affirming cultural identity and communal empowerment.

Building our own table

The way I see it is, Sankofa is our foundation and the principles of Kwanzaa are our building blocks. We need to know who and where we came from—greatness, struggle and glorious overcoming—to develop a clear vision of where we’re going and how to get there for our Black students.

This means creating our own supplemental educational systems that disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and help our kids to realize their full potential. We have to become scholars of our own history, tell those stories and set our own standards for success and excellence. And we have to assume the power this country is so afraid of us having.

I think I’m making this all sound easy, but it won’t be. We have over 400 years of unlearning and learning to do. In fact, the process of unhinging ourselves from believing in the education system alone seems cumbersome.

Buy y’all, the perceived “risk” of unlearning is not only necessary, it’s absolutely worth the reward of discovering ourselves. If we just take it one step at a time, we can get there. Start right now during Black History Month, and take every opportunity to instill in a young person that they’re worthy, valuable, and destined for greatness.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...