I caught a segment on NPR this afternoon featuring the W.E.B. DuBois Society and its efforts to make academic achievement a point of emphasis for black kids. One of the problems, apparently, is that there is a cultural message out there telling black kids that, if they study too much, maybe that makes them too “white.” I don’t pretend to be familiar with black culture except as it bleeds into my mostly-white world, so about the most I can say is that I’ve heard this described as an issue for academic achievement among blacks from other sources.
Certainly no one ever told me that studying or academic achievement would make me not a real white. That said, there was definitely an antagonism against learning from many of my peers. In middle-school, I distinctly remember being put down for using 25-cent words. But, it’s middle-school — your peers are going to use whatever club is closest at hand for putting you down. I was fortunate in that, whatever messages I was getting from some segments of my peer group, I was getting stronger messages from my parents and teachers.
Blacks may well have additional obstacles to overcome in terms of an anti-educational cultural bias; but American culture generally seems to have a strong anti-intellectual bias. Witness the rise of “Joe” the “Plumber.” Hell, witness the rise of George W. Bush. One of his political *strengths* was that he wasn’t “too smart.” We raise a man of intellectual mediocrity to the heights of power, and then ask our kids to take us seriously when we tell them a good education should be their primary concern? They may not be that well educated, but they’re not (by and large) stupid.
The conversation in the NPR segment turned to the election of Barack Obama and how it might help fight the notion that an educated black person is too white. Obama’s strength in this regard will be that he is not only smart, but he’s cool as well.
I guess the lesson to be learned here is that you can’t be Poindexter smart – you have to be cool-smart. If only I had known. I’m conceited enough to regard myself as smart but not so deluded as to think I’m cool. I’ve gone the opposite route and now revel in my geekery. I’m not sure cool can be learned in any case.