American Miseducation
Alexis Amaye-Obu
November/December 1999

"In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past will remain horrible for exactly how long as we refuse to assess it honestly." --James Baldwin

Eight out of ten white students and three out of ten black students at Gainesville High School think that racism is no longer evident in today's society. But this isn't true. Every time you, a student, step into an English classroom, Science classroom, or History classroom you are experiencing racism first hand. What you spend eight hours a day unintentionally trying to learn is a lie--only 1/8 is the actual truth (with a twist). We live our civic lives not really ever learning anything, but I think if we are going to be taught--at least teach us the truth. What we learn is his-story: the story, or approved stories, of white men excluding blacks and other minorities, people that have made America what it is today. We are a society built on the blood, sweat and tears of not only whites, but other races. Robert Purvis said, "To make me believe that those men who have regulated education in our country have humanity in their hearts, is to make me believe a lie." And it is this lie we are living in.

Failure to speak against what we are taught has killed us all as American teens. We, my fellow peers, are the new generation and we must make sure our voices are heard--not only as people with developed thoughts, but as products of struggles like the Civil Rights Movement. Silence is dangerous, but no knowledge about who we are is fatal. It goes past being "Black" or "White," "Hispanic" or "Asian." We are all Americans, and this is an American problem. James Baldwin said, "History is not a procession of illustrious people. It's about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about."

To address those that think racism isn't here--just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it won't sneak up on you. Are you being educated or are you learning? When being educated you receive information in someone else's perspective and apply it by using their lessons, but when you learn you gain not only knowledge in your own eyes, but application of that knowledge into your daily life. Now, are you being educated, or are you learning? I realized in the tenth grade while taking US His-story there were only: one unit on Native Americans, a total of three chapters on African Americans, one chapter on Asian Americans, and one or two sections on Hispanic Americans. Are we supposed to be content (and/or equal)? I guess we are as long as it says something about us in history books.

The way Jewish and Asian cultures stay "fresh" in the minds of their youth is their willingness to teach their kids their struggles. If a child knows where they are coming from, they know how to get where they're going without forgetting how they started. A child is taught everything from customs to language to give him/her respect for their native land. This is done regardless of the "time." This type of cultural pride doesn't occur in many African American families. For me, self discovery was one of the main ways I learned about my people. Everything from who invented the golf tee, clothes dryer, fire extinguisher to the first black mayor in the US. Everything new to me was never taught in school. Ralph Ellison said, "You don't inherit culture and artistic skill through your genes. These come as a personal conquest, of the individuals applying himself to that art, that music . . . which helps him to realize and complete himself." I applied myself when I made the choice to further that learning of my herstory. Learning American History doesn't stop in the class itself, but starts in other subjects. There are many contributions in our everyday society given by African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, so why are we being limited the knowledge of it?

Can you honestly tell me that you would sit in a library day after day, week in and week out to learn more about the history of your own culture--or anyone else's? We're a new generation with new ways of learning and retaining knowledge (i.e. television). Can we get out [of] the Jerry Springer mode just for one second to learn something that might be beneficial? Beneficial in the sense of how we get along with people of races other than our own.

Alexis Amaye-Obu is president of the Youth N.A.A.C.P. Chapter of Alachua County and a senior at Gainesville High School.

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