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Schools are key to ending the devaluation of black life in America

Les Lester

An institutional framework exists in America that fosters the George Zimmerman-type travesty of a trial we’ve just observed, which is overlooked in the ongoing discussions about the Trayvon Martin case. It fosters an all-white jury with one half Hispanic, for example, which in my estimation implies that black jurors would have biased the case. And that’s not OK in my opinion.

Frankly, the so-called integration of blacks into this country’s framework is simply not complete. Schools’ classroom instruction still lauds the golden ages of Greece and Rome without a scintilla about the black founders of Egypt or an analysis of the inaccurate blond Jesus depicted by Michelangelo.

Leads to warped cognitive framework

So the minds of Americans are fed a cognitive framework that says whites have done everything and blacks have no history that should be respected or are at worst perpetual criminals — with the few exceptions of course, which might be expected in any analytical sampling.

This says to me that the establishment in this country is complicit in devaluing black life.

And, subsequently, a white adult who kills a black teenager can have a trial bereft of black jurors in an area with a high black population and vestiges of racism.

In addition, he can get off scot-free. But how can a man who was told by the 911 operator to stay in his automobile walk after a teenager is killed?

The manifestations of institutional racism — let’s call it what it is — show up on multiple levels in the short lives of the Trayvon Martins of the world.  They’re all too often informed by the popular-culture music and lifestyles of the day, a genre lauded for its sales, but noted as being anti-establishment. The irony is that it’s promoted by the establishment — the accompanying merchandising of fashions is directed by Madison Avenue and the corporate media; fashions and lifestyles that make youth easy targets of profiling, whether implied or blatant.

It’s not just black youths whose lives are devalued, though. Every black person in Americais devalued given the current status quo of black life in this country. I wrote an op-ed piece several months ago that dealt with how the treasures of King Tut, a black pharaoh, were on display in the Twin Cities and several cities across the country, and invariably his black heritage was omitted or de-emphasized. Google King Tut now and you’ll see the computer generated National Geographic depiction of a European-looking guy.

Youth must learn the full story of African contributions

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan needs to get real about educating black youth and, subsequently, the nation as a whole. What’s so difficult about proclaiming to the educational system that the full story of African contributions must be speedily inculcated into the educational system? European culture is depicted ad nauseam.

And it’s not so much how would the Zimmermans of the world react under a different socio-cultural milieu, but how will black youth react? Under the current framework, many black kids feel they’re being a traitor to black culture if they aspire to anything beyond street life. I’d like to see a generation of Trayvon Martins keep the pre-adolescent virtue we see in black boys before age 14.

For the school systems to do anything less is a betrayal of the American narrative. Black life in this country must be valued like everyone else’s, and the first place to start is in the educational system.

Les Lester is a freelance journalist and the author of the novel “The Awakening of Khufu.” 


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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2013 - 07:25 am.

    Then there is truancy

    One of the multiple reasons Trayvon was suspended from school was truancy. Mr Lester wants our schools to do more for black youth. but if they don’t attend, doing more is a difficult objective.

    • Submitted by Michael Friedman on 07/23/2013 - 11:54 am.

      Who is they?

      Why suspend for truancy? Seems pretty insane on the surface — and on a deeper level reflects the rigid Euro-religious culture we perpetuate that believes forgiveness for offenses is only earned by enduring punishment. Not at all an evidence-based practice for adolescents but that’s a topic for another day. (I’m familiar with Mr. Westgard advocating for evidence-based approaches in other writing.)

      But racism can reveal itself unintentionally. Why does Mr. Westgard imply that black youth are truant generally just because Trayvon had it on his record? And if the racist assumption that all black youth were truant was somehow correct, it would seem to especially validate the author’s argument that curriculum needs to be more inclusive, not contradict it.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/23/2013 - 10:31 pm.

      I think you miss the point

      I think the author is trying to say that maybe if our schools offered a more authentic and empowering view of black history, then the students might be more engaged. He is looking for solutions on how to better engage a student like Martin who is skipping school.

      It is kind of indicative of the privileged thinking that the problem has to be solved by everyone else, and we bear no responsibility. Yes, bad behavior needs consequences, but why not try and address the underlying causes?

  2. Submitted by frank watson on 07/23/2013 - 10:30 am.

    Why let facts get in the way.

    I guess I live in a totally different world than Mr. Lester. Love to comment on just about everything Mr. Lester wrote but…However, Schools are not the key, but a solid home life is more valuable and sets the table for a solid education and path to a better life.

  3. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2013 - 12:10 pm.


    Home life is the major issue. A strong pre school program can help.

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