MIM was sent a copy of this book by a prisoner activist in the National Plantation Psychosis Awareness Committee (NPPAC). He has participated in and contributed to many of our prison campaigns through Under Lock and Key and behind bars. After exchanging views about political theory, and the NPPAC comrade reading MIM's theory journal on psychology, he sent us this book to better explain NPPAC theory.
In this book Dr. Akbar focuses on the miseducation of Blacks in Amerika and lays out his solution for this education problem. Akbar is a psychologist, "who is committed to the healing of the collective 'Black mind.'"(p69) He is calling for self-determination in the realm of education. In this narrow realm MIM finds much to agree with in Akbar's book. But Akbar does not move beyond education to call for self-determination of nations in entirety, and it is this lack of a vision for the advance of society that leads to many of MIM's disagreements with Akbar.
Dr. Akbar correctly explains that the European-American education system is set up to educate white people in their history (frequently revised to make them look good), to set positive examples for white kids, and to build the positive identity of white youth. "This educational system was never established to provide a true education for anyone but Americans of European descent who were intended to remain the holders and developers of this society."(p.4)
Part of the damage of this system on Black youth is that it limits their development of cultural identity. Akbar notes that the "miseducated person" does not fail to learn, but rather that he/she learns skills and ideas that have "limited or no utility for themselves" and learns to become a slave to white society.(p5) "This miseducation actually maintains the mental enslavement of people." (p6). Based on this Akbar argues that segregation can be useful for the oppressed so that they can gain a functional knowledge of who they are. While MIM recognizes that the oppressed can use their education in the oppressor's schools to fight against the oppressor, as leaders of many revolutionary movements have done, we also know that it is the revolutionary schools that will provide the majority of the people with true education.
Akbar suffers from an absolutist approach that leaves no room for the successful Black man or womyn within the mis-education system of imperialism. Discussing "Neo-slavery" Akbar writes "African-Americans become brilliant CPA's who cannot conceive beyond one of the contemporary 'master's' firms. There are brilliant surgeons who cannot negotiate their skills unless an HMO 'master' chooses to bring them to their plantation."(p37) MIM reject the theory that doctors and accountants are slaves in Amerika because they serve corporations. It is important to include an analysis of class with nation, and we have to be honest and say that these so-called neo-slaves are in fact partaking in the bounty of imperialist exploitation of the oppressed nations. They may still be allies of the national liberation struggle, but they are far from slaves. Although they still have a national interest in fighting against imperialism, as a part of the upper crust of the petty bourgeoisie, these people have a material class interest in perpetuating imperialism.
At root Akbar fails to generalize about national oppression in this book, instead focusing on the experiences of each nation. He is correct that the education system is set up for the success of whites and the failure of oppressed nations. But it is not just a system of education, it is also a system of power, and not just power of individuals but the power of a group of people over other groups of people. Akbar focuses on the need for individuals to gain power through their education: "Once people have self-knowledge they have power to obtain from the world what is needed to insure survival."(p33) And in doing so he misses the question of power of groups over groups and the fundamental basis for class, nation and gender oppression. Ultimately we can not hope to change the educational system (or any other part of the superstructure) until we change society and end the imperialist system that exists off the exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world's people.
At times in his book Akbar loses sight of class and nation differences in things other than education. He argues that white achievement is a result of "knowing their legacy" and their superior and relevant education. But he never mentions the differences in wealth, health, and job opportunities (not to mention lack of police repression and imprisonment) open to whites that contribute significantly to their success. This is dangerous because Akbar is suggesting that by exposing Blacks to their legacy they will be prepared to succeed, but without adequate nutrition, health care, with the need to quit school and get a job to help feed the family, or working after school with no time to do homework, or without money for college, oppressed nations are condemned to fail in many ways.
Akbar does talk about self-determination in this book, though mostly in the context of the educational system. This is closer to MIM's vision for the liberation of oppressed nations. He even goes so far as to see this as an issue of societal structure (i.e. p14). Akbar also correctly rejects what he calls "selfish individualism"(p38) as disregarding the needs of other human beings. But still he does not take this to the next level and explain to the reader how we might achieve true self-determination for nations, by ending national oppression.
Akbar has good goals for humanity: "With our understanding of the universal human experience there must be a universal standard of what is in fact civilized and morally correct human conduct that goes beyond the standards of any particular cultural context."(p65) But he lacks a vision of how to get there. Setting up independent schools for the oppressed will not change the system. The national oppression will still exist until it is forcibly ended. And the oppressors will not become civilized without force.
Alternatives to the system
Akbar's unwillingness to consider that some evils of society are caused by society and are not innate is in contradiction with his otherwise correct theses on the mis-education of the oppressed nations. "Thieves and murderers occur in almost all societies and they clearly represent a form of social disease and must be dealt with."(p10) He writes this not to address how we deal with these "social diseases" but to say that other diseases (i.e. slavery) are condoned in some societies. Here Akbar should have taken the opportunity to talk about those societies that don't have theft and murder (since he states "almost all" societies have them) and address how these are socially conditioned actions. The way that Amerika deals with "crime" has tremendous implications for Black men in particular, and any book addressing the education of the Black man and womyn must at least comment on this problem as it is virtually impossible to gain a real education locked behind bars from a young age. The ridiculous rate of incarceration of Black men in Amerika points to a huge problem in this society that is not just about education.
Akbar recognizes the destruction wreaked by the white nation and its education system: "The last few generations of human beings led by the scientific revolutions of European knowledge have created more destruction for the earth than all previous generations combined."(p48) He points out the contradictions between the "vision" of the U.$. and the treatment of African-Americans in this society. He writes: "Though we do not debate the value of the U.S.A. Vision on the basis of its espoused values, we would have to approach the vision with a level of skepticism that perhaps most citizens of the U.S.A. would not."(p14) It is good to hold Amerika to its own supposed standards. But MIM disagrees with Akbar: we do debate the value of the "U.S.A. Vision" which we see as based on slavery and national oppression, a vision that believes in the supremacy of the white nation and its right to exist off the exploitation and oppression of other people. It is not just abstract education of white youth that leads to their success, it is the entire system of national oppression onto which white youth can climb to wealth and power.
Perhaps Akbar is unable to articulate a way out of the current system where there exists class, nation and gender oppression because he does not understand what we might be able to achieve under a system of equality. He repeats capitalist dogma about communism in his only mention of it, writing about his vision for education that benefits the highest aspirations of humanity: "This is not a communist or a socialist vision of the preeminence of the state or nation to the sacrifice of the individual." In reality, the state exists under socialism to put into place systems like the one Dr. Akbar recommends: real education serving the needs of the oppressed. This is not a state that is preeminent to the sacrifice of the individual but quite the opposite, the state exists to benefit the people. And under communism there is no state, only a society of people working for the greater good of humanity. Akbar may disagree with communism as a goal, but he needs to articulate his vision for a world without oppression, and in doing so he should provide real reasons for opposing communism, the only system that has made great strides towards such a world.
Akbar takes a determinist approach to humyn nature: he portrays many things in humyns as unchanging and inherent. MIM believes that humyns have tremendous capacity to learn and develop and at this point in humyn history it is impossible and counterproductive to say what is innate. Until we see people exist in a system without imperialist patriarchial oppression we can't know what traits can be overcome. Akbar wants to have each group "learn the message of their particular legacy in order to draw from the inspiration of that legacy." MIM agrees with this, but disagrees when Akbar says this applies across race, class and gender as if these are timeless differences that will never change.
Similarly Akbar sees gender differences as inherent. But given what he describes as "the sexist educational system," it is impossible to say if many of those differences have been created by our culture.
In fact, if anything Akbar here is giving too much credit to the oppressor. MIM can not excuse the white nation for lying about Columbus discovering Amerika. That lie does not help build smart white youth, it just fosters an attitude of supremacy that harms humanity. Akbar correctly notes that "we would not want to replicate such a system of white supremacy that has taught Caucasian people that they are superior because they are not Black, Brown or Red people."(p27) But he does not go on to discuss how we can dismantle this attitude and system. It is not just the oppressed who need re-education, it is even more the oppressor who needs to be re-educated. And it will have to be the oppressed who force this re-education on those who are materially benefiting from maintaining the status quo.
In arguing for culturally relevant education Akbar says "All young people are similarly competent and capable but such competence will never be expressed until they are shown that they have a legacy of such competence."(p8) We wholeheartedly agree with Akbar that all people have similar potential competence and that their education will determine whether this is expressed. And within the current system it is correct to say that people need to see examples of those like themselves succeeding. But MIM is working towards a society where there is no group of people oppressing other groups. At that time we hope to see humanity move to a new level where people draw inspiration from the achievements of all of humanity. We are not looking to wipe out cultural differences between nations, but we fully intend to eliminate all class differences. If we leave the oppressor class learning from the oppressor class, or the oppressor nation learning from the oppressor nation, we will never create a just and equal society.
Another area where MIM disagrees with Akbar is on the question of mysticism. He believes that the only way a people can succeed is based on faith in higher powers. "This vision would have to build on the tremendous evidence that our survival and achievement was the consequence of higher powers of faith and surrender to certain universal laws of order that brought our victory from the oppression of these modern times."(p14) Akbar looks to the history of Africans and sees much spirituality and so concludes that education can not be separated from the spiritual and that education must cultivate the spiritual soul.
There is, in fact, much for us to learn from the history of all peoples and their educational systems. Akbar points out that many problems of youth today did not exist in the past, and indeed we can learn from this. But that does not mean mysticism must be encouraged. Humanity can move forward and learn new things while still learning from the past. People used to worship gods of many different forms in many different societies. As those societies advanced and evidence contradicted the possible existence of these gods people moved on. Similarly belief that the earth was flat formed the foundation of much in the educational system until this was disproved. As humanity advances the beliefs of the people change. Mysticism locks people into a system of thinking that can not change or advance as new information is learned.
"The African concept of life and its concept of education require that the sacred and the secular should be seen as one. The African worldview does not approach the study of God as some kind of force independent of the human reason and physical reality. Instead it sees God as an inescapable component of the human life."(p50) MIM responds to this by asking Dr. Akbar how, with this view, we can know what we can and can not influence. It is all faith to determine what God causes in humyn life and what is under the control of humyns. And it is this faith that is used to teach the oppressed to be happy with their oppression because it is out of their control and in God's hands. MIM wants to teach the people that their lives are in their control and that they alone create human destiny. We can not do this with blind faith.
In the end this seems to be a disagreement over the "nature" of humyns. Akbar writes "Being righteous at the core and fundamentally submissive to the Divine order characterizes the ultimate nature of the human being."(p24)
Akbar argues that we must incorporate religion in the Black education because "The only group without an identifiable representation in the African-American community is the atheist."(p52) But MIM points out that this could be said of the Chinese people before revolution there in 1949. Also very well represented in Chinese society was starvation, preventable disease, poverty, and short life expectancies. But all of this changed after the revolution as the Chinese people were given the tools to take control of their own lives. Education became a crucial part of the revolution as the people were taught not just to read and write but also to build a better world for themselves and others. Through this education the Chinese people slowly began to discard their previous religious views in favor of a materialist outlook on the world. The advances for the Chinese people in this period were tremendous and if nothing else, prove that we can not take the history of a people as evidence for what must be in the future.
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