By Akil Parker
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
- WEB DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
I’m going to flip or should I say depart from the more standard interpretation of WEB DuBois’s concept of “Double Consciousness” and use it as a concept we as parents, students, and stakeholders should apply to our engagement with the schools in our neighborhoods. It is imperative that we smarten up and realize that the vast majority of the time the decision-makers and those that are mere recipients of these decisions are not on the same side. This is critical to our survival as a people because in neo-colonial capitalist systems such as America there is a predatory relationship maintained. This predatory relationship is much like that of lions chasing zebras as seen on the Discovery Channel programs. The task of catching and slaughtering the zebra by the lions would be even easier if the zebra thought that they and the lions were all on the same side. Such is the case with many of us in the Black community serviced by the public schools – we are like confused zebras believing that the decision-makers have our best interest in mind.
As those serviced by the schools (students and parents), we need to be conscious of what our own personal and collective goals are and how the school system can help facilitate us achieving those goals. We must become conscious of what the federal, state, local governments (including federal and state departments of education as well as local school boards), corporations, local businesses, ie the power structure have as its own goals. If the goals of the power structure do not coincide with the goals of those attending the schools then exploitation will most certainly occur. There cannot be a healthy coexistence of objectives in a neo-colonial capitalist system – it is mathematically impossible. There is a symbiotic parasitic relationship between the power structure and the students which occurs. We can cite some examples.
Corporations require access to cheap labor in order to minimize overhead expenses while maximizing profits. This labor source must be developed or more appropriately “underdeveloped” in order to be suitable as a cheap labor supply. (We must pay homage to the late Walter Rodney that expounded on this concept of underdevelopment of Africa and it relates here) So how can the same corporations that require this cheap labor actually want students to excel academically essentially rendering them overqualified for positions as cheap labor? Thus, when we walk into a comprehensive high school and see a banner displaying a partnership with Aramark, or any other corporation you should know what time it is.
In addition to cheap labor, we must also consider the desire for free labor by the same predatory and ravenous corporations. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution provides a loophole that maintains chattel slavery or free labor. It states that “slavery shall be abolished unless one has been duly convicted of a crime.” Prisons are akin to hotels in that many are privately-owned and operated with the goal of maximum profit via maximum occupancy. If private prison corporations such as Wackenhut or CCA along with other corporations that generate revenue from prisons can collude with music distribution corporations to advertise a very sexy criminal lifestyle, would they want students exposed to this music to excel academically as this reduces the likelihood that they will partake in this criminal lifestyle and thus be engaged with the penal system?
Politicians play a part as well. And we do not have many political exemplars beholden to the constituency such as Philadelphia natives David P. Richardson and Roxanne Jones or New York’s Adam Clayton Powell, Jr in these modern times. Often it is the same city council members, state representatives or mayor that will visit schools for photo ops on a Monday before signing into law on Tuesday a bill that will remove much-needed resources and programming from the school or close neighborhood recreation centers or ease the process of white settlers to colonize (gentrify) their neighborhoods. How could these politicians actually be on our side unless they believe that our relationship should be sadomasochistic?
Even some school administrators play their part in the exploitation. Some have little to no respect for parents or students, prefer to have their schools function as minimum-security prisons and promote a culture of mediocrity where failure is an accepted option as long as they receive their six-figure salary divided into 26 biweekly increments. Much like workers in other fields, many school administrators that harm students (and communities at large as a result) absolve themselves of responsibility and claim they are only “doing their job” because they are beholden to an area superintendent, who is in turn beholden to a superintendent, who is then beholden to local and national corporations. If these administrators were truly “on our side” they would be beholden primarily to the students and their parents in the spirit of the late Marcus Foster (1960s Principal of Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, PA). These administrators will constantly spew rhetoric about how they want the students to be ”successful” and are so focused on implementing systems throughout the building to ensure this so-called success. Successful at what should be the question. Further, whose definition of success is being applied here? Success is not some one-sized-fits-all concept. It is dependent upon an individual’s personal experience and worldview as well as politico-economic and cultural orientation. How could we reasonably believe that these administrators that behave in this manner are on the same side as the students?
How do we get bamboozled into thinking we are all in this together? Well for one, the power structure has very effective and convincing propaganda at its disposal. It enlists those we are conditioned to love, namely Black celebrities, to reinforce this idea of cohesiveness among us. They are recruited to make us think that the goals of the power structure and our goals are one in the same. This is why professional sports teams will provide schools cheap trinkets such as free game tickets or t-shirts and corporate-controlled rappers and singers will visit schools to talk or perform in order to further this charade. We also have been conditioned to have preconceived notions that all school systems are inherently wholesome and nurturing and the individuals responsible for their operation would be too. Part of the reason we get taken advantage of is that we often just “go with the flow” with many issues and never establish any concrete and tangible goals for ourselves and our children. We often dismiss this act as unnecessary because we have an implicit trust for the school system and believe it will do this for us due to its great propaganda. It can be seen as “in loco parentis” gone wild. If the fundamental assumption is that the school system is trustworthy (absent any critical analysis) then we leave ourselves vulnerable to be taken advantage of. In this case, those in the power structure can echo the words of P.T. Barnum stating, “There‘s a sucker born every minute.” And many of us have been and continue to be suckered by the power structure.
How do we prevent being exploited by the power structure? We must fully embrace a healthy skepticism around anything the power structure offers to participate in in a school setting and enact a “double consciousness.” We must be doubly conscious of both our own tangible goals and simultaneously of those of the power structure as well. Once we have this awareness, then we will be able to better discern what we should be supporting and not supporting that it puts forth.
When we begin to view public education through this lens then more of us will hopefully reach the logical conclusion that we can neither trust nor change the power structure and thus we must create a network of independent schools by which to educate our children. When the concerned parents, students and stakeholders displace the current power structure with themselves in a new school system then and only then will we be on the same side. Until then we need to exercise an astute “double consciousness” in order to protect ourselves from exploitation.
Aluta continua. Lasima tshinde mbilishaka.