Published on The Voice News, February 15, 2002.
By David Truskoff, North Granby – I once heard Malcolm X say, “Pride, dignity and motivation must be instilled in our young people.” Of course he was referring to young African-American people. Black History Month should be abandoned and in its place American history should be taught with truth and honesty. All and real American history. Yes, it is true that young African-Americans need to know their history, but too often it is not presented in the proper context and the result is a very negative thing. Separate, but equal does not cut it.
If black and white students were receiving less of the propaganda that now passes for American history and allowed instead to view reality, perhaps the motivation to create a better life for themselves and to create a better America would increase.
Recently I spoke to a young audience of mostly black students and I pointed out that back in 1940—sixty-two years ago—Wendell L. Willkie, who was then a candidate for the presidency of the United States, said: “In short, the Negro in our midst live under the discriminations that differ from the Nazis only in that ours are illegal and we are free if we wish to fight against them.” Willkie promised that he would fight against them.
In 1948 two candidates, Truman and Henry Wallace, stated their opposition to segregation. Wallace said, “I pledge to you that I shall fight discrimination with everything that I have.”
In 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States in Brown vs. Board of Education said that separate but equal school systems were unconstitutional. On July 6, 1996 the Connecticut Supreme Court made a similar decision, although the second one should have been unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court had already taken care of that—or did they?
Why is it that now, in the year 2002, I could speak to an audience at Weaver High School in Hartford and look out over a sea of only black faces, but if I were to speak at Simsbury High School just a few miles away, I would see what Malcolm would describe as 99 and 44/100 percent pure white?
I find that the reaction to students about the long history of failure is a negative one and depressing. Sometimes it reaches a hopelessness that causes the biggest problem African-American and Latino students have today, which is the horrendous drop-out rate that keeps them from reaching a higher level of share in the wealth of the country. Today, for every dollar of white family wealth, the African-American holds only 9 cents. I know, white America sees the Oprahs and Jordans—but they are just a tiny fraction of the American black population.
Today, American white students graduate high school at a rate of 80%. The rate for blacks drops all the way down to 54%, and for Latino students it is even lower. There lies the entire problem today. School systems are failing to get teachers to concentrate their efforts on pride, dignity and motivation for all students. Doctor King once said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar: it only comes when one realizes that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Perhaps he meant the education system.
(David Truskoff is author of The Second Civil War).