Afrocentric Education: What does it mean to Toronto’s Black parents? by Patrick Radebe M.Ed., University of Toronto, 2005 B.A. (Hons.), University of Toronto, 2000 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES (Educational Studies) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) October 2017 Patrick Radebe, 2017 ii Abstract The miseducation of Black students attending Toronto metropolitan secondary schools, as evinced by poor grades and high dropout rates among the highest in Canada, begs the question of whether responsibility for this phenomenon lies with a public school system informed by a Eurocentric ethos. Drawing on Afrocentric Theory, this critical qualitative study examines Black parents’ perceptions of the Toronto Africentric Alternative School and Afrocentric education. Snowball sampling and ethnographic interviews, i.e., semi-structured interviews, were used to generate data. A total of 12 Black parents, three men and nine women, were interviewed over a 5-month period and data analyzed. It was found that while a majority of the respondents supported the Toronto Africentric Alternative School and Afrocentric education, some were ambivalent and others viewed the school and the education it provides as divisive and unnecessary. The research findings show that the majority of the participants were enamored with Afrocentricity, believing it to be a positive influence on Black lives. While they supported TAAS and AE, the minority, on the other hand, opposed the school and its educational model. The findings also revealed a Black community, divided between a majority seeking to preserve whatever remained of (their) African identity and a determined minority that viewed assimilation to be in the best interests of Black students. It is recommended that the school adopt antiracist education; that it appoints a spokesperson to field public inquiries to counter adverse perceptions of the school and its programs; that it fosters an on-going dialogue between its supporters and critics; and, most importantly, that it takes steps aimed at rebuilding relations among the stakeholders, i.e., the school, Black parents, the Toronto District School Board and the community. iii Lay Summary The view that mainstream Canadian and multicultural education is superior vis-à-vis colonial education, and in particular far more in inclusive in its orientation, has been challenged by Toronto’s Black parents, community activists, and Afrocentric scholars, who blame the former, in part, for the underachievement of Black students. This study examined how these parents perceive the Toronto Africentric Alternative School and Afrocentric education. It investigated, among other things, whether the latter could remedy the underperformance of Black students, as revealed in high dropout rates. In addition, it explored what role, if any, an African-centred education might play in addressing a crisis: the growing achievement gap in the public education system between White and Black students. iv Preface This dissertation is original, unpublished, independent work by Patrick Radebe. This study was approved by the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board on April 12, 2013. The ethics certificate is H13-00251. v Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................... ii Lay Summary ..................................................................................................................... iii Preface ................................................................................................................................ iv Table of Contents .................................................................................................................v List of Tables ..................................................................................................................... ix List of Acronyms .................................................................................................................x Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................ xi Dedication ........................................................................................................................ xiii Epigraph ........................................................................................................................... xiv Chapter 1. Introduction .................................................................................................1 1.1. The Researcher’s Positionality and Dilemmas .....................................1 1.2. Problem Statement ...............................................................................5 1.3. Statement of Purpose ............................................................................9 1.4. Research Objectives ...........................................................................10 1.5. Significance of the Study ...................................................................10 1.6. Organization of the Dissertation .........................................................11 Chapter 2. Literature Review ......................................................................................14 2.1. The Historical and Contemporary Education of Blacks .....................14 2.2. Colonial and Eurocentric Education in the Context of Black Education .................................................................................15 2.3. The School Curriculum as an Ideological Text ..................................25 2.4. Black Canadian Education: A Historical Overview ...........................31 2.5. Segregated Schools: Keeping Black Canadians “Uneducated” .........33 2.6. The Separate School Act (1850) and Segregated Education ..............35 2.7. Multicultural Education: What Is It? ..................................................38 2.8. Multicultural Education in Practice: White Teachers and Black Students’ Alienation ................................41 2.9. Black Students and Streaming ............................................................47 2.10. The School Curriculum and Eurocentric Knowledge ........................50 2.11. Multicultural Curriculum: Whose History Passes for Knowledge? ...52 2.12. Multicultural Education and Racist Representations .........................55 2.13. Black Students' Underperformance: Looking Beyond the Public School System .......................................58 2.14. Conclusion ..........................................................................................60 vi Chapter 3. Afrocentric Theory: A Discursive Framework .......................................62 3.1. A Working Definition of Afrocentric Theory ....................................63 3.2. Du Bois, The “Concept of Race”: White Power and Separate Education ................................................64 3.3. Du Bois, Separate Schools and Education: The History ....................68 3.4. Black Education: The Challenges ......................................................70 3.5. Marcus Garvey: The Relationship Between Continental and Diasporic African Black as One People ...................71 3.6. Kwame Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism ..............................................78 3.7. Afrocentric Theory: The Civil Rights and Post-Civil Rights Period ..................................83 3.8. Afrocentric Theory: The Criticisms ...................................................87 3.9. Afrocentric Education: What Does It Mean and Why Is It Necessary? ..................................95 3.10. Afrocentricity and Afrocentric Education in the Context of Canadian Public Education ..............................................................103 3.11. Criticism of Dei and Afrocentric Education in Canada ...................106 3.12. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School: An Overview ............109 3.13. The Afrocentric Curriculum: An Overview .....................................111 3.14. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School: Staff and Governance .......................................................................112 3.15. Conclusion ........................................................................................113 Chapter 4. Research Methodology ............................................................................115 4.1. Research Paradigm: An Overview ...................................................115 4.2. The Researcher’s Paradigm ..............................................................116 4.3. Qualitative Methodologies: An Overview .......................................120 4.4. Critical Ethnography: An Overview .................................................122 4.5. Critical Ethnographic Research: Problematizing Power and Oppression ............................................122 4.6. Research Methods ............................................................................124 4.6.1. Data Collection ...................................................................124 4.6.2. Participant Recruitment and Selection ................................125 4.7. In-Depth/Semi-Structured Interview ................................................127 4.8. The Participants ................................................................................130 4.8.1. Abena (Project Manager) ....................................................130 4.8.2. Amma (Creative Artist–Educator) ......................................130 4.8.3. Ananse (Food Justice Manager) ..........................................131 4.8.4. Goddess (Educator) .............................................................132 4.8.5. Jennifer (Teacher–Curriculum Consultant) ........................133 4.8.6. Kombozi (Mortgage Broker) ..............................................133 vii 4.8.7. Mary (Social Worker) .........................................................134 4.8.8. Ouzy (Senior Manager–Banker) .........................................134 4.8.9. Rolonda (Social Services Worker) ......................................135 4.8.10. Shaka (Office Manager) ......................................................136 4.8.11. Titina Silla (Lawyer–Student).............................................136 4.8.12. Zindzi (Nurse) .....................................................................137 4.9. Researcher’s Assessment of Interviews and His Experience with Participants .......................................................................................138 4.10. Data Analysis and Interpretation ......................................................138 4.11. Research Trustworthiness, Validity and Reliability .........................140 4.12. The Emic/Etic Split ..........................................................................142 4.13. Researcher Reflexivity .....................................................................144 4.14. Conclusion ........................................................................................145 Chapter 5. Afrocentric Education, Racism, Afrocentricity and Identity: The Contestations ....................................................................................147 5.1. Black Parents and Afrocentric Education ........................................147 5.2. The Perennial Presence of Racism in the Educational System ........147 5.3. Afrocentricity: Conceptual Interpretations .......................................152 5.4. Afrocentric Education: A Contested Concept ..................................154 5.5. The Toronto Alternative Afrocentric School as Viewed by Critics and Supporters ......................................................................163 5.6. Identity Politics and African-Canadians ...........................................174 5.7. Race as a Social Construct ...............................................................178 Chapter 6. Afrocentric School and Afrocentric Education: The Possibilities and Challenges ............................................................186 6.1. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School and the (Mis)Education of Black Students ...................................................186 6.2. Black Teachers: The Foundation of Afrocentric Education .............196 6.3. Black Parents as Educators ...............................................................203 6.4. Afrocentric Education: Instilling the Community’s Spirit in the African Child ....................................................................................206 6.5. Inclusive Curriculum: Making Education Relevant to the African Child ....................................................................................209 6.6. Afrocentric Education: The Optimisms and Possibilities ................212 6.7. Afrocentric School and Afrocentric Education: The Challenges .....215 6.8. TDSB Authority Over TAAS ...........................................................215 6.9. Teacher Training, Professional Development and Budget Constraints ...........................................................................217 6.10. TAAS and AE Through the Lens of the Mainstream Media ...........220 6.11. The Black Community’s Negative Perception of TAAS and AE ....224 6.12. Black Parents’ Cavalier Attitude Towards Education ......................227 viii Chapter 7. Conclusion: Implications and Recommendations for the Toronto Africentric Alternative School and Afrocentric Education .................234 7.1. Overview/Findings ...........................................................................235 7.2. Conclusion ........................................................................................236 7.2.1. Research Implications .........................................................239 7.2.2. Research Limitations ..........................................................243 7.3. Recommendations ............................................................................243 7.3.1. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School: The Need for Greater Transparency ...................................244 7.3.2. Tension Between TAAS and Black Parents: Healing Old Wounds...........................................................245 7.3.3. Bridging TDSB-Black Parent Relationship Using Dialogue and Complementarity ..........................................246 References .......................................................................................................................249 Appendix A. Semi-Structured Interview Protocol: Individual Interview ...............267 Appendix B. Semi-Structured Interview Protocol: Focus Group ............................268 Appendix C. Advertisement to Recruit Research Participants ................................269 Appendix D. Initial Contact Letter .............................................................................270 Appendix E. Subject Consent Form ............................................................................271 ix List of Tables Table 4.1. Profiles of Participants .............................................................................129 x List of Acronyms AE Afrocentric Education AT Afrocentric Theory BHM Black History Month BREB Behavioural Research and Ethics Board ME Multicultural Education RCOL Royal Commission on Learning TAAS Toronto Africentric Alternative School WCC Winston Churchill Collegiate xi Acknowledgements I wish to acknowledge all those at the University of British Columbia who have made my academic sojourn here a most enjoyable one. It was from all of you that I drew the strength to navigate what has proven to be an academic and life journey of the richest description. I owe special thanks to Drs. Handel Kashope Wright, Samson Madera Nashon and Shauna Butterwick for giving of their time so generously to serve on my dissertation committee. Thank you Dr. Wright for providing the support and guidance without which this dissertation would never have seen the light of day. And many thanks to Dr. Nashon for all the knowledge, wisdom and fatherly encouragement provided unstintingly. You enabled me to hold steady when I was assailed by doubt. Thank you Dr. Butterwick for teaching me so much. A most remarkable scholar, you encouraged me to persevere with timely and copious inspiration. As I join the ‘club of newly-minted scholars,’ I do so with humility and confidence knowing that I was taught and supervised by the finest team of scholars one could ever ask for. I wish to thank Rebecca for her steadfast support during the entire writing process. This project would not have come to fruition without her crucial contributions. Thanks also to Ikaya for leavening this project with humour, particularly at a time when my spirits were waning. I also wish to thank Drs. Bathseba Opini, Jeannie Kerr, Carrie Hunter, Shayna Plaut, Alannah Young, Andree Gacoin, and Amy Parent, in addition to Gloria Lin, and Joyce Schneider for their compassion and magnanimity. Shermila Salgadoe, Christine Adams, Roweena Bacchus, Jeannie Young, and Gail Gudmundson of Department of Educational Studies (EDST) warrant my heartfelt gratitude for their unstinting help, proffered always with a smile even when my goodwill account was exhausted. And thanks to Larry Sharp for poring over drafts and providing feedback. xii I am greatly indebted to the research participants, i.e., the parents of school children who took time from busy schedules to share their views on the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS) and Afrocentric Education (AE). Their rich insights impelled me to think beyond the scope of the classroom, of conventional theory and of my many personal biases. Lastly, I wish to thank my mother and late grandmother, women-philosophers who taught me one of life’s great lessons: that humility, respect, hard work, and patience are the keys to success. It was they who cultivated within me both a spirit of humility, which in Western cultures is often mistaken for timidity, and an appreciation of the wisdom of elders. Their counsel has served me well. xiii Dedication I wish to dedicate this study to Toronto’s Black students. It is my profound hope that in times of trouble, they will draw strength from an old African proverb: “Those who drink from the fount of knowledge never cry thirst.” xiv Epigraph The history of Africa, as presented by European scholars, has been encumbered with malicious myths. It was even denied that we were a historical people. It was said that whereas other continents had shaped history and determined its course, Africa had stood still, held by inertia; that Africa was only propelled into history by European contact. ~ Kwame Nkrumah Separate Negro school[s], where children are treated like human beings, trained by teachers of their own race, who know what it means to be Black in the year of salvation 1935, is infinitely better than making our boys and girls doormats to be spit on and trampled upon and lied to by ignorant social climbers, whose sole claim of superiority is ability to kick “niggers” when they are down. ~ W.E.B Du Bois In a banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who considered themselves upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as process of inquiry. The students, alienated . . . accept their ignorance . . . but unlike the [Hegelian] slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher. ~ Paulo Freire 1 Chapter 1. Introduction 1.1. The Researcher’s Positionality and Dilemmas The underperformance of African-Canadian students in the Toronto public education system represents a major concern for Black parents, educators, social justice activists and community leaders. It also underscores both the failure of the Eurocentric and multicultural models of education to address the intellectual needs of Black students and lack of political will on the part of politicians and policymakers to solve one of the most persistent problems plaguing the public school system. Hailed as a corrective for Black academic under-achievement, the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS) was officially opened in September 2009. The enthusiasm that greeted the new school was tempered, however, by an equal measure of cynicism. This study investigates how Black parents perceive TAAS and Afrocentric education (AE) 7 years after the school opened its doors. According to Banks (1998), researchers are agents with “minds” and “hearts” (p. 4) of their own which they bring into research, a view that has been articulated in some detail by Reviere (2001). Conducting a study in a community of which I am a part and in which I have a vested interest makes it both a personal and political project. Thus, I readily confess to being no objective observer of the oppression that weighs down the Black community; I wear no “veil of neutrality” (Fine, 1994, p. 73), nor do I hide “behind the shield of scientific objectivity” (Reviere, 2001, p. 714) thereby assuming “a privileged non-position” (Pillow, 2003, p. 178) on TAAS and AE, both considered sensitive and divisive. As an Afrocentric scholar, I subscribe to the view that Blackness is a continuum that extends beyond the African continent to the (African) diaspora. It is also a transnational and Pan-African concept, made meaningful by past and present struggles. I believe, like Afrocentric scholars before me and those who may come after, that an African-oriented study such as this one can contribute to highlighting Black worldview(s) and to disrupting dominant discourses that 2 presume to speak for Africans without bothering to consult them. I am of the view that it is only through solidarity with the Trans-Atlantic African family that we, as a collective, can define who we are as a people and articulate our experience and our hopes and dreams, in ways that genuinely reflect the long struggle to throw off the yoke of White supremacy. I am a critical researcher and as Denzin (1994) asserts, conducting critical research requires the researcher to “reveal reflexively [the] structures of oppression as they operate in the worlds of [the] lived experience [of the oppressed]” (p. 509). As a Canadian of African descent, I bring to this work a set of assumptions that informs my choice of research questions, of the research tradition and theoretical framework I employ, of the method for collecting and interpreting data, and of the data itself (Carspecken, 1996; Hawkins, 2010; McCorkel & Myers, 2003; Reviere, 2001). One of these assumptions, indeed the principal one, is that ME, despite its modest contribution to facilitating inclusive education, of which the hallmark is equal representation of minorities in the curriculum, does not go far enough in educating Black children and hence is detrimental to their future prospects. This is borne out by the very real fear on the part of Black parents that their children might soon join the ranks of those labelled “dropouts” or “at-risk”—signifiers that underscore the struggles Black children undergo in the mainstream public education system. If it is to be relevant, ME must move beyond mere tokenism, as evinced by the symbolic infusion of Black history in the curriculum. In addition to interrogating my personal assumptions, I grapple with what often seem to be intractable questions. How to conduct a study that is rigorous and fairly represents the data and thus avoid being viewed as a mouthpiece for disgruntled Black parents? How to pre-empt critics from taking the findings out of context and using them to indict both TAAS and AE? In critiquing TAAS and AE, might I be implicated in defending ME, an educational model held by critics to be dismissive of the Black Canadian contribution to Canada? Will my findings be perceived as inimical to the interests of Black students, their parents and the community at large? 3 Weis and Fine (2000) assert that when “looking for great stories, [researchers sometimes] walk into the field with constructions of the ‘other’ [in ways that] feed [into] the politics of representation [that creates] . . . [a] negative configuration” (pp. 48-49). Conducting a study on an issue the public considers divisive is fraught with risk (Weis & Fine, 2000); I am torn between criticizing a school whose goals and educational model I fully support and concealing “dirty laundry” (Weis & Fine, 2000, p. 89), which, if revealed, would tarnish the school’s reputation, further undermining the confidence of stakeholders—parents, students, community activists and leaders, teachers and academics—who have fought so long and hard to bring the school to fruition. My perception of public education has been shaped by my personal identity, my experience in a country whose dominant White majority dictates norms and values, my African culture, which teaches communalism and holds in reverence the injunction to be thy neighbour’s keeper, and by Toronto's Black neighbourhoods where the majority of marginalized Black students live and attend school. My interest in how Black parents perceive TAAS and AE was born of my experience as a former student in the Toronto public school system. At the time I suspected that my classroom contributions, such as they were, were less than welcome. My homeroom teacher, for example, would occasionally reframe my questions in ways that altered their intent, making me feel unappreciated. Consequently, I stopped asking questions about subject content and instead began questioning the teacher’s motives. Apart from being left out of class activities, I and other racialized students formed the distinct impression that the teachers were condescending in their treatment of visible minority students. I can only assume this to be the reason some of my classmates left school to work at menial jobs. Not only did I come to view the school environment as a locus of oppression; the fear of inadvertently revealing to the school authorities my state of mind and thus incurring their wrath, led me to internalize my oppression and masking my displeasure with a smile. And despite the best efforts on my part and that of the other visible minority students to conceal our discomfort, the school authorities seemed to sense it and responded by relegating us to the status of very young children in need of babysitting; indeed, every day for the entire school day, we found 4 ourselves warehoused in classrooms where nothing more than the most rudimentary education was on offer. Later, as an educator, I was often besieged by Black parents with complaints about their children’s academic performance and the failure on the part of schools to address their concerns and understand the difficulties they faced juggling work and child care while at the same time trying to oversee their children’s schoolwork. My experience with race and racism within the education system did not end with high school. As an undergraduate student, I often participated in class discussions that would degenerate into racist-flavoured indictments of Africa. I also recall a certain White professor who, much to the discomfort of his African students, would transform lectures in Sub-Saharan African history into a theatre of contempt for all things African. His views on the “dark continent” went beyond the merely uncomplimentary to signify African kings, e.g., Shaka, the great Zulu King, as personifications of evil and barbarity. To add insult to injury, he would encourage the class to consult my opinion should they harbour any doubt as to the veracity of his claims. Thus, I was pressed into the role of African expert and assigned to corroborate his racially-charged views on Africa. Powerless, I endured the weekly 3-hour class, in the company of two other African students, one of whom dropped the course when she could no longer bear the professor’s determined assault on African dignity. These and like experiences, along with exposure to archival documentation relating to the history of Black settlement in the British Northwest, i.e., present-day British Columbia, stirred my interest in TAAS and AE and the educational narratives it purports to offer Black students. More recently, I had the opportunity to read an essay written by the son of a friend, then a Grade 11 student, focusing on how rap and hip-hop music were impacting Black students. My first response was one of shock and alarm at the liberal use of expletives and misogynistic language. My disappointment, however, was neither with the boy nor the parents, whom, I assumed, viewed the school as an institution dedicated to educating their son to the best of its ability; rather, it was with the teacher, a certified professional—or so one would assume—who had assigned the paper an “A” in complete disregard for decorum as well as the rules of grammar. Dismayed, I helped the boy rewrite the paper, which he then resubmitted. In the margins of the text the teacher commented that this second effort marked 5 a major improvement over the first, which struck me as ironic given that the earlier version had received an “A”. The intent in narrating this story is not to indict all teachers, but to highlight the ethical concerns raised by this teacher’s professional standards, or lack thereof—concerns that are presumably shared by the parents of marginalized Black students. Would the same grade have been assigned were the author White or his family middle-class, and thus sufficiently well-educated and motivated to challenge so undeserved a grade? Likely not. In this instance it is safe to assume, or so I believe, that race and class mediate academic experience. I further believe that this holds true for the Toronto public school system as a whole. What my friend’s son was subjected to during the course of 11 years in that system is what Shujaa (1994) describes as “too much schooling [with] too little education”—a not uncommon fate for the mass of Black students attending schools in the Toronto metropolitan area, students whose academic performance is either overrated or underrated by teachers with little regard for the immediate consequences of such pedagogic practices and little or no vested interest in securing their futures. 1.2. Problem Statement The official opening of the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS) on September 8, 2009 was not without controversy. For critics of TAAS, it represents nothing less than a racist project orchestrated by non-mainstream Black1 scholars, parents, community leaders, and activists. Thus, news that the Toronto District School Board had approved the school was greeted with a storm of protest that rocked the public education system to its core. Indeed, TAAS, along with the principles of Afrocentric Education (AE) 1 Like Annette Henry, I use the term “[Black] to signify people of African descent living in Canada, regardless of country of birth. In this way, I am emphasizing a common place of origin as well as a common experience and struggle under Anglo/European domination and exploitation” (Henry, 1993, p. 219). I use the term interchangeably with African-Canadian, Africa-American and African. 6 upon which it was predicated, “became a flashpoint for conflicting discourses on public education in [Ontario]” (Levine-Rasky, 2014, p. 202). For TAAS proponents, the public school system had failed Black students as evinced by declining levels of academic performance, high suspension and dropout rates (Dei, Holmes, Mazzuca, McIsaac & Zine, 1997), and violence involving Black male students disproportionately both as perpetrators and victims (Levine-Rasky, 2012). No longer willing to accept the endemic underperformance of Black students in the public school system, Black parents, scholars, and community leaders called for an alternative educational model, one that would focus on African representations and achievements. Black parental disillusionment with the public education system was confirmed in a report issued by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in which it was noted that of those “students born in English-speaking Islands in the Caribbean who entered Grade 9 in 2000, 40 per cent had dropped out by 2005” (Brown, 2006, para. 17). The report further stated that this high dropout rate “applie[d] more to male second generation Caribbean students than their female peers” (James, 2011, p. 193). These findings corroborate the 1994 Royal Commission on Learning in Ontario (RCOL) report that used the term “education in crisis” to describe the state of the Toronto public school system (RCOL as cited in James, 2011, p. 199). According to Brown and Sinay (2008), there exist significant disparities in the academic performance of Black students. Those born in Africa "achiev[ed] at or above the provincial standard in all four subjects [Reading, Writing, Mathematics and Science," (p. 16) thereby outperforming their Caribbean counterparts. The authors attribute this phenomenon to the "parent's place of birth, parental presence at home, parent's education and family socio-economic status" (p. 17). It may be inferred then that the success or failure of Black students in the public education system is determined by geographical and environmental variables and by structural and class deficits. 7 Dei (2008) argues that TAAS and AE offer an optimum approach to locating an African heritage at the centre of the educational experience, thus enabling students to learn about themselves and their heritage in juxtaposition to other knowledge systems. Such an approach, Dei contends, will help students to cultivate confidence and interrogate hegemonic narratives that misrepresent Africa and its history and the role played by its various peoples in contributing to world civilization. Dei (2008) contends that TAAS can provide Black students with a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn, wherein their contributions are judged according to non-Western educational norms by teachers who understand their culture and have a vested interest in their academic success. Interacting daily with peers and appropriate role models and learning about their African heritage will, according to this perspective, instill in Black students a sense of self-worth. According to those opposed to the mainstream public education system, multicultural education (ME) does not promote plurality of thought as its proponents claim. For the most part, ME content is grounded in an ideology2 that privileges White supremacy and either downplays or disparages the contributions to nation building made by minority groups (Boykin, 1994; 1986; Gordon, 1993; Harper, 1997). In their view, moreover, the public school system policy of ‘see-no-evil, speak-no-evil’ with respect to racism, which is manifested in school curricula, hinders the pursuit by Black students of an inclusive education, vitiates their interest in learning and destroys their dreams of a better future. With ‘White’ Canadian history presented as historical truth and Black Canadian contributions to nation building discounted (Dei et al., 1997; Kong, 1996), it is hardly surprising that the confidence of Black students should remain at a low ebb, notwithstanding the counterargument advanced by its proponents that ME promotes “greater equity in education,” challenges “ethnocentric bias” in the curriculum, fosters intercultural dialogue among students (Bonnett & Carrington, 1996, p. 272) and is open to innovation and reform. 2 Here “ideology” is employed in much the same way as Seliger, who asserts that “Sets of ideas by which men posit, explain and justify ends and means of organised social actions, and specifically political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order” (Seliger, 1976, p. 11 cited in Gerring, 1997, p. 11). 8 For TAAS and AE proponents, the new school and its educational model offer Black parents the opportunity to enroll their children in a learning institution they view as capable of addressing the educational needs of Black students and instructing them using strategies and perspectives deemed crucial to reversing the "tide of underachievement, overrepresentation in special education and vocational programs, and the disproportionate number of suspensions and exclusions of Black students from the city's school" (Johnson, 2013, p. 3). Despite the enthusiasm that greeted the opening of TAAS from some quarters, there has been no shortage of resistance and criticism. According to some of the critics, TAAS and AE limit the educational and employment prospects of Black students, especially in a knowledge-based economy where certain skill sets are essential (Lund, 1998). Thus, for these critics, admitting predominantly Black students, vis-à-vis those of all races and backgrounds, fosters the very inequality Afrocentric scholars purport to oppose. The optimum solution, the critics argue, lies in reforming the public school system, in particular its curricula and pedagogy, with a view to reflecting multicultural diversity, encouraging inter-racial tolerance and understanding among students, and fostering an appreciation of the contributions Canadians of every colour, creed and ethnicity—Black, White, Asian, First Nations—have made to Canadian society. For the critics, to institutionalize AE would be to resurrect on Canadian soil the kind of segregated school system once commonplace in the United States, one wherein race was the chief criterion for admission. This kind of educational model would place Black students at a disadvantage in terms of acquiring cross-cultural knowledge and contesting racial and cultural stereotypes (James, 2011). Moreover, this kind of 'race-based' education, the critics contend, would do little to challenge the historical dominance of Eurocentrism in the public school system. TAAS and AE, they argue, would merely replace one hegemonic system with another (Lund, 1998). Lund, a multicultural scholar, argues that TAAS represents a setback for race relations in Canada (Lund, 1998). Precisely whose history and knowledge, he asks, would 9 have primacy in an Afrocentric curriculum given the cultural divisions within Black Canadian communities. According to Lund, creating a 'race-based' education system will only encourage racial and cultural binaries, thereby hampering further collaborative efforts to rid Toronto public schools of the systemic barriers that privilege White students over visible minorities. Reforming public education, Lund argues, can be achieved by building on the modest successes achieved by the public school system and encouraging pluralism, rather than by establishing separate schools to cater exclusively to the academic and cultural needs of Black students (Lund, 1998). More recently, however, his enthusiasm for ME has waned; indeed, his current position is indistinguishable from that of Afrocentric scholars (Lund, 2008, 2009): Th[e] denial of racism and reluctance to name specific instances of racism often creates barriers to addressing problems as they arise in schools and communities. . . . The pervasive power of White privilege in reinforcing the denial of a racist society and its horrific past also inhibits attempts to bring racism to the fore in educational research. (Lund, 2009, p. 39) 1.3. Statement of Purpose This study examines Black parents’ perceptions of AE generally and TAAS in particular. In doing so it aims to shed light on how parents perceive the role of race, culture and history in education, particularly with respect to academic performance. In this study Black parents were asked to share their perceptions of what AE and TAAS mean in terms of educating Black students, preparing them for the opportunities and challenges awaiting them upon graduating and addressing the achievement gap between them and their White peers. This study foregrounds the views of Back parents, thus positioning them as knowing “subjects” rather than objects of research (Asante, 1993, p. 3). To address these questions, I employed Afrocentric theory and qualitative methodology (including interviews and document analysis that followed a critical ethnographic approach). 10 1.4. Research Objectives Four research objectives were identified: (i) develop an understanding of how Black parents perceive AE and TAAS; (ii) elicit parents’ views on how AE has impacted the education of Black students; (iii) identify the benefits Black parents believe their children are deriving from TAAS and AE that would not, or could not, be provided by the mainstream public school system; and (iv) document the successes achieved by students and the challenges posed them as a result of attending TAAS and exposure to AE The following six questions were formulated with a view to determining how Black parents perceive TAAS and AE: 1. How do TAAS and AE help Black students understand themselves, their heritage, and their place in the world? 2. What does the term ‘Afrocentric education’ mean to Black parents? 3. Should race take centre stage in the education of Black children or should it play a complementary role in this respect? 4. How do Black parents feel about Black children attending a school that is predominantly Black and taking courses focusing mainly on Black people and Black culture? 5. How does Afrocentric education differ from mainstream public education? 6. What opportunities and challenges await TAAS students following graduation and how are they being prepared to meet them? 1.5. Significance of the Study This study is significant for several reasons: First, it provides an opportunity for Black parents to talk openly about TAAS and AE from their situated standpoints. Second, it raises awareness and enhances the public's understanding of TAAS and AE. Third, it extends the use of Afrocentric Theory in the field of research and delineates the operational mechanics of TAAS, i.e., the various ways and means in which AE is enacted. Fourth, it provides education policymakers with knowledge and insights as to how best to help marginalized students. Fifth, it supplements the body of existing knowledge pertaining to 11 TAAS and AE. Sixth, it stimulates demand for equity in education. And lastly, it serves as a launching pad for action aimed at reforming the public education system, particularly in those areas where Black Canadians have been marginalized. 1.6. Organization of the Dissertation This dissertation consists of seven chapters. Chapter 1 has provided my positionality, the background and context of the study as well as the research objectives, questions and outline of the dissertation. It introduced the two chief reasons underlying the creation of TAAS: frustration on the part of Black parents with the achievement gap that has long existed in the public education system and their determination to create an alternative that speaks to the Black experience, in part through the use of African-centred teaching materials to which Black students can relate. I also discussed the disparate arguments proffered by advocates and critics alike of TAAS and AE. In Chapter 2, I provide a literature review of works pertaining to colonial and Eurocentric education,3 informed by an Afrocentric and anti-colonial perspective. Regarding the pedagogical philosophy underlying colonial and Eurocentric education, I argue that neither was designed for Africans and as such has never addressed the intellectual and developmental needs of people of African descent. Rather, both models aimed at managing the intellectual development and human aspirations of Africans in a way that would perpetuate White domination and exploitation. In this chapter, I also contend that while multicultural education has contributed to reducing the impact of colonial education on Black students, there remain two concerns: the preponderance of White representations in the curriculum and the token acknowledgement given Black heritage and knowledge systems. 3 I use Eurocentric education to signify “an [educational system] and practice[s] of domination and exclusion based on the assumption that all relevance and value are centered in European culture and peoples and that all other cultures and peoples are at best marginalized and at worst irrelevant” (Karenga 1993 cited in Schreiber, 2000, p. 654). 12 Chapter 3 focuses on Afrocentricity, the theoretical framework for the study. Afrocentricity is presented here as a continuum of work by some of the leading scholars of Africa and the African diaspora, such as W.E.B Du Bois, who argued that education is crucial to resisting White oppression, and political leaders like Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah who not only galvanized Africans into fighting for their freedom, but also expounded ideas that would set in motion the social and political development of Pan-African peoples, chief among which was the notion that development could only come about through indigenous initiatives, aimed at building African-centred institutions capable of promoting non-colonial models of development. In this chapter, I provide a brief overview of the Toronto Africentric Alternative School, its governance, curriculum and staff. Chapter 4 outlines the research methodology; Afrocentric theory, my research paradigm. Using Afrocentric paradigm, I delineate the worldviews of people of African descent vis-à-vis Europeans in the diverse world of knowledge production, particularly research; a world where the voices and views of the dominant takes primacy and African worldviews, consciousness, and contribution to humanity stifled to preserve White supremacy. Employing an Afrocentric paradigm (Dillard, 2006; Mazama, 2001; Oyebade, 1990), I argue that the objective of research; thus, ameliorating the human and material conditions of Africans, is met when those who live the experience define and articulate their experience in a manner that reflects their struggle rather than defer the expression and interpretation of their experience to foreign scholars removed from the theatre of their struggle. Also examined are my axiology, the value systems I bring to the study, my critical interrogation of the dominant knowledge systems and principles of social justice in relation to Black oppression. Other topics discussed include methods for collecting analyzing and interpreting data, in addition to background information on the participants. In Chapters 5 and 6, I provide the findings of this inquiry. In Chapter 5, Black parent’s conception of Afrocentricity, Afrocentric schooling and education are analyzed as well as the sense of identity they derived from their educational experience within the public school systems in Toronto or elsewhere in Canada. 13 In Chapter 6, I analyze Black parent’s engagement with TAAS specifically and Afrocentric education in general and their views on the benefits and challenges of Afrocentric education and specific issues, e.g., identity and education, and what Afrocentric education has to offer vis-à-vis the mainstream public school system. In subsequent sections, I examine how the Canadian public views the Afrocentric School as revealed in newspapers and magazines op-eds. In Chapter 7, I provide a precis of the main research findings; Black parents’ perceptions of TAAS and AE; their general views, some of which the study confirms, others it challenges. Also discussed here is how the findings expand our knowledge of TAAS and AE; the successes TAAS has enjoyed and the challenges it faces; and parental proposals to improve the school and the educational model. I also argue the case for additional studies. While my research findings do have limitations, I believe they provide a sound basis for making recommendations pertaining to ways and means for improving TAAS and AE and making education worthy of Black students as well as a worthy investment for Black parents and the Black community. 14 Chapter 2. Literature Review 2.1. The Historical and Contemporary Education of Blacks In this chapter, I discuss the impact of colonial and Eurocentric education on people of African descent. It is my contention that the impact of colonial education4 on these peoples is both profound and far-reaching. While I define colonialism broadly as the conquest of newly-discovered territories and their inhabitants by force of arms and/or less coercive methods, notably colonial education, it was the latter that eroded their cultural identity and led them to internalize their oppression and inferiority vis-à-vis their colonial masters, a phenomenon clearly in evidence today. In pre-confederation Canada, and in particular Upper Canada, the colonial education system promoted segregated schools, which in turn reproduced White supremacy. And while multicultural education has changed Canadian education radically, and especially over the course of the 20th century, it continues to typecast those of African descent as essentially inferior to their White counterparts, thus perpetuating their marginalization and subordination. In the Canadian context, Black student disinterest in education has been attributed to Black culture, manifested in part by apathy on the part of African-Canadian communities (Lille, 2008). For its part, the mainstream public school system has played, and continues to play a role, however modest, in fostering an environment that many Black students find unfriendly and antithetical to their intellectual and emotional development. It is against this backdrop that critics of multicultural education argue that the intellectual atrophy afflicting Blacks in general, and Black Canadians in particular, can be corrected, through educational initiatives such as TAAS and AE, aimed at, among other things, identifying the 4 An education system premised on the claims and “old [White] habits . . . that Africans did not have civilization prior to contact with [Europeans], that Africans never invented or created anything and that [civilization] is solely a White project (Asante, 1998, p. 41). 15 underlying cause(s) of Black student underachievement in the Toronto public education system. Black students can, as the literature review reveals, excel, provided they receive the kind of education that liberates their minds and empowers them as opposed to denigrating their humanity. 2.2. Colonial and Eurocentric Education in the Context of Black Education In examining colonial and Eurocentric education and its impact on students of African descent, I draw on the work of Nkrumah (Nkrumah, 1962, 1964), who studied in his native Ghana, then a British colony, and subsequently in the United States before returning home to lead an anticolonial movement, which succeeded in securing Ghanaian independence in 1957. In his analysis of colonial education, Nkrumah argues that the system is not designed to uplift the colonized from their marginalized and subordinated position, but rather to contain and channel their intellectual and psychological development for the benefit of the colonizers (Nkrumah, 1964). Colonial education, according to Nkrumah, aims at reducing even the most educated of Africans to mere appendages of White supremacy from which position they might serve as a conduit for White-European values, thus contributing to their internalization among the indigenous population. The power of colonial education, Nkrumah contends, lies in its ability to pose as the font of universal knowledge against which all other forms of knowledge are measured. Seduced by Western philosophies and systems of thought, African students give themselves up entirely to colonial education even if this means working against the true interests of their own people. “By reason of their lack of contact with their own roots, [Africans] bec[o]me prone to accept some theory of universalism . . . expressed in vague, [and] mellifluous terms” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 3). In general, African students who had completed a colonial education and then went on to become the continent’s postcolonial leaders set about purging their respective countries of their traditions and replacing them with those of Europe, a first step along what they 16 believed to be the road to modernity. This constitutes, I would argue, one of the chief factors underlying Africa’s underdevelopment. And even though Nkrumah’s analysis focuses mainly on colonial education, his conclusions regarding the impact of European-centred education on African students hold true for African-Canadian students enrolled in the Toronto public education system. Currently in Canada, some African-Canadian parents, who are themselves the product of a colonial education and who continue to believe in the superiority of European education and in the opportunities it confers, would rather bury the debate over TAAS and AE, fearing the latter would only deny their children the ‘quality’ education’ the mainstream public education system purports to provide. The appeal of European education for this marginalized group lies in the conviction that change will come with time, and until it does, the status quo should prevail. For some African parents who are critics of TAAS and AE, quality education should be measured not by its colonial, Eurocentric or multicultural orientation, but by whether it provides Black students with the functional literacy and numeracy, along with the marketable skills, required to exploit job opportunities (Ouzy, 27/09/2013). As Nkrumah (1964) points out, colonial education promotes White pre-eminence through its epistemic power. The latter, Nkrumah argues, provides the colonizer free rein to deny African students a sense of agency. Put another way, it programs the African student to internalize a non-entity status, one with no past or future, and it does so largely unopposed by the colonized. Writes Nkrumah: The history of Africa, as presented by European scholars, has been encumbered with malicious myths. It was even denied that we were a historical people. It was said that whereas other continents had shaped history, and determined its course, African had stood still, held down by inertia; that Africa was only propelled into history by European contact. African history was therefore presented as an extension of European history. Hegel’s authority was lent to this a-historical hypothesis concerning Africa, which he himself unhappily helped to promote. . . . In presenting the history of Africa as the history of the collapse of our traditional societies in the presence of the European advent, colonialism and imperialism employed their account of African history and anthropology as an instrument of their oppressive ideology. (p. 62) 17 As stated earlier, African students have been taught to believe that the destiny of Africans is fixed and under the aegis of Europeans. Despite their long presence in Canada, one that predates Confederation, Black Canadians are treated in mainstream textbooks as a mere appendage to Canadian history. Whether in the classroom or in public for a Black Canadian history is presented as a minor footnote to White Canadian history; Black Canadian success is often attributed to the generosity of European Canadians in opening the doors of the British Dominion to freed slaves, Black Loyalists, Haitian refugees and victims of both the genocide in Rwanda and mass rapes in the Congo. According to Nkrumah (1964), for Africans to free themselves from an oppressive colonial and neo-colonial legacy, nothing short of a paradigm shift in education is required, something that will only be realized when Black people muster sufficient courage and determination to deny colonial education the self-arrogated power to define Africans and shape their history. Assuming ownership of African history, Nkrumah argues, will position Africans to tell it from an African perspective. Such an undertaking, Nkrumah theorizes, is essential if Africans are to chart their own trajectory free of any European influence: [African] history needs to be written as the history of [African] societ[ies], not as a story of European adventurers. . . . [African] history [must reflect] . . . that society, and the European contact must find its place in this history only as an African experience, even if it is a crucial one. (p. 63) The views of Nyerere, one of Africa’s leading anticolonial figures, complement those of Nkrumah. Writes Nyerere (1968): [In all societies, the primary goal of education is to] transmit from one generation to the next the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of . . . society, and to prepare the young for their future membership [in] . . . society and for their active participation in its maintenance and development. . . .Wherever education fails in any of these fields, then society falters in its progress, or there is social unrest as people find [out] that their education has prepared them for a future which is not open to them. (pp. 268-269) In the context of African education and interpersonal relations, the word “wisdom” is inextricably related to folklore, which is of central importance in African life—thus the 18 perception of village elders as depositories of knowledge and transmitters of long-held traditions deemed essential to survival. The status that folklore enjoys signifies that Africans place a premium on ways of perceiving and ordering the world that are at variance with their Europe counterparts. Though Nyerere (1968) emphasizes the importance of science and the humanities in African education and the continent’s development, he also argues that that they should be applied in a way that is sensitive to the local context; they should also equip young Africans with the knowledge and skills required to solve problems at the community level. Both, moreover, must be integrated into, and conform to, a people-based educational system lest false hopes be created. Not surprisingly, Nyerere rejects claims that colonial education holds the key to Africa’s development: [Africans] learn by living and doing. In the homes and on the farms they [are] taught the skills of society, and the behaviour expected of its members. They learn the kind of grasses which were suitable for which purposes, the work which had to be done on the crops, or the care which had to be given to animals, by joining with their elders in this work. They learned the[ir] tribal history, and the tribe’s relationship with other tribes and with the spirits, by listening to the stories of the elders. Through these means, and by the customs of sharing to which young people were taught to conform, the values of society were transmitted. Education was thus ‘informal’; every adult was a teacher to a greater or lesser degree. But this lack of formality did not mean that there was no education, nor did it affect its importance to society. Indeed, it may have made the education more directly relevant to the society in which the child was growing up. (p. 268) According to Nyerere (1968), African education must take into consideration the interests of the Black community of which the individual is a part. Like Nkrumah, he was of the opinion that colonial education “was not designed [for Africa’s intellectual and developmental needs]” (pp. 269); rather, it was intended to promote White supremacy by inculcating in students European values, attitudes, assumptions and norms, thus reconstituting them as agents of the “colonial state” (p. 269). Thus, for example, while the system of colonial education established in Tanganyika, present day Tanzania, was, according to Nyerere, geared to provide Africans with basic literacy, often under the auspices 19 of various Christian churches, it also served to perpetuate British hegemony by colonizing the minds of students. In the context of intra-national politics, it played a significant role in pitting ethnic groups against one another by “encourag[ing] attitudes of inequality, intellectual arrogance and intense individualism among young people who [passed] through [Tanzania’s colonial] schools” (p. 275). Owing to colonial education, Nyerere argues, Tanzania’s educated elite followed in the footsteps of their colonial masters and mentors in reinforcing inferiority-superiority binaries. For these elites, colonial education became an instrument, not of liberation but of oppression. The new oppressors often displayed White attitudes to make themselves feel unique and distinguish themselves from the ‘uneducated.’ Indoctrinated in European values, they perceived indigenous value systems as primeval and thus an obstacle to building a modern nation state. For them, being White was more important than being African, a condition connoting all that was backward. Colonial education, from Nyerere’s (1968) point of view, was a premeditated project aimed at turning educated Africans into “efficient adjunct[s] of the governing power” (pp. 269-270). It was, however, a project doomed to fail. Writes Nyerere: [After independence] so little education had been provided that in December 1961, [Tanzania] had few[er] people with the necessary educational qualifications even to man the administration of government as it was then, much less to undertake big economic and social development work which was essential. (p. 270) The colonialist, Eurocentric, and White supremacist traditions of education have been critiqued and rejected not only by continental African (Black) intellectuals, but also by Latino South American and US neo-Marxist scholars. Freire (1970), whose work would become the foundation of a critical pedagogy, contends that the oppressed can win their freedom by adopting a revolutionary and indigenous model of education that interrogates, challenges and replaces colonial education whatever particular form it may assume. In step with Nkrumah and Nyerere, Paulo Freire (1970) argues that colonial education, whatever the context, aims at enslaving the minds of indigenous populations. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that this form of education, would prove to be no 20 passing phenomenon, indeed, an almost imperceptible blip, in the grand sweep of African history; rather, it would leave a legacy of unintended consequences, leading some critics to describe it as an intellectual virus that has destroyed, or at least compromised, the intellectual independence of Africans (Freire, 1997). In his introduction to the 2000 edition of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Macedo argues that what was intended to enlighten Africans students, turned them into “schizophrenic[s], who though present in the classroom were not “visible” (Macedo as cited in Freire, 2000, p. 11). In “Examining the case for ‘African-centred’ schools in Ontario,” Dei (1995) sums up the predicament of Black students in the Toronto public education system in a single laconic sentence: “There are [Black] students at school who appear to be there in body but not in spirit” (Dei, 1995, p. 192). The emphasis on rote learning rather than critical thinking, reading and writing and on Euro-Canadian rather than Black history has compelled these students, as a condition for remaining in school, to detach themselves emotionally from a curriculum that renders them insignificant, unimportant, and powerless. According to Macedo, colonial education works to both pre-empt African initiatives and prevent the colonized from accessing alternative knowledge systems that are antithetical to all forms of oppression. To prolong its longevity and Africans’ intellectual dependence on Europe, colonial education “fostered subordination through imposed assimilation policy” (Macedo as cited in Freire 2000, p. 12). It gave the oppressed false hope, a tactic, which for most part worked against efforts to fight the colonial system and to keep the oppressed within the colonial orbit. Freire (2000) describes colonial education as a “banking system” (p. 72): The “banking” concept of education, [is one] in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. . . . [The system] lack[s] creativity, transformation and knowledge . . . (At best) [it is a] misguided system . . . In the banking system of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those who they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others . . . [it] negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. (p. 72) 21 From the quote, one gathers that colonial education not only promotes disaffection among students; it perpetuates inequality. Faced with the threat of punishment, colonized students accept dominant narratives; fearful of their teachers, they become disaffected with learning. Freire writes: “Banking education . . . minimize[s] [and] annul[s] . . . students’ creative power and stimulate[s] their credulity to serve the interest of the oppressor, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed” (p. 73). Assuming a humanitarian face, colonial education forestalls “any call for radical change that might “stimulate critical faculties” (Freire, 2000, p. 73). The master-servant relation, moreover, denies students a “problem-posing education while mythologiz[ing]” White superiority (Freire, 2000, p. 83) Regarding the impact of colonial education on the African mind, Woodson (1933) notes that Blacks that have graduated from colonial school systems are ‘miseducated’ and thus lack the knowledge and skills required to remedy problems afflicting their communities. For Woodson, there exists but one corrective: an alternative education system that incorporates Black history and culture and treats them as essential to the intellectual development of Black students. The poverty, marginalization and subordination of Black people, Woodson posits, stems from a reluctance on their part to alter the status quo in light of the uncertainty regarding the consequences. The chief impact of a colonial education on Black people, Woodson notes, is that it internalizes a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis Whites (Woodson, 1933). Ratteray (1994) contends that colonial education universalizes classical European history and culture, while marginalizing its African counterparts. Moreover, under a colonial education system, learning to read and write European languages and learn European knowledge systems is part of a strategy designed to internalize in Black students an antipathy to African systems of thought and education (Ratteray, 1994). Colonial education, Ratteray claims, compels these students to adopt dominant worldviews that alienate them from their uneducated fellows (Ratteray, 1993). The educated-uneducated dichotomy weakens Black solidarity, impeding the struggle for equal recognition, equal rights and respect. 22 Whereas colonial education afforded privileged White students the opportunity to develop their self-esteem and learn about their history and heritage, it denied Black students the same opportunity. Normalizing and universalizing colonial education compelled Black students to accept White domination and privilege as part of the natural order of things (Murrell, 1993; Woodson, 1933), setting in motion a mode of behaviour that would manifest itself in their rejecting all things African and validating all things European, and most especially knowledge systems and values. Like colonial education, the Eurocentric education model that replaced it would, advocates of Afrocentric education argue, prove to be no less oppressive and exclusionary while continuing to highlight the progressive character of the West, thus privileging White supremacy. According to Asante (1987; 2005), the Afrocentric educational model affords Black students the opportunity to learn and to understand to far greater effect (Asante, 1987; 2005). Making available knowledge to which Black students can relate, Asante argues, allows them to cultivate a sense of agency, the first step in taking control of their destiny. Through AE Black students can reclaim their voice, articulate their lived experience and worldview and feel validated (Asante, 2003; Dei, 2006). AE, Asante posits, builds in Black students confidence, allowing them to challenge racist representations of peoples of African descent (Asante, 1987; 2003; 2005)—historical and contemporary misrepresentations, whether overt or subtle, that persist in school curricula and that work to fuel Black student disaffection. From an Afrocentric perspective, Black students in mainstream schools are missing out on a transformative educational experience because they have been acculturated to interpret Black reality through the “artificial beams” of Europe (Asante, 2003, p. 3). Eurocentric education, Asante contends, inhibits Black students’ appreciation for Black education. It confines Black heroes largely to the world of entertainment and sport with the occasional nod given the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., whose views, because they are temperate, qualify him for inclusion in school curricula. In Canada, as in all educational systems, what passes for knowledge is determined by the dominant order; so it is hardly surprising that in contrast to peoples of European descent, Blacks appear in school syllabi as 23 second-rate citizens. While Asante’s work focuses primarily on African-American education, it remains relevant to this enquiry in that it examines the same kind of barriers facing African-Canadian students in the mainstream public education system and more generally the disadvantages under which they labour in Eurocentric education systems. For him, the solution lies with AE, an educational model that encourages alternative perspectives and undermines a colonial mode of thought and its racist typecast of people of African descent as “objects” (Asante, 1993, p. 3) located on the fringe of Europe. AE, from an Afrocentric standpoint, allows Black students to see for themselves, to hear for themselves, to think for themselves, and to make informed decisions for themselves (Asante, 1993; Keto, 2001). Keto’s interpretation of Afrocentric education is similar in most respects to Asante’s (Keto, 2001). According to Keto (2001), mainstream education limits Black students’ access to liberatory knowledge (Keto, 2001). He further asserts that it is not only rife with abstract speculation regarding African knowledge systems; its allusions to and inferences regarding Africans and their respective cultures are almost always negative. It presupposes, moreover, that there is nothing meaningful to learn outside White culture. Given such racist assumptions and attitudes, it is hardly surprising that so many Black students should give up on education. One particularly insidious consequence of this mode of “Eurocentric diffusionsim” (Keto, 2001, p. 44) is the way it tarnishes the self-image of Black students who come to view themselves through the racist tropes so pervasive in school textbooks (Jean, 1991; Keto, 2001). Thus, for example, it is not unusual to hear a Black person refer to himself or a friend as a “Negro” or “nigger”, a most pejorative epithet, whose source is traceable to plantation slavery (Keto, 2001). Irvine (1990) challenges the claim that mainstream education treats White and Black alike. He points out that in the post-segregation mainstream public school system in the United States, White students and their Black peers may have the same academic opportunities, at least in theory, yet reap unequal educational benefits. The advantages the former enjoy vis-à-vis the latter, e.g., the greater attention provided by teachers, most of whom are White, all too often translate into superior academic performance. In academic 24 programs White students, who invariably make up the vast majority, are introduced to critical thinking, problem solving and research skills; Black students, who are over overrepresented in programs for low-achievers, are denied an equal opportunity to develop their creative and critical faculties (Irvine, 1990; Murrell, 1993). Seldom challenged, and often unable to meet standard requirements, students, mostly Black, are streamed into vocational programs—a tracking process Boykin (1986) equates with segregation in that it assigns students to one of two very different programs, i.e., academic and general, based on arbitrary evaluations that single out 'at-risk' students who are predominantly Black, for punishment. According to Boykin (1994), Eurocentric education, of which mainstream education is a derivative, is blind to the power structures and ideologies that work to reproduce the dominant order, of which mainstream education is a crucial part. Eschewing anything like a critical examination of history, Eurocentric education naturalizes, and thereby perpetuates, dominant views that rationalize and normalize the oppression of racialized students. According to this scheme of thinking, calls for comprehensive educational reform, including adoption of a curriculum that gives equal prominence to alternative histories and knowledge, go unheeded. A true multicultural school system, one that embraces critical multicultural education (CME),5 Boykin argues, would perforce acknowledge Black culture and other cultures as fundamental to the education and general wellbeing of Black students. In other words, the school curriculum must incorporate alternative knowledge systems that embrace the Black history, culture and contributions so often ignored by the dominant school system to the detriment of Black students. For public education to become an equalizer, Boykin asserts, it must get beyond the supposition that students become educated when they succeed in developing a certain facility in the areas of reading, writing, and thinking. According to Boykin (1994; 1986), education must be all-inclusive: it must cultivate in students, regardless of their race, what they deem to 5 Peter McLaren for example describes such an educational approach as one that “interrogates the construction of difference and identity in relation to a radical politics. It is positioned against the neoimperial romance with monoglot ethnicity grounded in a shared or ‘common’ experience of ‘America’ that is associated with conservative and liberal strands of multiculturalism” (McLaren, 1995, p. 99). 25 be important rather than merely focusing on teaching the skills and knowledge required to secure employment and make a decent living. Challenging the neoliberal concept of education, Freire (2000) argues that education must go beyond its traditional function of preparing illiterate students to “mee[t] [the] verbal [and written] requirements” (p.76) necessary to securing a job. According to Freire (2000), education must live up to its true goal: to teach students not only how to read and write, but also discern the false hopes and oppression that both shape and blight their lives. In addition to teaching them abstract concepts, education must, he argues, teach the oppressed how to free themselves from oppression. Rather than turning students into functional literates, it must adopt a transformative pedagogy aimed at developing in students the ability to undermine structures of oppression and their status as “spectators” (p. 75). Education must, Freire theorizes, be framed around the ethos of liberation, turning students into curious adventurers on a quest to unveil “reality” and bring a new “consciousness” to bear in addressing social issues (p. 81). 2.3. The School Curriculum as an Ideological Text If the Toronto Public School system curriculum were a text, then its content will have be said to have done little to educate Black students in ways that Black parents and critical educators and scholars might approve. From an Afrocentric perspective, the school curriculum/text can hardly be said to be neutral. Rather, in using Europe as frame of reference, it works to valorize White supremacy while either ignoring or mischaracterizing all things African, as, for example, by signifying African contributions as subjective or lacking a scientific basis or bereft of cutting-edge ideas. In keeping with this program, African history is dismissed as revisionist and esoteric (Boykin, 1986; Gordon, 1993). Celebrating individualism and competitiveness, the school curriculum and pedagogy disparage African communalism as an incentive for laziness, dependence, and lack of enterprise. At the same time, White values and norms are universalized and signified as essential to attaining success in school and beyond (Boykin, 1986). The ingrained belief that 26 the public school system promotes success works to silence calls for meaningful reform of the school curriculum, particularly among school administrators and policymakers whose job security depends on maintaining the status quo (Boykin, 1986). Nkrumah (1964) likens colonial education to a vehicle for ideology. The work of ideological indoctrination it performs, he argues, involves, among other things, internalizing a European conception of how things are and how they ought to be, while concealing from the colonized how they come to be. Central to this program, Nkrumah posits, White supremacist ideology “characterize[s] society and remains a master instrument against which all things are defined and measured” (p. 56), and critics of the system are punished. Thus is a colonial worldview, along with the belief in White supremacy that underpins it, universalized and naturalized in yet another ideological operation. At the same time, the baseness and barbarity of the colonial project is minimized by, for example, signifying slavery as beneficial to all by virtue of its role in ‘civilizing’ and Christianizing the benighted African (Nkrumah, 1964; Woodson, 1933). According to Nkrumah (1964), the psychological trauma inflicted on the African mind by the colonial curriculum is total. Dazzled, and at the same time puzzled, by Western thought, Black students, mechanically consume Western dogmas that degrade their personalities and characters (Nkrumah, 1964). Writes Nkrumah: The colonized African student, whose roots in his society are systematically starved of sustenance, is introduced to Greek and Roman history, the cradle of modern Europe, and he is encouraged to treat this portion of the story of man together with the subsequent history of Europe as the only worthwhile portion. This history is anointed with universalist flavouring which titillates the palate of certain African intellectuals so agreeable that they become alienated from their own immediate society. (p. 5) While I disagree with Nkrumah’s (1964) blanket claim that African students made no effort to challenge European education, his analysis can be applied to examining the experience of African-Canadian students. Under the Eurocentric model of education, these students come to learn that European knowledge systems are indispensable. Europe is 27 presented in the various curricula as the progenitor of civilization. Colonial education, Nkrumah argues, obliges Black students to believe that their success is contingent upon complying with European expectations for them and rejecting Africa’s esotericism (Boykin, 1986; Carruthers, 1994; King & Wilson, 1994; Nkrumah, 1964). To cement its chokehold on Black students, the colonial education system adheres to a set of academic guidelines, informed by Eurocentric values and norms, against which student success is measured. At the same time, challenging dominant constructions is viewed as working outside civilized norms (Nkrumah, 1964). But perhaps the most damning condemnation of the colonial education system is that it shuns the very alternative knowledge systems that could be the Black student’s salvation. From an anticolonial/Afrocentric perspective, colonial education promotes "Anglo-conformity" (Fleras & Elliott, 1992, p. 42), in the process “silenc[ing] multiple voices and perspectives [through omission] unless they can be disempowered through misrepresentation” (Swartz as cited in Ladson-Billings, 1998, p. 18). This effectively leaves no room in the education system for alternative knowledge systems, e.g., those of Blacks, First Nations or women, that might interrogate the history of the Canadian nation-state. As Abdi (2012) points out, colonial education spins its web of oppression through a variety of strategies that are imperceptible. In “Eurocentric discourses and African philosophies and epistemologies of education: Counter-hegemonic analyses and responses” (2012), Abdi discusses the dialectical struggles postcolonial nations face in framing educational models that reveal their history and promote their ways of knowing. According to Abdi, one major barrier to reversing the impact of colonial education pertains to the way in which the system’s episteme has rendered African knowledge systems “essentially useless” (p. 13). In a fashion that is cool and restrained, colonial and Eurocentric education systems signify Africans in ways that are variably uncomplimentary. Consistent with their negative view of Blacks, mainstream researchers continue to revere classical European philosophers, e.g., Georg Hegel, Immanuel Kant, notwithstanding their antipathy toward everything African. Despite accusations of racism, these philosophers enjoy institutional immunity, and calls for their work to be purged from university libraries are met with resistance from 28 advocates of academic freedom. Under the hegemonic colonial school systems, Black scholars and students received recognition only after demonstrating their ‘worthiness’ by regurgitating Western philosophical thought. While Abdi’s writings (2012) are informed by African-centred politics, he does not subscribe to the specific discourse of Afrocentrism. Nevertheless, there is some degree of synergy between his work, challenging the homogenization of knowledge systems, and Asante’s interrogation of White philosophical models deemed to be universal. According to the latter (1998), so pervasive are dominant knowledge systems in Western academic discourse that “some African . . . writers, who have been . . . trained in Eurocentrism . . . assume that everyone else should . . . acquiesce [to the] expansive provincialism [of European-centred knowledge systems]” (p. 4). For Asante (1998), however, imposing European knowledge systems and worldviews in an African context serves only to perpetuate “Western triumphalism” (p. 21) and cultural neocolonialism. Wright’s (2000) in-depth analysis of the marginalization of the contributions of Black authors by dominant scholars and institutions is crucial to understanding the politics that permeates knowledge production and dissemination. As he so lucidly points out, what is expounded as knowledge in the education system is, in fact, mediated by race, ethnicity, class, and gender. In “Why write back to the new missionaries? Addressing the exclusion of (Black) others from the discourses of empowerment,” Wright delineates the ways in which Black intellectuals are marginalized by the dominant group. According to Winkler, Robin Kelly, an African-American professor of History and African Studies and a . . . prolific writer, . . . “has not had his work reviewed in The New York Times” (Winkler as cited in Wright, 2000, p. 123) despite his being the “youngest person to be promoted to full professor at NYU [New York University], [having earned] several prestigious awards for his books and [secured appointments to] the editorial boards of several journals” (p. 123). Kelly’s experience speaks to the barriers Black authors confront when seeking to have their work published. In the absence of Black-owned publishing houses, Black authors are at the mercy of White publishers, which handicaps them from 29 showcasing African-centred ideas and presenting “counter arguments to dispel misguided and inaccurate perceptions [of Blacks] in research and in society” (Gordon, 1990, p. 96). While I am in not suggesting that Wright is correct in implying that Kelly’s race was a key factor in The New York Times’ decision not to review his work, his analysis of race as an unspoken impediment to Black intellectuals and Black voices in general underscores the power of the dominant order to dictate what passes for knowledge and whose views should have primacy in the marketplace of ideas. According to Wright (2000), even in universities where academic freedom is presumed to constitute the sine qua non for scholarship, Black academics often run up against a long-held tradition that obligates them to cite the work of the “great White fathers” (p. 26) and often obscure figures whose views they may not share. Reluctantly, these beleaguered scholars are obliged to comply so as not to “bit[e] the hand that (force) feeds [them]” (p. 124). As I understand Wright, despite all the talk of progress with respect to diversifying knowledge, European thought continues to dominate education at every level. The totality of European knowledge is extant in its ability to occlude African canons from contesting dominant narratives (Wright, 2000). And what of the impact of colonial and Eurocentric education on Black students? Packaged and delivered as a necessary good, both work to diminish their ability to preserve their linguistic heritage. Barring indigenous languages from the classroom, colonial education acculturates African students to Western mores; it conditions them to speak, think, and act in ways that perpetuate European dominance. As to the importance of African languages, Ngugi contends that its function extends well beyond mere verbal expression: In our native [African] language, we have learnt to value words for their meaning and nuances. Language [for us is] not a mere string of words. It ha[s] a suggestive power well beyond the immediate and logical meanings. . . . [Our] language, through images and symbols, g[i]ve[s] us a [unique] view of the world. . . . [It serves as an earthwork against European] domination, [Black] alienation and disenfranchisement. (Ngugi as cited in Abdi, 2012, p. 21) 30 Ngugi’s analysis provides insight into the importance of African languages; in particular, they provide Black students with a strong sense of self-assurance, the lack of which can only impede academic performance, a view held by virtually all Afrocentric scholars and their supporters (Dei, 1995; Dei et al., 1997). According to Fanon (1967), European education, with its assimilative ethos, accompanied by an imperative to obliterate any sign of Africanity in the education system, has tarnished his self-image while at the same time alienating him from his people. So bleak an assessment is shared by Westerman who writes: “the Negro inferiority is particularly intensified among the most educated, who struggle with it unceasingly” (p. 25). To demonstrate to the kinfolk that he has succeeded in transcending the barbarity of African culture and practices and is on a par with the colonizer, the colonized must reject his culture and supplant his patois with foreign expressions and forced accents as his way of separating himself from his people, who, he has been taught, are uncivilized. In his desire to become European, which requires speaking and thinking accordingly, the educated African must eschew the collective if he is to rise in status. Whites, on the other hand, fare very differently in the public education system as evinced in the way Canadian historiography chooses to frame their exploits and achievements vis-à-vis those of racialized Canadians. While barely referencing the nation-building role played by First Nations and Canadians of African, Chinese and Indian descent, the mainstream school curriculum has never shied away from celebrating the achievements of White Canadians, mostly male, in this regard. The latter are credited with discovering, exploring, settling and developing the huge Canadian landmass, notwithstanding its occupation by First Nations dating back 10,000 years or more (Neegan, 2005). According to Cooper (2006), Canadian history is, for the most part, "filled with . . . [narratives of] White explorers, pioneers, and heroic settlers," which, she contends, are "so one-sided, so monolithic, and so homogenous" (pp. 12-13) as to paper over an inglorious history, one that includes, most notably, the marginalization and subordination of the original Indigenous inhabitants. 31 Despite calls for reforms to school curricula, aimed at reflecting, at least in part, the manifold contributions made by Canadians of all races, little has changed in terms of what is being taught in public school systems. In most textbooks, the dominant version of how Canada came into being takes precedence over alternative views. This is a set piece with a Eurocentric curriculum that has no place for non-Western knowledge systems. According to Castenell and Pinar (1993), the nullification of Black contributions by the public school system is no oversight; rather, it is a conscious effort aimed at denying subordinate groups their rightful place in history. In their quest to promote dominant discourses, argue Castenell and Pinar (1993), school curricula have ignored alternatives. Though recent scholarship acknowledges Africa’s contributions to world civilization (Bernal, 1987; Bernal & Moore, 2001; Diop, 1974), these narratives are often distorted or omitted altogether from the curriculum. Typically, Africa is represented as an impoverished hinterland (Boykin, 1994; King & Wilson, 1994; Woodson 1933), even though by some historical accounts its diverse peoples succeeded in building highly sophisticated civilizations, e.g., the Mali, Songhai, and Asante Empires. Moreover, while African cosmologies are written off as grounded in superstition, the European conception of the universe is held to be rational and scientific (Woodson, 1933). Could it be that the practice of disparaging the African heritage of Black students, or excluding it entirely from the school curriculum, is responsible, at least in part, for their disaffection with school and their high dropout rates? 2.4. Black Canadian Education: A Historical Overview Today, few would go so far as to argue that Black students are a burden to society and recommend they be abandoned to their fate. Yet a good many believe Black Canadians to be at least antipathetic to education. This view has no basis in fact, however, as evinced by the notable achievements of some Black Canadians across a wide range of occupational fields; nonetheless, it does provide fuel for TAAS critics who oppose comprehensive educational reform on the grounds that no purpose is to be served by investing additional funds and resources in those who place little or no value on education (Winks, 1997). 32 Black student disaffection is as indisputable as its cause is clear: education has for them no utility; it provides neither employment opportunities nor a remedy for racism. Thus, education is seen as an unworthy investment, a view that would have been incomprehensible to Black pioneers who saw in it a pathway to self-improvement and to earning respect in a racist society. Indeed, it was for this reason Maria Alexander Chinn Gibbs, purportedly "the best educated woman" in the British Northwest (Kilian, 2009), would instill in her two daughters a strong work ethic and love of education. Ida Gibbs Hunt (born in 1862) graduated from Oberlin College and became a high school teacher in Washington, DC. Harriet Gibbs Marshall (born in 1867) graduated from the Conservatory Music School of Oberlin and was appointed professor of music at Eckstein-Norton University at Cave Springs, Kentucky. She would later accept a position as music director for the town’s public school (Alexander, 2010; Kilian, 2008). Since making Canada their new home, Black Canadians have always, according to some accounts, made education a priority despite poverty and the hostility of Whites. And while Reverend George Pigeon held Blacks to be "exceedingly importunate until they obtain[ed] the object of their wishes," [at which point] they become "equally negligent and indifferent” (Winks, 1997, p. 59), his views in this regard were hardly applicable to education, which the great majority of Black people saw as the path to freedom and fair treatment. In pre-confederation Ontario, the Black community, demonstrated a keen interest in educating their children and were prepared to go the extra mile to realize their ambitions in this respect. For example, when Black students were refused admission to an integrated school in Hamilton supported in part by taxes levied on the Black community, the city’s “Negro residents . . . petitioned the Governor General” (Winks, 1997, p. 367) in October 1843 seeking redress. The fervor for school building in Black communities, notwithstanding the meager resources at hand, attests to a high level of commitment to education. Hiram Wilson, a powerful advocate of Black education in Upper Canada is said to have borrowed $10,000 in 1836 for the purpose of advancing vocational education. Together with other Black leaders, Wilson, acquired 200 acres in the Chatham area for the sum of $800. There, he established a 33 school that specialized in vocational training, which Black leaders saw as crucial to securing employment and ultimately their economic emancipation (Winks, 1997). In Preston, Nova Scotia in November 1787, the Black community braved severe weather conditions to build a school for 20 students. Though rough-hewn, the school was viewed as adequate to teaching Black students how "to read, write and do simple sums, and to sew" (Winks, 1997, p. 58). In Digby, Nova Scotia in 1811, 120 members of the local Black militia graduated from a community school (Winks, 1997); and in Vesuvius in the British Northwest, John Craven Jones, together with Frederick D. Lester, established, in 1864, a school for Black children. Though never remunerated for his services until 1869 or 1870, Jones would travel to remote settlements to instruct students, many of them too poor to afford an education. The above examples, taken from Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and the British Northwest, illustrate one fact: even in difficult times, Black communities went the extra mile to provide their children with the best education possible given their means. But, whereas Black Canadians saw education, however segregated, as a way to empower themselves, their White counterparts viewed segregated education, which they imposed on Black communities, as a way to deny them the knowledge required to critique structures of power and demand fair treatment. 2.5. Segregated Schools: Keeping Black Canadians “Uneducated” Canada’s education system has often been celebrated as inclusive, meritocratic, and color-blind (Mansfield & Kehoe, 1994), notwithstanding the fact that segregated education was once commonplace in some many parts of the country. Today, Canada is presented as something for which Black Canadians, often characterized as immigrants, ought to be grateful given that it promotes multiculturalism, tolerance of difference, and a cooperative ethos. Moreover, Canada's greatness, it is often argued, lies in the opportunities it affords its Black population. The latter is signified in the person of Michaelle Jean, a "descendant of 34 African slaves" (Clarke as cited in Cooper, 2006, p. xi) and the country’s first Lieutenant Governor (2005 – 2010) to be both female and Black. While Ms. Jean's appointment is not without significance for the Black community, it masks the existence of hundreds of Black women with the potential to hold high office but who are denied the opportunity owing to the various forms of segregated education that have been imposed on Black communities. The view held by mainstream media and critics, namely that the principal aim of AE lies in discouraging White children from attending TAAS is entirely at odds with the historical record, which clearly illustrates that integrated schools have been traditionally viewed by Whites as a threat to a pristine White culture and moral values. What follows places segregated schools in Upper Canada in historical context, the purpose being to show they were the brainchild of White Canadians (Winks, 1997). In Upper Canada, White anxiety regarding integrated schools ran deep. In a letter to Egerton Ryerson, the Provincial Superintendent of Education, Isaac Rice, writing in January 1864, reports: the local school trustees have declared that rather than enroll their children in a “school with niggers, they will cut their children’s heads off and throw them into the road side ditch" (Winks, 1997, p. 368). In Colchester, the Inspector of Schools summed up what he considered to be the White population’s views on integrated schools: "Everyone is willing that the Blacks should have their children well taught if only it can be done without their [children] associating with [White children]” (Winks, 1997, p. 375). For their part, some Black leaders in Upper Canada chose to support separate schools, having despaired of ever "attain [ing] equal standards [in education]" (Winks, 1997, p. 366). This degree of resignation was, however, far from universal. Thus, for example, Blacks residing in Elgin, supported by the Black community in Niagara, counter-petitioned against separate schools (Winks, 1997). And Henry Bibbs’ disavowal of separate schools would doubtless have found a sympathetic ear in Samuel Gridley Howe who criticized Ryerson for encouraging what he called "caste schools" (Winks, 1997, p. 372). Ultimately, Black communities would opt for separate rather than integrated schools, primarily for two reasons: the first was the unmitigated hostility on the part of Whites to 35 integrating schools, something Whites feared would be a first step in closing the achievement gap between the races; the second was the opportunity presented Black communities to exert complete control over the education of their children. 2.6. The Separate School Act (1850) and Segregated Education The Separate School Act of 1850 was an expression of White supremacy cloaked in religion and endorsed by the British North America Act of 1867 (McLaren, 1986), which made it impossible to repeal other than by Legislative Order or judicial intervention. Repeal would have been exceedingly unlikely, however, given the political imperative to pander to the White vote and the stigma attached to any politician or judge who dared act contrary to the wishes of the White majority. The rejection of court actions brought by Blacks—Hill v. Camden, Simmons v. Chatham, Stewart v. Sandwich, Dunn v. Windsor—seeking judicial redress to, and relief from, segregation in public schools testifies to the White opposition to racial integration existing at the time (as cited in Winks, 1997). The Separate School Act was not without serious implications for racial relations. It hardened racist attitudes toward Black Canadians by confirming them as an inferior people with no concept of White values or appreciation for the importance of education. The Act served to naturalize even further a hierarchal order, the violation of which would, from the standpoint of the White Canadian public, have constituted a breach of the divinely ordained order wherein Whites occupied the highest position (Winks, 1997). Even though certain public officials, most notably Egerton Ryerson, were thought “to be a genuine friend of the Negro" (Winks, 1997, p. 369), few were willing to advocate, at least openly, on behalf of integrated schools. Touted as a champion of the Black cause and progressive education reform, Ryerson privately promoted separate education. When Black communities complained that public schools were denying Black children admission and accused Reverend Robert Paden for doing little by way of redress, Ryerson supported Paden, demanding that the Black community offer proof that "[the] schools denied Black children 36 admission based on the color of [their] skin" (Winks, 1997, p. 368). And when he instructed the Black community to submit proof that Black children were being discriminated against on the basis of race, Ryerson knew full well that such action on their part would prove futile. Instead, he advised them to "prosecute for damages" (Winks, 1997, p. 369) and to have faith that "Christian and British feeling" (Winks, 1997, p. 369) would prevail over racial discrimination. Moreover, in requesting that separate schools receive "special privileges," without specifying their nature, Ryerson was engaging in what amounts to ‘official speak,’ the aim of which was to assuage Black discontent while doing nothing practical to remedy it. The way Ryerson engaged the Black community mirrored the approach to deferring racial equality that White officialdom would adopt; both believed privately that the cause of Black freedom and dignity would have to await the pleasure of the Crown and Church, however long that might take. Yet even though he supported segregated schools, Ryerson was careful to avoid culpability by, among other things, assuring the Black community that he had "exerted all the power [he] possessed, and employed all the persuasion [he] could command" in its service, adding that "the prejudices and feelings of the people [White Canadians] are stronger than the law" (Winks, 1997, p. 369). Here, Ryerson saw an opportunity and used it to his advantage. To further thwart the educational aspirations of Black Canadians, Ryerson, in 1859, ordered school trustees to establish "any kind of schooling they deemed best adapted to the social conditions of their respective communities" (Winks, 1997, p. 370), in effect providing them a carte blanche to exclude Black children. According to Axelrod (1997), one of the primary goals of nineteenth century Canadian education was to advance “the educational interests of Protestants and Catholics, . . . French and English Canadians. . . . Other groups reflecting the population’s diversity—Native peoples, Blacks, and the new wave of European immigrants—were subject to education edicts that stressed the virtues and cultural uniformity over cultural accommodation” (p. 69). This policy, Axelrod asserts, fostered a climate of “paternalism, prejudice, and policy expediency [where minorities were concerned]” (Axelrod, 1997, p. 69). According to 37 Axelrod, the principal aim of the Separate School Act lay in baring students hailing from these groups from common schools located in areas where alternative provisions did not exist (Axelrod, 1997). On the basis of Axelrod’s analysis, it can be argued that racism was a distinctive feature of Canadian education during its formative years. According to Houston and Prentice (1998), racism directed by Whites against Black students was not a manifestation of ignorance or rowdiness, but rather a standard practice tolerated and in some cases promoted and/or incited by White establishments. Houston and Prentice (1988) cite H.F. Douglass, editor of the Provincial Freeman to highlight the impact the Separate School Act had on Black students. Douglass describes Ontario’s separate schools as “dark and hateful relics of Yankee Negrophobia” (as cited in p. 298), where “. . . Black students are taught by [the] least-qualified teachers” (p. 300). The position of Black students was summed up in an editorial that appeared in the Toronto Leader, “a respected conservative newspaper,” on December 12, 1862: There is no use in trying to turn a stream against its head. Black children could only feel uncomfortable in their existing circumstances: the teachers lacked sympathy (‘to use no harsher term’), and their schoolmates called them names. . . .” (pp. 301-302) White opposition to integrated schooling, according to Ontario’s Chief Justice, Beverley Robinson, went beyond race: The prejudices of the White population ‘arise’ . . . ‘perhaps not so much from the mere fact of difference of colour, as from the apprehension that the children of the coloured people, many of whom have but lately escaped from a state of slavery, may be, in respect to morals and habits, unfortunately worse trained than White children are in general and that their children might suffer from the effects of bad example (as cited in Houston & Prentice, 1988, p. 302). While some public records reveal that Toronto was less inimical toward Black students than other jurisdictions and that city officials, along with the Toronto Board of Common School Trustees, supported integrated schools, some even praising Black students for their achievements on “competitive examinations” (Houston & Prentice, 1988, p. 301), 38 such toleration as did exist in no way moderated the treatment meted out to Black students by teachers, sometimes with the approval of school administrators. Lucy Greaves, for example, a Black girl who attended a series of Toronto schools between the “spring and fall of 1859” (p. 301) was expelled from the “Victoria Street [School] before she could enroll in a school on Phoebe Street in the fall.” Her teacher, “Miss Round, cited Greaves’ “bad habits and . . . exceedingly bad [communication style]” (p. 301) as reasons for her expulsion. The school superintendent, though never officially informed on this matter, supported Miss Round’s decision. Following this incident, he would issue “Rule 13, (which provided [justifiable grounds] for the expulsion of students prone to habitual disobedience and ‘hopeless of reformation’)” (p. 301). It is also worth noting that despite the many challenges facing Ontario’s Black communities and families, a small number of Black schools achieved an educational standard equal or superior to their well-resourced White counterparts. Archival records reveal that the “coloured school [in St Catharines] was the best furnished with maps and had the best [t]eacher in [t]own” (Houston & Prentice, 1988, p. 300). According to some accounts, some Black schools proved “so successful that White parents enrolled their children in them. Brantford was just such a case in the late 1830s; and the superiority of the Buxton school in the 1950s (part of William King’s Elgin settlement) drew students, [W]hite and Black, from across the province and from the United States” (Houston & Prentice, 1988, p. 300). What is noteworthy about these two accounts is that despite all the constraints, these Black communities, by virtue of their collective spirit and determination, made the unthinkable possible. More importantly, the success of these schools, signifies the importance Black parents attached to educating their children, something that today is often ignored. 2.7. Multicultural Education: What Is It? The Multiculturalism Act of 1988 redefined Canada as a nation committed to promoting diversity in all its forms—religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, linguistic and so on. 39 The country was to be transformed into a multicultural state where conflicts would be resolved through dialogue. Multicultural education (ME) would play a leading role in realizing this vision by offering curricula that reflected the experiences and contributions of minorities, including Blacks. ME is predicated on the assumption that bringing together students of disparate race and culture will create an inclusive atmosphere, one that will foster an appreciation of Canada’s history and diversity (Fleras & Elliott, 1992). As an educational policy, however, it lacks a clear conceptual definition and demarcation, leaving its definition and goals subject to varying interpretations “that often confound attempts to define a common purpose, or indeed, any meaningful expression of political solidarity among its avowed supporters toward social justice” (Lund, 2009, p. 35). Fleras and Elliott (1992) defines ME thus: An organized effort to accommodate and manage racial and ethnic diversity as an integral component of the school system … [that] openly acknowledges ethnocultural variation, recognizes its validity within the educational environment, and reaffirms its role in the formulation of philosophy, objectives, content, and delivery of services to students. (p. 187) What stands out here is the epithet “organized effort” and the purported aim to “manage racial and ethnic diversity.” This kind of language suggests that ME is committed less to addressing the achievement gap in public education, which would require deep-seated reform, and more to creating a veneer of interracial, interethnic, and intercultural harmony (Lund, 2009). Critics view ME to be symbolic in its orientation rather than transformative. Thus, according to Lund, “it is characterized as consisting of short-term programs and supplemental curricular material designed to cause attitudinal change in individual students and teachers” (Lund, 2009, p. 39), leaving intact White values that suffuse the curriculum and pedagogy. ME, the critics contend, constitutes little more than “prejudice reduction strategies” (Lund, 2009, p. 40) targeted at reducing “ignorance of other cultures [for the purpose of promoting] greater cultural harmony” (Lynch as cited in Lund, 2009, p. 40). 40 Black discontent with Toronto’s public education system would continue to simmer during the 1990s, a period of major demographic change, marked by rapid growth in the city’s minority populations. Changing demographics had not, according to Dei et al. (1997), led to much needed educational reforms, however; and, in particular, the curriculum had not been overhauled with a view to reflecting the current racial and cultural composition of a school system wherein Black Canadians "ma[de] up 10% of the . . . population" (Johnson, 2013, p. 5). Despite calls from Black parents for greater representation—e.g., greater numbers of Black teachers/staff to match the growing numbers of Black students—little would be done then, or in the future, to address their demands (Dei et al., 1997). Meanwhile, disaffected Black students would continue to underperform. For some educators and critics, the problem lay with Black families; for Black parents, a Eurocentric school curriculum was at fault (James & Brathwaite, 1996). The latter argued that ME offered little in the way of intercultural education and dialogue and that formulating and implementing equitable policies, e.g., the hiring of more Black teachers and staff to whom Black students could relate and who understand the challenges they faced both at school and at home, lay beyond its scope (Cummins, 1997; Dei et al., 1997; Goodall, 1996; James & Brathwaite, 1996). Black parents also called into question the commonly held perception that ME is predicated upon diversity—a view shared by Lund (1998) and Mansfield and Kehoe (1994). Whose version of events, they asked, gets to be presented as legitimate knowledge, and how does such knowledge impact Black students? For critics, the high dropout rate among Black students speaks to the failure of ME. Rather than allocate scarce resources to addressing this central problem, the mainstream school system panders, they contend, to ethnic sensibilities by, among other things, promoting the singing of ethnic songs, the sharing of ethnic foods, and the performing of ethnic dances, meanwhile deferring the very reforms that could address the disaffection and underperformance of Black students, such as incorporating into the school curriculum African-centred courses that challenge the incongruities in Western thought (Dei et al., 1997). 41 2.8. Multicultural Education in Practice: White Teachers and Black Students’ Alienation By examining the attitudes of White teachers toward Black students, I wish, not to tar all with the same brush, but to single out those who, several studies have shown (Dei et al., 1997; Kong, 1996), harbour an animosity toward their charges that has no place in the classroom (Dei et al., 1997). The object here is to tease out a relationship that has been shaped by cross-cultural misunderstandings, which have resulted in negative learning outcomes for Black students. I begin this section with Mark's story, a narrative that reflects the experience of so many Black students who struggle daily in the mainstream public school system. For the first month of classes, ‘Mark,’ (a pseudonym), a Grade 2 Black student, worked alone at his desk despite the teacher’s injunction that all students were to work in pairs. By the second month, the teacher was growing increasingly concerned over this student’s anti-social behaviour, which she attributed to an “adjustment problem” (Roberts-Fiati, 1996, p. 75), a term used arbitrarily by White teachers to describe any failure on the part of Black students to respond to classroom routines and learning in a positive way. The real problem, however, lay not with Mark but with his White classmates who refused to partner with him; and so it was that he continued to work alone, all the while expecting one of them would eventually join him. His was an experience all too familiar for Black students attending mainstream public schools (Roberts-Fiati, 1996). The events described above highlight how in the mainstream public school system race and culture come to mediate the Black experience. This is, I would argue, no isolated instance of refractory White students willfully ignoring a teacher’s instructions. Both students and teacher were in various ways complicit in perpetuating a standard racial representation; in their eyes Mark, like all Black children, was somehow tainted and thus undesirable. Raby (2004) asserts that “[White] teachers and students often downplay “the personal relevance of “race . . . through the erasure of race itself” (p. 371), even though their actions foster an atmosphere of racial intolerance. Rather than deal with the problem head- 42 on, the teacher chose instead to ignore it, owing to a reluctance to talk about race or perhaps a conviction that it was irrelevant in the classroom and that to address it would require interrogating her own dominant attitude and that of her White students. Kong’s experience as a Black student attending a predominantly White school speaks to the lack of empathy, and in some cases overt hostility, that often characterizes relations between White teachers and their Black charges (Kong, 1996). This student’s self-esteem was shattered when her Grade 3 teacher announced before a group of her peers that she “would never amount to anything” (Kong, 1996, p. 60). This incident highlights the differential treatment in the school system. Perceiving the school environment to be detrimental to their sense of personhood and self-esteem, many Black students choose to drop out, others to detach themselves psychologically. Dei et al., (1997) contest the wholesale use of the term “dropout” to describe Black students’ experience in the public education system. In their view, the term “pushed out” more accurately captures that experience (p. 36). Students who get “pushed out” of school are not averse to education knowing the future that awaits the uneducated: fewer job opportunities and a life of crime. Dei et al., (1997) attribute the “pushed out” phenomenon to the lack of support afforded ‘at risk’ students by “school agents (teachers, guidance counsellors, administrators” (p. 70), who are less responsive, indeed indifferent, to the adverse experiences of students. According to disaffected students, their identity hinders their success; thus, they are denied adequate support by the school based on their race. In the words of one student, the high dropout rate in the public education system is due, in part, to a prevailing “network of disinterest” (p. 72) that leaves the disadvantaged to their own devices, which invariably leads to their dropping out of school. Critics of the mainstream school system often target a racism that appears to be both endemic and pervasive, blighting the youngest and most innocent in particular (Roberts-Fiati, 1996). The defense put forward by the school authorities, i.e. that the experiences of the Marks and Kongs are anomalous and thus in no way reflect what is really going on in the classroom, serve only to reveal a discomfort with having to deal with racism and racialized 43 students. For Mark’s teacher to attribute his behaviour to an “adjustment problem” (Roberts-Fiati, 1996, p. 75) stemming from some unspecified cultural deficiency is to shift the focus from race to culture, thus reproducing the illusion of a race-free classroom while reassuring Black parents who would rather believe that the teacher knows best and has the best interest of the student at heart. The Toronto public school system continues unwittingly to accommodate ideologies that are racist in terms of their orientation or implications. For example, Social Darwinism, which places people of African descent at the lowest “point of the evolutionary scale” (Boykin, 1986, p. 59), is one of many race-based theories to inform, to varying degrees, school textbooks. Educated at dominant institutions of higher learning, where it is not unusual for treatises on race and intelligence (Rushton & Jensen, 2005; 2003) to inform, however tangentially, lectures, class discussions and debates, teachers may, to a greater or lesser degree, come to hold certain assumptions regarding the racialized ‘other’ that they bring to the classroom, e.g., the notion that Black students are low achievers (Dei et al., 1997). On November 9, 2011, I spoke for 1 hour before a group of students in the Teacher Education program at a university in British Columbia, on the subject of social justice in education. I began by asking the audience, which was predominantly White, to record on a slip of paper, and in as few words as possible, what they thought of Africa and Africans. The goal of the exercise was to demonstrate that despite the best of intentions, teachers and students can inadvertently perpetuate racial stereotypes. The key descriptors randomly selected from the responses submitted by seven students are: • Student 1: Continent, poverty, safari • Student 2: Black, desert, and dependent on Christian help • Student 3: Safaris, huge continent, extreme poverty in some areas, lots of people • Student 4: Safari, animals, poverty, hunger, heat, AIDS, Black • Student 5: Small, uneducated population, comprised mainly of Black people • Student 6: Continent, underdeveloped part of the world with great poverty 44 • Student 7: Diversity, different cultural traditions, marginalized, sometimes discriminated against or treated differently, not a lot known because not taught. Invariably, these key terms conjure up images of the ‘dark continent’ and of its inhabitants that work to reinforce racial stereotypes, which find their way into the classroom. Africa is signified as a basket case, its achievements of no account, its people devoid of agency. Consistent with mainstream myths, Africans are presented as uneducated, poverty-stricken and disease-ridden “Black” peoples, antipathetic to modernity and wholly dependent upon “Christian help,” presumably in the form of foreign aid provided by the West. Thus are Africa and Africans signified in ways that reinforce White exceptionality and that would have been familiar to Europeans during what was the heyday of colonialism. Neocolonial narratives, while for the most part false, valorize the West as the savior of Africa, signified as a vast expanse of parched earth and starving famine victims, unsanitary hospitals [strewn with victims bleeding from their orifices from Ebola], . . . village huts . . . dying AIDS victims, ethnic conflicts, marauding rebels and civil war victims . . . and desperate refuges and economic migrants trying to get into Western countries . . . [and] open desert or jungle filled with exotic animals, a location for adventure, . . . an empty space . . . devoid of . . . people . . . or a tabula rasa with natives vaguely located [in the] background . . . filling out the picture or as local guides. (Wright, 2012, pp. 182-183) Thus is Africa relegated to a position outside the realm of civilization, its contributions to science, education, commerce, governance, and world civilization ignored, and Africans denied a voice. What I glean from the above is that Western discourses on Africa and Africans are wholly lacking in objectivity and rigor; rather, they serve to advance a neocolonial project that dismisses African ingenuity while underscoring Africa’s indebtedness to the colonial centre, the locus of White power and source of Black oppression. In its subtlest forms, according to Wright, neocolonialism is promoted with a missionary zeal worthy of its purported humanitarian project of rescuing Africans from a culture of fatalism and debauchery that underpins their wretched existence. 45 According to Smith, the power that the West possesses to take events and ideas out of their historical context, frame them in ways that advance Western interests and then present them as universal narratives “rule[s] out [any] consideration of alternative representations [that might explicate] . . . African conditions” (Smith as cited in Wright, 2012, p. 183). According to Kanneh, current Western discourses on Africa draw on a long colonial tradition of representation predicated on “. . . a firm pre-knowledge of the inferiority and savagery of the peoples of the empire and the harshness and the danger of their environment, both in need of naming and taming . . .” (Kanneh as cited in Wright, 2012, p. 184). What passes for knowledge of Africans and Africa in Western institutions in general, and primary and elementary education in particular, I would argue, is derived from the playbook of “nineteenth century colonial narratives that portray Africa as inhabited by barbarians or ‘natural slaves’ and as the White man’s burden” (Smith as cited in Wright, 2012, p. 184). In "Transforming teacher education for an antiracism pedagogy" Solomon and Levine-Rasky (1996) criticize mainstream teachers for conceptualizing antiracist education in the narrowest terms. The following remarks convey a sense of what anti-racist education means to most teachers. I haven’t learned much about the term, but antiracism to me would mean that someone tries not to be racist, but not necessarily becoming multicultural . . . You would not have to let your bias show, even though you may not necessarily believe in multiculturalism (p. 342). I don’t have a real hook on what’s going on in Sri Lanka. I have travelled somewhat but I can’t really say, “Oh, I understand so and so from your background. This would be done this way,” because I don’t know (p. 342). It is apparent from the above excerpts that for these two teachers, and likely many of their colleagues, antiracist education requires bringing to bear an “additive” pedagogy aimed at placating racialized students, rather than providing a “corrective” (Solomon & Levine-Rasky, 1996, p. 342) to reproducing racism both within and outside the school. Possessing little understanding of the substantive problems confronting Black students, most teachers, one can only assume, are “hardly [capable] of contribut[ing] to a significant learning 46 experience, … [or inculcating] knowledge, skills or understanding,” (Tator & Henry as cited in Harper, 1997, p. 200) at least where Black students are concerned. Acutely aware that their lived experience is viewed as inconsequential and their persons stereotyped, Black students become disaffected, estranged from a school system they view as offering little possibility for a better future (Dei, 1996b; Calliste, 1996; Kong, 1996). And even though some teachers are deeply committed to securing social justice for Black students, there are also many, who, with the tacit support of school authorities steeped in the politics of the school system, turn a blind eye to the way some teachers conduct themselves in the classroom. Rather than admit the prominent role of race in determining educational outcomes for Black students and join in the fight against differential treatment, dominant teachers remain passive and complacent, thus helping to perpetuate Black student disaffection (Brathwaite, 1996; Dei et al., 1997). It is all too often the case, moreover, that racism couched in free speech, along with the habit of making light of racist practices, projections and innuendo (Dei, 1996b; Kong, 1996; Niemonen, 2007), works to undermine student confidence and in the process fosters alienation (Roberts-Fiati, 1996). According Dei et al., (1997), the majority of teachers draw a sharp distinction between the school environment and the home life of students, with the result that they come to view the problems confronting students in both these spheres to be unrelated in terms of both their causes and remedies. Embedded in this public-private dichotomy is the assumption that each space should function independently and not encroach on the other—a view at odds with one of the foundational beliefs upon which TAAS is predicated, namely, that it takes a village to raise a child. It is not surprising, then, that conservative White teachers often attribute underachievement on the part of Black students to the type of socialization and acculturation undergone in homes and communities where teenage pregnancy, households headed by "slovenly welfare mothers" (Henry, 1993, p. 209), and absentee fathers are the norm (Dei et al., 1997, Dei, 2008; Henry, 1993)—and all this despite a large body of evidence indicating that disaffected students can perform above expectations if given the requisite opportunities and support (Lewis, 2009). 47 According to Solomon (1995), student success or failure is contingent upon how teachers view the root causes of underperformance by Black students. Whereas conservative teachers attribute this phenomenon to a lack of individual effort (Dei et al. 1997; Solomon, 1995), for Dei et al., (1997), the true cause lies largely with indifference on their part to the lived reality of Black students. Dei et al., (1997) attribute this attitude to a lack of understanding of Black culture and/or a reluctance on the part of White teachers to involve themselves in matters they deem to lie outside their professional milieu and within the private sphere of the family. Moreover, for White teachers in the mainstream public school system, any discussion of student underachievement is seen as “extremist, divisive, strident, confrontational, ideological, radical, and antithetical to… multicultural [education]” (Solomon & Levine-Rasky, 1996, p. 338) and thus to be eschewed. Research shows that conservative White teachers, who tend to have low expectations of Black students, very seldom offer them support; instead, they brand them as trouble-makers, as so many lost causes to be left to their own devices (Dei et al., 1997; Solomon, 1995). This kind of attitude leads these teachers to ignore the struggles Black students must endure daily, a recognition of which would represent the first step along the path to establishing a teacher-student dialogue—or for that matter a teacher-parent dialogue. Such is impossible, however, given the imperative “not to hear the voices of other races or [go beyond maintaining] a tepid cultural tolerance for hearing or acting on [other people’s] voices… [or to] suffer seriously from anything that darker-skinned people might say about [Whites]” (McIntosh, 1986, p. 7). 2.9. Black Students and Streaming Notwithstanding the popular belief that the principle of racial equality informs every facet of the public school system, a number of studies show that racism permeates the school system, mediating the Black student experience (Dei et al., 1997; James & Brathwaite, 1996; James, 2011; James, 2005). According to Boykin (1994), attributing disaffection and underperformance on the part of Black students to some inherent defect or propensity is to 48 paint a false picture of their experiences in the classroom. For one thing, it ignores external factors (Dei, 1995; James & Brathwaite, 1996), e.g., a Eurocentric, i.e., dominant, educational model that promotes assimilation and a school system that enforces policies specifying what is to be taught and how in accordance with that model (Boykin, 1994). Inevitably, the goal of the school system, i.e., to teach students how to read, write, learn and think about prescribed concepts in preparation for life in a neo-liberal world, often conflicts with Black students’ best interests (Boykin, 1994; Dei, 1995; Kong, 1996). This conflict, which often goes unresolved, is in some cases dealt with by funneling recalcitrant students into special education and/or sports programs—these being deemed most efficacious to preserving whatever remains of their much diminished “self-confidence” and “pride” (James & Brathwaite, 1996, p. 20). In the mainstream public school system, race and class remain the principal determinants for streaming Black students into vocational, technical, English development skills or sports programs (Calliste, 1996; Dei et al., 1997; James & Brathwaite, 1996; James, 2005, 2011). With Black student underperformance foremost in mind, guardian counsellors often advise Black parents to enroll their children in vocational or technical programs—and at a far greater rate than is the case for White students—with no thought given the inequities pervading the school system and their impact on educational outcomes (Dei et al., 1997). While the practice of streaming has a legitimate place in the school system, one must question its disproportionate application to Black students and its use to reduce their high dropout rates, not to mention the costs. Streamed away from their friends and placed in non-academic programs, students come to feel discriminated against, and as a result adopt behaviours—refusing to study, acting out, truancy and dropping out of school—that further jeopardize their already slim hopes for success (Dei et al., 1997). As is the case with streaming, the TDSB 'catchment zone' provision denies Black students from low-income neighbourhoods equal access to quality education. Using area codes to determine in which school(s) a student can be enrolled, this provision effectively prevents Black students from poor communities from attending schools in wealthy areas of 49 the city, i.e., schools with the requisite resources—highly proficient teachers, up-to-date libraries and well-equipped science labs—to help them succeed. While the ‘catchment zone’ provision may be deemed essential to preempting logistical problems, such as over-enrolment in any given school, it could just as easily be viewed as promoting school segregation. It would appear that regardless of the lip-service paid the principle of racial equality in the context of the school system, racist educational policies—‘catchment zones,’ gifted programs and advance placement courses—however subtle, still exist. Johnson (2013) writes of an invisible racial iron curtain that has descended upon the Toronto public school system, dividing the privileged and underprivileged: Toronto comprises a high-income downtown core (20% of the population) with an array of public and private educational options; more diverse but shrinking middle-class neighborhoods in the surrounding ring (29% of the population); and low-income and working-class residents who live on the periphery of the city (53% of the population), [who] are disproportionately Black, Chinese, and South Asian, and [who] must contend with . . . little educational choice. (p. 16) Johnson points to “differential housing costs” as the driver of demographic change that began in the 1970s: [The] residential patterns [are] driven by differential housing costs [leading to] growing segregation by income and race in Toronto over the last 40 years. Central city neighborhoods have become increasing White (82% and wealthier, and outlaying neighborhoods in the northwestern and north[ern] parts of the city… have incorporated a larger percentage of “visible minorities (66%), immigrants (61%), and families in poverty (30%). (p. 5) From Johnson’s (2013) analysis there emerges the spectre of urban ghettoization by race and income, a process with obvious implications for the provision of equal education. Thus, for example, while students in Rosedale, who are predominantly White, can access good public schools, which translates into positive learning outcomes, Black students in Toronto's low income neighbourhoods, e.g., the Jane and Finch and Rexdale areas, must do with outdated facilities and less-than-proficient teachers—a recipe for student underperformance and disaffection. The greater educational opportunities available to 50 students residing in middle-class neighbourhoods provides them with a ‘better shot’ in life vis-à-vis their less privileged peers. The disparity in learning outcomes between Black and White students can also be explained by the Bourdieu cultural capital theory, which holds that the majority White students begin their educational odyssey with ample “cultural capital (i.e., home education . . .), social capital (i.e., social networks . . .), and economic capital (i.e., money and other material possessions) which can be acquired two ways, from one’s family and/or through formal schooling” (Yosso, 2005, p. 76). This capital is crucial to student performance and “social mobility” (Yosso, 2005, p. 76). Applying Bourdieu’s framework to examining the superior performance of White students reveals a key factor underlying their academic success: the standardization of White education and cultural values and their diffusion throughout the curriculum, providing White students a crucial edge in terms of acquiring “knowledge, skills and abilities that are valued by privileged groups in society” (Yosso, 2005, p. 76). This kind of advantage, Yosso (2005) argues, is either scarce or entirely absent in poor neighbourhoods where the cultural capital students do possess is deemed either irrelevant or counterproductive to acquiring a standard education. 2.10. The School Curriculum and Eurocentric Knowledge This section opens with a discussion on how the school curriculum works to normalize White privilege and hold it up as a universal ideal. As Wihak (2004) points out “White privilege stems from [the] invisible systems of [White] dominance” (p. 110). The odiousness of White privilege is the heavy burden its places on “moving [any discussion on the term] beyond an intellectual and conceptual understanding of racial issues to an experiential and affective change” (p. 110). A White (privileged) curriculum allows White people, in the context of my research, to live in “comfortable obliviousness [cultivating] a dull indifference to the question of race . . .” (p. 110). Privileged by a colonial school system and an ideological curriculum, White students are unaware of the discrimination their privileged status; e.g. history, inflict on the learning outcome of Black students. Privileged, 51 “Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that allow “them” to be more like us (McIntosh, 1986, p. 3). Narrating her privileged experience as White person, McIntosh argues “through the curriculum, [and mass media]…[she] received daily signals and indications that [her heritage] counted and that others either didn’t exist or must be trying, not very successfully, to be like people of [her] race [emphasis in original]” (p. 7). Fine (1994) hypothesizes that the mainstream curriculum bears the hallmark of cultural imperialism in that what passes for knowledge is filtered and framed to reflect a European Weltanschauung, thus excluding alternative worldviews. This is consistent with Dei’s (1994) view of teaching as a political act, the purpose of which lies in indoctrinating students with the dominant ideology and worldview. An important part of this program lies in denying racialized students agency by, among other things, either ignoring or denigrating the achievements and contributions of the civilizations from which they hail. This obverse process of internalizing the dominant worldview, along with the values, attitudes and assumptions that sustain it, i.e., ideology, while disparaging the ‘other’ is played out in the curriculum. Henry (1993) supports Fine (1994) and Dei’s (1994) view of the school curriculum. "No knowledge,” she writes, “is neutral. Rather all knowledge flows from ideological assumptions" (Henry, 1993, p. 209). This perspective is shared by Ladner, who argues that mainstream knowledge reflects the ideology of the larger society, which more often than not excludes the “lifestyles, values, behavior, attitudes and so forth from a body of data that is used to define, describe, conceptualize and theorize about the structure and functions of . . . society" (as cited in Henry, 1993, pp. 209-210). Applying Ladner's analysis to knowledge production, I would argue that the absence of Black contributions from the curriculum is in no way inadvertent, but rather part of a project aimed at hierarchizing knowledge systems, while at the same time privileging and naturalizing official historical narratives—all with a view to sustaining the dominant, i.e., White, order. Notes Cooper: 52 Canadian history, insofar as its Black history is concerned, is a drama punctuated with disappearing acts . . . consistent with the general behaviour of the official chroniclers of the country's past. Black history is treated as a marginal subject. In truth, it has been bulldozed and ploughed over, slavery in particular . . . Slavery has disappeared from Canada's historical chronicles, erased from its memory and banished to the dungeons of its past (Cooper, 2006, p. 7). 2.11. Multicultural Curriculum: Whose History Passes for Knowledge? Winks (1997) captures a sense of the selectivity that is a hallmark of the school curriculum. Most Canadian textbooks, according to this author, make no mention of pre-confederation Black history. The few that do acknowledge a Black presence during this period, however pithily, refer to Black pioneers incorrectly as "fugitive slave[s]" who journeyed to what is now Canada via the Underground Railroad. In an effort to rehabilitate Canadian history, most mainstream textbooks ignore White Canada’s general disapproval of, and often hostility to, Black immigrants hailing from the United States—and this despite the plethora of published material giving voice to these attitudes. Writing in 1842, C.D. Owen, for example, describes Blacks as "perpetually begging and receiving charity . . . yet . . . neither prosperous nor useful" (as cited Winks, 1997, p. 363). Describing the public education system as a battlefield, Fleras and Elliott (1992) posit that “powerful forces and entrenched interests are unlikely to tolerate significant changes [to Eurocentric education] without considerable resistance and foot-dragging. Changes, when they do occur [are likely to be] restricted to the cosmetic, and kept away from the key domains of decision-making, agenda-setting, and power” (pp. 188–189) leaving an ever-widening gap between dominant and racialized communities. According to Fleras and Elliott (1992), the "[Canadian] education system reflects a basic and fundamental commitment to monoculturalism," (p. 183) with little consideration given alternative knowledge systems. Contrary to its original objective of promoting intercultural understanding, ME dispenses dominant knowledge and values (Dei et al., 1997; 53 Dei, 1995)—all the while celebrating Black History Month (BHM) in an effort to preempt calls for curriculum reform. And what precise purpose is a BHM that reduces the long history of Black Canadians to a few songs and dances supposed to perform apart from reinforcing racial and cultural stereotypes and reducing Black history to cultural artifacts, while ignoring substantive matters, such as the Black contribution to Canada? For critics of ME, incorporating BHM into the curriculum cannot hope to transform the classroom from a locus of domination into a pluralistic arena where ideas compete with one another and diversity of thought is encouraged. Nor is it intended to, for its real purpose lies in creating a semblance of diversity within the public school system—all with a view to placating and pacifying Black students, parents, and their allies for whom the school system has failed in meeting the educational needs of Black students. So truncated and diluted a form of Black history cannot hope to address issues and concerns of real substance, such as the racism at large in the Canadian body politic (see Shadd in James, 1995). And so BHM will remain what it has always been: a tactical investment by the dominant order. While proponents hail BHM as an exciting and innovative initiative, critics accuse it of reifying Black identity and culture and excluding certain Black heroes, e.g., Malcolm X. Why during BHM, they ask, are African-American male heroes, to take but one example, overrepresented while Black women of heroic stature, such as Rosa Parks, receive mention seemingly as an afterthought; and why are African heroes—Albert Luthuli, the Founding Father of the African National Congress, Jomo Kenyatta, a leading anti-colonialist, Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Asante Kingdom, who resisted the British occupation of her homeland—underrepresented? The achievements of Yaa Asantewaa, in particular, deserve to be celebrated at a time when African-Canadian students, and especially teenage mothers, need role models to provide the inspiration and sense of pride, without which it is impossible to resist the racism promoted in school textbooks. Kaomea (2003) provides a lens through which the epistemic limits of BHM may be examined. On the basis of her theoretical framework, which was used to analyze the benefits to be derived from apprising indigenous Hawaiian students of their heritage, one may 54 surmise that discourses on Black History have often centred around African-American slaves and personalities and the Civil Rights Movement at the expense of African heroes and ‘sheroes’ and their Caribbean counterparts—the few exception include, most notably, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Francois-Dominique Toussaint Louventure. The celebration of BHM, which, for the most part focuses on the African-American experience, tends to downplay the importance of African-Canadian history and contributions, and particularly those in the area of social justice, e.g. the Civil Rights initiative on the part of the Council on Group Relations in the 1940s and 1950s; The National Unity Association of Chatham-Dresden-North Buxton; and the Negro Citizens' Association of Toronto. What rights and freedoms Black Canadians enjoy today may be traced to the efforts of these and other like-minded groups who fought tirelessly against discrimination in the workplace and in the areas of housing and immigration policy. Ironically, however, many Blacks and Whites credit the US Civil Rights Movement for these advances (see Shadd in James, 1995) Admiration for all things Black comes with a caveat, however. While it is appropriate that we should celebrate Black achievements, there lurks a danger in signifying Africa ad infinitum as an unqualified success. To capture a full sense of the continent’s history, we must not ignore the role of certain African kingdoms in facilitating and profiting from the slave trade, or the appalling cruelty inflicted on Africans by Africans often and routinely. It is essential that this sordid past be unearthed and exposed for what it is (Dei, 1993; Oyebade, 1990). BHM romanticizes an African past, by, among other things, playing down cultural practices best described as barbaric, e.g., child betrothal, female genital mutilation, etc., Using critical frameworks to de-romanticize African history will enable Black students to put into perspective their forebears’ achievements and assess them in a sober fashion; it will also help them to understand the challenges facing the continent and the obstacles to be overcome in addressing the problems. Thus will Black students be better prepared to counter the Eurocentric view of Africans as 'primitives.’ Regrettably, BHM falls far short in showcasing Africa’s substantive contribution to civilization, a view shared by multiculturalism’s critics who argue it serves only to commodify African cultures by feeding the public’s appetite for "voyeuristic pleasure" (Bissoondath, 1994, p. 83). The capitalistic dimension of BHM 55 evinced in the sale of cultural artifacts to the curious and voyeuristic obscures the full sweep of African history, distorting what was and what is. The continent’s disparate cultures come to resemble a homogenous coverlet. Essentializing Africa’s rich cultures through the tropes of its architects and sponsors fosters an orientalist kind of reductionism and stereotyping. Thus do Africa’s diverse cultures come to be seen as so much cultural art, albeit on an enormous scale (Bissoondath, 1994). 2.12. Multicultural Education and Racist Representations According to Dei, understanding the politics of ME and the Black student experience requires interrogating the structures and administration of the public school system. In the mainstream curriculum, Africa has become synonymous with “poverty images” (James & Brathwaite, 1996, p. 23)—images that portray the continent, and especially sub-Saharan Africa, as a blighted land frozen in time and in desperate need of ‘foreign intervention,’ a term associated with Western humanitarian aid and the messianic notion that Africa can be saved only by ridding itself of political leaders who are as corrupt as they are tyrannical and subscribing to Western democratic values. Despite its very real achievements, the continent continues to be perceived as a land plagued by HIV/AIDS, a disease viewed as responsible for a burgeoning population of orphans kept alive by Western-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These representations find their way into the curriculum and class discussions, not to mention social media, eroding the confidence of Black students and undermining their appreciation of their heritage. According to Boykin (1986), what passes for a multicultural curriculum is nothing more than a compilation of dominant worldviews. The latter, Boykin writes, promote a culture of hierarchy that conditions Black students not only to accept White-domination but also to view a normalizing Whiteness as a universal model for personal development and success. With the promotion, however subtle, of supremacist values at its core, the multicultural curriculum provides little space for the interrogation of curricular typecasts of Black heritage. Rather, using a ‘kill-me-softly’ approach, it aims to win the consent of Black 56 students to their own subordination through the token inclusion of Black history and achievements. Moreover, by referencing only a very limited number of Black heroes, all of moderate political views, e.g. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, it serves to impede the formation of a Black identity (Dei, 1995; Dei et al., 1997). In recalling her school experience, Annette Henry captures a sense of the dilemma facing Toronto’s marginalized Black students and the concerns of many Black parents. Throughout my childhood, my school lessons never enabled me to make sense of my Blackness in positive, affirming ways. My teachers never taught me in ways that helped me critically understand the larger Black community. . . . As a young girl growing up in England and Canada, my school lessons were often acts of violence (Henry as cited in James & Brathwaite, 1996, p. 30) Henry's narrative is instructive in that it references how the Black heritage has been nullified, minimized, dismembered and reconstituted to promote White supremacy in the area of knowledge production. Her biographical account highlights many of the reasons Black students leave school; it also helps to explicate Black calls for Afrocentric education after years of protestations that the public school system’s credo of neutrality and inclusivity have done little to reform a curriculum and institutional practices that valorize White supremacy and shun racial equity (Harper, 1997; Solomon, 1995). Allen (1996) examines the powerful hold textual representations can have over young minds. In “I don’t want to read this”: Students’ responses to illustrations of Black characters in children’s picture books,” he argues that the picture illustrations featured in such texts are in no way empty signifiers. Rather, they carry positive and negative messages that reinforce the viewer’s perception of himself and others. Allen reports that some Black students in his Grade 2 class were less than enthused with “angry, sad or pensive” (pp. 157) figures depicted in The Orphan Boy, a story about the Maasai of Kenya. When asked what they found to be so objectionable, the students replied: Leo: My head (face) is not like that. I don’t have anything Black here. 57 Ralph: That looks like a moustache. . . . No, that doesn’t look like me, I am brown Black, he’s [Don] light Black and that’s [the character] dark Black. Mike: Because I don’t like his face. It is his head, it is covering here… on his moustache. Theodore: The face does not [look] good. Maggie: I can’t see the eyes. (p. 158) Despite genuine efforts to expunge racist inferences from all texts in the public domain, books like Little Black Sambo that depict Black children as “dark skinned, plain, mischievous, comical, and poor" (Harris as cited in Allen, 1996, p. 152) may still be found on the shelves of public libraries. These negative representations can only serve to erode the self-confidence of African-Canadian students (Allen, 1996; Dei et al., 1997; James, 2011). Allen's work illustrates how the curriculum leads Black students to reject their race and heritage and internalize the ideology and worldview of the dominant order. This is all part of an assimilationist project that for Black students spells "[cultural and intellectual] genocide" (Jaenen as cited in James, 1995, p. 12), often manifested in disaffection, resistance to authority, underachievement, and high dropout rates. Drawing on her experience as a student at a predominantly White school in North York, Ontario, Kong (1996) highlights how the curriculum works to nullify Black history. Scarcely was any reference made, notes Kong, to African-Canadian contributions to Canada; moreover, African-Canadians were represented exclusively as newly arrived immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, something she would discover to be false upon learning of the Black migration to Ontario in the early 1800s via the Underground Railroad. This erasure of the Black contribution to Canada has contributed in a major way to fostering racial stereotypes—in particular, Black Canadians have come to be viewed as living off the hard work and enterprise of Whites. This kind of representation, however false, makes Black students feel less Canadian and thus “undeserving of the benefits of Canada’s future” (p. 61). As a consequence, these students live under the misconception that their ancestors were 58 “intruders, or at best hangers-on in the flow of history that ignores them” (Walker as cited in Kong, 1996, pp. 62-63), a view that is often internalized. 2.13. Black Students' Underperformance: Looking Beyond the Public School System With a view to providing an alternative explanation for Black student underperformance, I shall draw on the seminal work of Ogbu. While Ogbu (1995a) focuses on the African-American student experience much of his analysis of the achievement gap existing in the US public education system holds true for its Canadian counterpart. Ogbu (1995a) posits a causal relation between Black culture and student underachievement. According to Ogbu, Black student underperformance can be explained by the "oppositional cultural frame of reference" (p. 196) they cultivate and nurture as part of their identity. Membership in this oppositional 'cultural frame of reference', Ogbu argues, requires Black students to foster a racial and cultural solidarity, an oppositional code of conduct, and “attitudes, behaviors, and speech styles" (p. 196) at variance and in opposition to mainstream educational norms and expectations. Operating from an oppositional position, Black students fight to hold on to what they believe makes them culturally unique and reject school practices and expectations they view to be part of an assimilationist project that takes many forms, e.g., demands that they renounce their "dialects" or "languages" in favour of "proper" English, the language of the colonizer (p. 201). Thus even though Black students see education as crucial to their success in life, they view the "foreign" knowledge systems that dominate the curriculum as essentially antithetical to their very being, and for this reason, they remain recalcitrantly disaffected. According to Ogbu (1995a), Black students who form the vanguard of oppositional cultures seek every opportunity to recruit their peers. Typically, they coerce other students into joining their fraternity by accusing them of "acting White" (p. 282), a scornful signifier that carries with it guilt and punishment for abandoning one's roots, racial and/or cultural, to 59 embrace the values of the oppressor. Students who violate this unwritten cultural edict are isolated and denied protection (Fordham & Ogbu, p. 1986). Ogbu (1995b) further posits the existence of a Black oppositional culture that often pervades whole communities and has even been adopted by some Black scholars—e.g., Afrocentrists at the forefront of a critical African-centred scholarship. Luster describes some of the more salient features of this culture: There is a continual delineation and reinforcement of behaviors, practices, and attitudes that are "Black" [and appropriate] versus those that are "White" and [inappropriate]—Acting White is an acknowledged and identifiable practice within the community. The women who were . . . interviewed considered “speaking proper" or using standard English an attempt to dissociate oneself from the race; an attempt to demonstrate superiority; an act of betrayal. . . . The women [and most were parents] consciously resisted learning and using standard English because it would mean accepting what the White society defines as "right" or "White” to replace what the same White society defines as "wrong" or "Black". (as cited in Ogbu, 1995b, p. 282) One may infer from Luster’s description that it is the subordination and marginalization of Black people that must be held largely responsible for Black student underperformance as well as resistance to the intrusive efforts on the part of Whites to coax or coerce them into assimilating to the dominant culture. The chief bulwark of this resistance is a broadly-based counterculture, the purpose of which lies in preserving a Black identity; its chief pillar is a Black patois whose very existence is an affront to standard English, the language of the oppressor. According to Ogbu (1995b) the underperformance of Black students may be attributed to a common "feeling among some Blacks that learning to speak, read, and write standard English in the public school is more or less an imposition on Black people by White people [emphasis in original]” (p. 283). Operating from this oppositional cultural standpoint, Ogbu theorizes that Black students come to view learning "standard practices and standard English” as gravitating toward becoming White; a move they see as adversative to their cultural values and harmful to their Black identity (p. 284). 60 The contagion of "acting White” and “resist[ing] academic striving” is more pronounced in schools [where] Black students predominate. In these institutions, Black students build “fictive kinship” relations often through micro-coercion, which can take the form of name-calling— “pervert brainiac” and “homosexual” ranking among the most insulting (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986, p. 194)—the aim of which is to discourage “attitudes and standard practices that enhance academic success” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986, p. 183). Fordham and Ogbu (1986) reveal that Black students who fail in school are most likely those who adopt an oppositional culture and thus “spend very little time completing . . . homework assignments” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986, p. 188), opting instead to demonstrate an aversion for education—their own and/or that of their ‘friends’—by engaging in non-academic activities such as athletics. In sum, while this oppositional culture has its benefits [in the form of] helping Black students to “develop…a force of cohesion [for their] survival…, [it also serves to] widen the cultural gap . . . expos[ing] them to even harder blows from a White nation that can neither understand their behavior nor respect its moral foundations” (Genovese as cited in Anderson, 1989, p. 257). 2.14. Conclusion The literature review has delineated the impact of colonial and Eurocentric education on the minds and social development of Africans, both on the continent and in the North American diaspora. Presented as humane, a gift intended to civilize the African, colonial education, research reveals, brought about precisely the opposite effect, turning the colonized into intellectual automatons and vassals. The harm wrought by it, and the Eurocentric education that would follow, speaks to the rage and frustration that so many Black parents experience. It is this failure to change in ways capable of addressing the challenges in the public education system that accounts for the underperformance of Black Canadian students, and that has led to calls for Afrocentric education (Dei, 1996a, 1995; Dei et al., 1997). For its part, multicultural education has not escaped the criticism of Black parents who see it as a mutated strain of colonial education that privileges, albeit in a far more subtle 61 fashion, the White student vis-à-vis his/her Black peer. The education reforms of the 1980s, carried out under the aegis of multiculturalism, critics argue, have not gone far enough in removing inequities, e.g., a curriculum that promotes White privilege, supremacy and a Eurocentric ethos. According to critics, far from promoting an inclusive and egalitarian ethos as claimed by proponents, ME aims merely at assuaging Black discontent, an imperative if the Black vote is to be captured. Devised for and by elites, ME gives short shrift to the principles of social justice and equality, while allowing dominant groups to focus on what really matters: politics and the economy. It was also noted that ME largely ignores cultural difference, which is reflected by a ‘one-knowledge-fits-all’ curriculum—one that pays lip service to the notion of inclusivity. What is hailed as an inclusive curriculum is in reality a White knowledge system that, at best, includes only passing references to Black history and knowledge systems. ME fails Black students in other ways, e.g., by perpetuating the practice of ‘streaming’ with a view to addressing achievement gaps in education (Dei et al., 1997; James, 2005). It was also noted that alternative studies attribute the average achievement of Black students in part to Black culture, which fosters the view that all things White, including education, are harmful to Black autonomy and must therefore be subverted. It is for the above reason that critics of ME demand that Afrocentric schools be established, hoping thereby to reverse the achievement gap in the public education system. The following chapter examines Afrocentricity, focusing on Afrocentric education and its representation of Black history in the school system. 62 Chapter 3. Afrocentric Theory: A Discursive Framework In the preceding chapter, I discussed colonial, Eurocentric and multicultural models of education and their respective impact on the education of Africans both in the Homeland and in the diaspora, models that would later give rise to Afrocentric education. To understand the history behind separate Black schools in the US and TAAS in Toronto, in particular, one must, first understand Afrocentricity as a theory and as an idea and its influence on Black education. This chapter presents a historical overview of Afrocentric Theory (AT), along with a synopsis of the various arguments, for and against. With a view to tracing the origins of AT, I begin by examining Du Bois’ work on the concept of race and its impact on Black education and emancipation. Next, I review Garvey’s views on a continental and diasporic African identity and expound Nkrumah’s notion of Pan-Africanism. The work of these three figures are taken up here as closely related, indeed precursors to Afrocentrism and education. I then proceed to introduce Afrocentrism, drawing principally on the work of Asante. For Asante Afrocentricity, a conceptual framework that is essential to reawakening among Blacks an awareness of their contributions to civilization, which he claims, have been denied, distorted, or trivialized by Whites, thereby contributing to the marginalization and subordination of Blacks, and particularly Black students, who, he argues, continue to internalize oppressive knowledge systems that degrade their humanity and call into question their intellectual capabilities. In the following section, I examine Afrocentric education. Also reviewed is the role of Canadian scholars, e.g., Dei, who are credited with promoting Afrocentric education in Canada, a process that culminated with the opening of the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS) in September 2009. Lastly, I provide a brief overview of TAAS, its mode of governance, curriculum and staff. 63 My exposition of AT is based on the work of American rather than Canadian scholars as the former are responsible for its genesis and early development. This presents no problem, however, as there exist no substantive differences between their respective interpretations of the Black experience across settler nations, a category which includes both the United States and Canada. 3.1. A Working Definition of Afrocentric Theory The definition of AT used here is drawn from the work of Asante, its chief developer and proponent, as well as that of other scholars (Boykin, 1994; 1986; Dei, 1996b, 1995, 1994; Dei et al., 1997; Keto, 2001) whose definitions and interpretations are broadly consistent with his. In keeping with the spirit and intent of these sources, I view AT as a response to the need to foster Pan-African consciousness and unity as well as social justice. Moreover, my working definition of AT is highly circumscribed so as to preclude its misuse by scholars6 who have, I believe, strayed from its principal tenets. That said, my working definition is as follows: AT represents a body of philosophical thought aimed at restoring Africa’s place in the sphere of knowledge production, reconnecting Diasporic Africans to the African Homeland, and most importantly, empowering Africans, including those in the diaspora, to challenge efforts by White scholars to denigrate African values, the African personality and African abilities, while prescribing European knowledge systems as a therapy for curing the primitive ‘Other’ of their ‘inadequacies,’ which some go so far as to attribute to their genetic legacy (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; Rushton, 1994). 6 Carol Barnes’ melanin thesis, for example, presents a sensational and distorted view of Afrocentricity. Steeped in biological determinism, it celebrates a racial exceptionality and essentialism that play to a White supremacist agenda of pitting Blacks against Whites while fueling racist policies aimed at limiting opportunities for Blacks in the workplace and other White-dominated spheres. Carol Barnes’ thesis “Melanin: The Chemical Key to Black Greatness,” claims that “melanin is a civilizing chemical and acts as a sedative to help Black[s] [remain] calm, relaxed, caring and civilized” (Austin, 2006, pp. 119-120). 64 3.2. Du Bois, The “Concept of Race”: White Power and Separate Education While Du Bois’ work preceded the advent of Afrocentric thought, his views on race vis-à-vis White oppression established him as a “superior combatant in th[e] arena [of Black emancipation and dignity]” (Asante, 1998, p. 136). Even though he would die before Afrocentricity emerged as a theory, Du Bois is credited for “prepar[ing] the world for [what would prove to be a source of inspiration for all Black people]” (Asante, 1998, p. 23). Even though critical of Du Bois on the grounds that his education at “Harvard and Berlin . . . [had] trapped him . . . in . . . a European outlook toward the world” (Asante, 1998, p. 136), Asante recognized his indispensability within academic circles where he demonstrated an acute grasp of social justice issues, issues he would grapple with despite threats to his personal safety at a time when the South was firmly in the grip of Jim Crow. In recognition of his seminal work and unparalleled leadership, Asante (1998) writes: . . . Du Bois stands at the helm of intellectual and political advancement in the contemporary world. He [wa]s . . . brilliant, powerful, and humanistic. At no point in the present era and rarely in previous epochs has any one individual so completely dominated the intellectual landscape on matters [related to American] politic[s], soci[ety], and history. Every treatise on urban life is incomplete without reference to Du Bois, and no successful scholarly study of the economic, legal or historical implications of slavery can be achieved without homage to Du Bois. In sociology, history, and political science, he laid the basis for contemporary analysis. (p. 23) Like the Afrocentrists who would come after him, Du Bois argued that race was at the core of the United States’ existence as a nation. Premising their superiority on race, White Americans oppressed Blacks whom they considered inferior. While race remains a social construct and an artificial designation, with no basis in science, Du Bois contended that it played into American politics by serving to justify the oppression of Blacks. Race, he argued, provided Whites with a justification to pigeonhole “groups of folk who belong naturally together through the heredity of physical traits and cultural affinity” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 100). Blacks were obligated, by Whites to view their lower station in life as natural and their “race [a]s constitutionally and permanently inferior to [W]hite people” (Du Bois, 65 1935, p. 330). Race, from Du Bois’ perspective, helped Whites create an asymmetrical world that justified a racial hierarchy in which they occupied the lowest position. According to Du Bois, one way in which Whites exercised dominance over Blacks was through education. By imposing separate education on Blacks, White Americans denied them access to a basic human right essential to fighting racial injustice and oppression. Denying Blacks equal education proved tantamount to denying them emancipation. Instead of using education to foster positive race relations, mainstream American education, argued Du Bois, would do the very opposite (Du Bois, 1935, 1968). While White mistreatment of Blacks could be characterized as disempowering, Du Bois (1968) also contended that it was a force for good: an incentive to spur Black students to excel: I don’t know how I came to form my theories of race. The process was probably largely unconscious. The difference [in] personal appearance between me and my fellows, I must have been conscious of when quite young. Whatever distinctions came because of that did not irritate me; they rather exalted me because, on the whole, while I was still a youth, they gave me exceptional position and a chance to excel rather than handicapping me. (pp. 100-101) I gather from this autobiographical note is that the key to Black excellence, whatever the constraints attributable to race, lies not with biology, but with ecology. Thus, given equal opportunities and adequate support, Blacks in general, and Black students in particular, could “match [their] mettle against White folk to show them what Black folk could do” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 130). “From the days of [their] childhood”, White students, Du Bois contends, are no different from Black students in terms of their “physical and mental processes” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 136). Thus it is to environmental factors, and particularly race, that we must look to explain their poor academic performance. Indeed, despite all the talk of race being inconsequential to educational outcomes, “it absolutely determine[s] [them]” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 136). While excellence in education is attributable to genetic exceptionalism, the “social status” into which privileged Whites are born confers on them “social power and class 66 domination” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 189), which they exploit to their advantage in all spheres, including that of education. For Du Bois, a Black identity constitutes an artificial construct grounded in and shaped by history. Thus, one might infer that a certain subset of Blacks in the American South arrived at a sense of self-identity as Africans because of their officially sanctioned mistreatment and relegation to the status of a second-class citizen. White terror, racism and harsh socio-economic conditions, along with repressive laws and mob justice, e.g., lynchings that often attracted large White audiences, led these Blacks to envision Africa and lay claim to it as a Black homeland on the basis of their ancestry. For some Black Americans, especially modern-day Afrocentrists, Africa provides a sense of belonging, a feeling of acceptance. For Du Bois and other Black intellectuals, developing a collective Black identity was a prerequisite for achieving unity, self-determination and a sense of dignity. According to Du Bois, it was critical that separate education aim at promoting Africa and all things African. By addressing the question of whether Africans are primitive, Du Bois argued, Black education, whatever its limitations, could serve as a counterweight to White prejudice and ignorance, providing Black children with an alternative worldview capable of challenging the stereotypical views of Africa and Africans held by White America. An African-centred education and experiential accounts of Africa, Du Bois (1968) posited, was crucial to awakening a sense of the superior quality, at least in some respects, of African life: [African] folk have the leisure . . . for thought and courtesy . . . They have time for their children—such as well trained, beautiful children with perfect, unhidden bodies. . . . Come to Africa, and see well-bred and courteous children playing happily and never sniffling or whining. I have read everywhere that Africa means sexual license. . . . (p. 127) [For the 2 months I spent] in West Africa . . . I saw children quite naked and women usually naked to the waist—with bare bosom and limbs. And in those sixty days I saw less of sex] dalliance and appeal than I see daily on Fifth Avenue. . . . The primitive Black man is courteous and dignified. If the platforms of Western cities had swarmed with humanity as I have seen the platforms swarm in Senegal, the police would have a busy time. I did not see 67 one respectable quarrel . . . . African life with its isolation has deeper knowledge of human souls. . . .(p. 128) Africans know fewer folk, but know them infinitely better. Their intertwined communal souls, therefore, brook no poverty nor prostitution—these things are to them un-understandable. . . . It was in Africa that I came more clearly to see the close connection between race and wealth. (p. 129) This quotation underpins one of the moral imperatives of Afrocentricity: that in a world comprising different races, ethnicities, and cultural practices, difference, regardless of the apprehension it may create within the White world, should be respected and myriad cultural practices validated. The sense of humanity implicit in this account, moreover, suggests that Africans at least be allowed to speak for themselves, which is not to imply Du Bois was opposed to White scholars taking on African issues from an antiracist and anticolonial perspective. While Africa’s social conditions were precarious, Du Bois admitted, they could be ameliorated if Africans were only given a fair chance, a notion that is antithetical to White interventionism in Africa aimed at saving benighted peoples from themselves. Promoting all that is good in African societies, Du Bois argued, would serve the dual purpose of providing Whites—and particularly those “dogmatic supporters of race theories and believers in the inferiority of colored folk to White” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 129)—with a non-stereotypical view of the racial ‘other’ and of educating Blacks about their ancestral homeland. While encouraging the promotion of Africa’s rich and diverse cultures, Du Bois cautioned against romanticizing the ‘dark’ continent, thereby obscuring its reality, e.g., presenting it as free from “preventable disease[s] . . . unnecessary hunger” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 129) and/or overemphasizing the “esthetic ability of the Negro race, [which] . . . naturally has been exaggerated” (Du Bois, 1935, p. 334). According to Du Bois (1968), Black education should not aim at settling racial scores, notwithstanding the conviction, current among some Whites, that they are superior to Blacks and that African history is unworthy of study, a perception that allows them to ridicule African knowledge systems. Moreover, whereas Blacks were, contends Du Bois, eager to learn about Whites, the latter were unwilling to respond in kind: 68 [There] is something for Africa and Europe both to learn; and Africa is eager, breathless, to learn—while . . . Europe laughs with loud guffaws. Learn of Africa? Nonsense. . . . Europe proceeds to use Africa as a means and not as an end; as a hired tool and welter of raw materials and not as a land of human beings. (p. 129) The asymmetry in power relations between Whites and Blacks is manifested in the former’s domination of the later extending back centuries. Thus, for example, White domination of the media and education system ensures that knowledge and information promoting Black culture, or educational reform aimed at providing an objective perspective on African history and Black achievements are either censored or framed in a way that advances the interests of the dominant order. For the latter, it is imperative that the dissemination of counterrevolutionary knowledge be minimized lest it threatens to erode White domination of the public education system. White refusal to learn about Africa, I would argue, is a way of mitigating guilt while at the same time perpetuating an educational system that marginalizes and subordinates Black students. Providing these students with an education that would serve their interests would, some defenders of the status quo believe, hasten the “overthrow [of] White folk by [the] sheer weight of [Black] numbers . . .” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 160), a view though farfetched still remains popular among White racists. 3.3. Du Bois, Separate Schools and Education: The History In addressing the issue of separate education, Du Bois (1935) argued that Blacks had no choice in the matter, given that perpetuating White domination depended very much on providing Blacks with an education that was consistent with their position as a marginalized and subordinated people. Especially in the South, no effort was spared to ensure Blacks would be privy to ideas above their station. It was for this reason that efforts on the part of Black parents to enroll their children in White schools were resisted by “White children, White teachers, and White parents [who] despised and resented the dark child, made mock of it . . . literally render[ing] its life a living hell” (p. 330). Separate education, Du Bois contended, was a way for Black parents to circumvent the barriers erected by racist education 69 laws, to educate Black children and to shield them from White racism. Separate schools and education, then as now, it is safe to argue, represented a way to provide Black students with a safe space “where they [felt] wanted, and where they [were] happy and inspired, . . . [as opposed to] thrusting them into hells where they [would be] ridiculed and hated” (p. 331). Though a strong advocate of separate schools and education, Du Bois was of the view that neither was capable of addressing White domination in the broader context. At the same time, he believed that even admitting Black students to White schools with a relatively high level of racial tolerance would do little to boost their academic performance. A results-oriented education system must have at its core equality. The myth that a “mixed” school can provide the kind of learning environment wherein Black students can excel, Du Bois (1935) argued, is wholly without foundation: If the public school of Atlanta . . . were thrown open to all races tomorrow, the education that colored children would get . . . would be worse than pitiable. It will not be education . . . There are many public school systems . . . where Negroes are admitted and tolerated, but they are not educated; they are crucified. There are certain [schools] where Negro students, no matter . . . their ability, desert, or accomplishment, cannot get fair recognition either in the classroom or on the campus, . . . Under such circumstances, there is no room for argument as to whether the Negro needs separate schools or not. The plain fact faces us, that either he will have separate schools or he will not be educated. (p. 329) In Du Bois’ (1935) view, turning Black children into future leaders required Black educational initiatives rather than reliance on a public school system informed by the principle of White supremacy. Black-oriented education would expose students to the contributions made by Africans to world civilization, thereby inspiring them to excel. For example, while fully cognizant of the role Europeans played in advancing the science of astronomy, Du Bois (1968) contended that “vast conception of the solar system to the Africanized Egyptians” (p. 144) should be highlighted in science textbooks rather than being relegated to the status of a mere footnote as was the case in the public education system then, and, to a lesser extent, now. “Great works of Art . . . [such as] The Pyramids, Luxor, the Bronzes of Benin, and the Spears of the Bongo” are treated as mere artifacts, with no 70 consideration given their “spiritual value” to the “soul of the Negro” (p. 147). According to Du Bois, segregated education offered Blacks an in-depth understanding of two worlds, that of Blacks and that of the Whites, resulting in “double envisionment”, by which he meant a consciousness “conditioned by their structurally disadvantaged place in the world and their sense of the understanding White people have of them (p. 173). White world, on the other hand, offered Whites little understanding or appreciation of the Black world. Du Bois viewed the double-consciousness permeating Black America as crucial to the Negro’s struggle against White domination. 3.4. Black Education: The Challenges While lack of access to quality education severely handicapped the development of Black America, Du Bois (1968) argued that the latter was further hampered by the poverty and social degradation that were a hallmark of most Black communities. Encumbered by racism and the legacy of slavery, Blacks would find that the economic autonomy for which they longed would be deferred indefinitely owing to “wage exploitation and crime peonage” (p. 182). Black economic progress would be further impeded by a combination of high unemployment rates, a segregated economy, and a workforce that was “largely untrained and ignorant . . . and sometimes anti-social” (p. 182). According to Du Bois, a key challenge facing Blacks was that racial segregation conferred upon Whites rewards that they refused to share. Thus, for example, in a two-tiered America, Black schools would be chronically under-resourced and underfunded, which translated into “poor equipment . . . [and] poor teaching,” something that would not have been the case but for segregated education. Of critical importance, what the latter meant was that Black “contact with the better-trained part of the nation . . . is lessened and shortened” (pp. 200-201). Another constraint was the underfunding of Black schools—in part the result of the poverty plaguing Black communities—that made it impossible to “plan and organize . . . segregated schools so that they [would] become efficient, well-housed, well-equipped, with 71 the best teachers and the best results for [Black] children; so that the illiteracy and bad manners . . . of young Negroes [could] be quickly and effectively reduced” (p. 201). Despite all these challenges, Du Bois insisted that “most Negroes would prefer a good school with properly paid coloured teachers for educating their children, to forcing . . . [them] into White schools which met them with injustice and humiliation and discouraged their efforts to progress” (p. 201). While recognizing that separate schools and education were under certain circumstances unavoidable, Du Bois advised Black America to reflect critically on the politics-and-personality-oriented propositions, advanced by “a minority of leaders, [bent on] forc[ing] their opinions on [the] majority [with a view] to induc[ing] communit[ies] to establish separate schools, when as a matter of fact, there is no general demand for it; there has been no friction in the schools; and Negro children have been decently treated” (Du Bois, 1935, p. 329). I assume that what Du Bois is alluding to here was the habit among certain Black elites to prescribe idealistic solutions for problems that did not exist, all in the name of ego. He was also concerned that separate schools would be used to romanticize the “Negro race” (Du Bois, 1935, p. 334). Transformative education, he argued, had to be based on an “honest evaluation of human effort and accomplishment, without color-blindness, and without transforming history into a record of dynasties and prodigies” (Du Bois, 1935, p. 334), thus reducing Black education to the constructed narratives of imaginary kings, queens, princes, and princesses who never existed or, if they did, were not of the grand stature their champions claimed. 3.5. Marcus Garvey: The Relationship Between Continental and Diasporic African Black as One People I begin my analysis of Marcus Garvey’s role in promoting the cause of Black liberation and Pan-African unity by citing an old Afrocentric tradition; the paying of homage to ancestors and elders of high standing. Garvey was “born in St. Ann’s Bay, a northern 72 seaport town in Jamaica, on 17 August 1887” (Lewis, 2011, p. 474). He died “in London on 10 June, 1940, just two months short of his 53rd birthday” (Lewis, 2011, p. 474). In the history of Black anticolonial struggle and discourse, Garvey remains an iconic leader; a font of inspiration, a symbol of Black unity, resistance and dignity. In assessing. Garvey’s contributions, Asante (1998) presents him as the godfather of Afrocentricity, a figure of towering strength and accomplishment who represents the essence of Black resistance as well as a leader who provided oppressed Africans with “the most perfect [and] consistent . . . ideology of [Black] liberation in the first half of the 20th century” (Asante, 1998, p. 16). A visionary, Garvey “saw clearly the relationship [between] Africans on the continent and [those] in the Diaspora as [one of] variations of one people . . . (Asante, 1998, p. 18). Understanding the challenges confronting Black freedom, “Garvey sought to produce a new Black man, mold him . . . and develop him. . . . [He sought to create a] “new people, organized in character . . . and [committed to] building nations for the future. His vision foreshadowed the Afrocentric road to self-respect and dignity” (Asante, 1998, p. 18). He was, according to Asante, a “genius . . . [at] a moment of crisis” (Asante, 1998, p. 19). For his critics, Marcus Garvey’s name, is synonymous with controversy; for his supporters, he remains a larger-than-life Black leader, an anticolonial figure whose ideas fostered Trans-Atlantic unity and galvanized Black resistance movements across the globe against colonial domination. He would also inspire some of Africa’s leading anticolonial leaders, e.g., “Kwame Nkrumah [Ghana’s first prime minister and president], Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, among others” (Lewis, 2011, p. 481). Garvey’s political stance on colonial oppression crystallized during the course of his travels in South America, England, the US, and other countries (Lewis, (2011). The insights into the phenomenon of oppression gained during this period would later coalesce into a “global perspective on the future of Africa and people of African descent, [one that he would draw on] to build an organization that embodied the aspirations of millions of Africans for self-determination, justice and freedom” (Lewis, 2011, p. 474). In “A Talk with Afro-West Indians,” Garvey reflects on the status of the Black man: 73 For the last ten years I have given my time to the study of the condition of the Negro, here, there, and everywhere, and I have come to realise that he is still the object of degradation and pity the world over, in the sense that he has no status socially, nationally, or commercially. (as cited in Lewis, 2011, pp. 474-475) In Costa Rica, where he worked as a “timekeeper on a banana plantation” (Edwards, 1967, p. 7), Garvey was dismayed at the appalling conditions under which Black labourers toiled, and particularly the contract workers from Jamaica (Lewis, 2011). He soon left this job to begin “lecturing [Black] workers [to be proud of] their race and to improve their conditions” (Edwards, 1967, p. 7). On a visit to England in 1912, Garvey again witnessed racism and human exploitation on an appalling scale. Britain’s efforts in 1914 to commission Black West Indians as officers in the British army marked the beginning of his political activism. Garvey’s interest in Africa lay in its “colonial plunder and exploitation” (as cited in Edwards, 1967, p. 8) and the failure of its many and disparate peoples to achieve their respective goals, despite their undoubted ingenuity and capabilities. Asks Garvey: Where is the Black man’s government? Where is his king and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, and his ambassadors, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs? . . . I s[ee] before me . . . a new world of Black men, not peons, serfs, dogs, and slaves, but a nation of sturdy men making their impress upon civilization and causing a new light to dawn upon the human race. (p. 9) While Garvey’s view of Africa sometimes bordered on the romantic and idealistic, for Blacks in the diaspora, it represented a lofty vision inspiring them to unite and mobilize in search of a better future. For those in both Africa and the diaspora, it marked the beginning of an awakening to the possibility of liberation. In establishing the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in “over 40 countries . . . in Africa, the Caribbean, [and] Latin America, [as well as in] Australia and the US, . . . [including] the apartheid southern states” (Lewis, 2011, p. 479), Garvey demonstrated an undying commitment to Black liberation and unity. 74 While passionately committed to the African cause, Garvey often failed to take into account the inherent complexity of a vast continent filled with disparate races, tribes, classes, cultures and religions of whom some—and this is especially true of an indigenous bourgeoisie—who preferred the status quo and were prepared to resist any political program that would jeopardize their relationship with their colonial masters and the benefits accruing from it. Moreover, by appointing himself president of UNIA, Garvey left himself open to charges of despotism. During the UNIA’s formative years, Garvey proved himself to be among the very few effective leaders in Black America; the rest he described as “opportunists who were living off their so-called leadership while the poor people were groping in the dark” (Garvey as cited in Edwards, 1967, p. 11). Of crucial importance, Garvey arrived in the US at a time when Black hopes were at their nadir; it was “a period when White-sheeted knights of the tragicomic Ku Klux Klan [KKK] reigned supreme in the Southern States, burning and lynching Negroes; when, to the White American, the Negro was still a fraction of a human being. . . .” (Edwards, 1967, p. 11). At the first UNIA convention held at Madison Square Gardens in 1920, which drew Black delegates from across the diaspora, Garvey spoke of the Black plight. Addressing the conference, he said: We are the descendants of a suffering people; we are the descendants of a people determined to suffer no longer. . . .We shall organize the 400,000,000 Negroes of the world into a vast organi[z]ation to plant the banner of freedom on the great continent of Africa . . . If Europe is for the Europeans, then Africa is for the Black peoples of the world. (as cited in Edwards, 1967, p. 15) A populist leader, Garvey sought to rally the mass of Black people by conjuring up exotic African titles: “Knight of the Nile, Earl of the Congo, Viscount of Niger [and] Baron Zambe[z]i;” pompous titles at odds with the spirit of anti-colonialism. He was “elected [the] Provisional President of Africa and President General and Administrator of the UNIA—with the official title, ‘His Highness the Potentate’” (Edwards, 1967, p. 15). In a communiqué directed at Black America, the UNIA delineated its opposition to Black oppression and called 75 for “equality, complete racial self-determination and a free Africa, under a Negro Government” (p. 15). Though Garvey’s critics dismissed the Madison Square Gardens convention as yet another exercise in wishful thinking, it did provide an impetus for one anticolonial African leader, by the name of Kwame Nkrumah, who envisioned liberating Africa through the political mobilization of the oppressed. Nkrumah, who was to succeed brilliantly in his native Ghana as well as on the world stage, was inspired by Garvey’s ‘Africa for Africans’ mantra, which would later help to spark liberation movements in the Congo, South West Africa (present-day Namibia), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Nkrumah summed up his views on Garvey thus: I read Hegel, Karl Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mazzini. The writings of these men did much to influence me in my revolutionary ideas and activities, and Karl Marx and Lenin in particularly impressed me as I felt sure that their philosophy was capable of solving these problems. But I think that of all the literature I studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. (as cited in Edwards, 1967, p. 39) In a later tribute to his mentor, Nkrumah, speaking at an All-African Peoples Conference held in Accra, Ghana in 1958, the year following Ghanaian independence, remarked: “Long before many of us were even conscious of our own degradation, Marcus Garvey fought for African national and racial equality” (Jacques-Garvey as cited in Lewis, 2011, p. 481). An astute leader and “propagandist” (Fein, 1964, p. 448), Garvey understood the importance of the media in the fight for social justice. To disseminate his views more effectively, Garvey founded The Negro World, which would become his bully pulpit for reviling colonialism and preaching the gospel of respect for Black culture and aspirations. The Negro World listed no less than eight UNIA objectives: (i) “to champion a Negro nationhood by [the] redemption of Africa;” (ii) To make the Negro race conscious;” (iii) “To breathe ideas of manhood and womanhood into every Negro; “ (iv) To advocate racial self- 76 determination;” (v) To make the Negro world-conscious;” (vi) To point to all the news that will be interesting and instructive to the Negro;” (vii) To instill racial self-help;” (viii) “To inspire racial self-love and respect” (Fein, 1964, p. 448). In French Dahomey, present-day Benin, the paper was banned and violators punished. In the editorial section, Garvey surveyed “the past glories of the Negro race” (Edwards, 1967, p. 13), a tactic, the Black Panther and Afrocentric Movements, in addition to popular culture, e.g., James Brown’s Say it Loud, I am Black and I am proud, would, I argue, reprise in the 1960s. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the US, Garvey’s vision of reclaiming what was rightly Black and human inspired leaders such as Marcus X, Martin Luther King and hundreds of their followers, many of “whose parents were [or had been] themselves active . . . Garvey[ites]” (Lewis, 2011, p. 481). One especially prominent adherent of Garvey’s Pan- African Movement was Malcolm Nurse (George Padmore), who would later become one of Nkrumah’s closest advisors. A clever tactician, Garvey used symbolism to promote Pan-African unity. Thus, for example, though his Black Star Shipping Line (BSSL), which he established in 1919 and which was owned exclusively by Blacks (Carter, 2002), would never dispatch a single vessel to the Negro homeland, the mere promise of “carry[ing] passengers and freight between America, Africa and the West Indies” (Carter, 2000, p. 3) held for Garveyites7 great symbolic value. BSSL also signified Garvey’s ingenuity in adopting a “capitalistic approach” (Carter, 2002, p. 1) to fostering Black economic emancipation. It also demonstrated that, even in racist America, Black leaders could tap into African mass movements for financial capital with which to promote Black “economic interests” (Carter, 2002, p. 2). Even though BSSL was poorly managed and would cease to exist in 1922, it represents “the first large scale business venture financed and managed by [people of African descent [and] . . . still remains one of the largest Africa-American owned companies in US history” (Carter, 2002, p. 3), 7 Garveyites are adherents of Garveyism, “a political ideology and socioeconomic philosophy associated with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its founder, Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887–1940). Considered to be a critical post–World War I response to the development of other movements centered upon the self-determination of people of African descent (the New Negro movement, the African Black Brotherhood, Black internationalism, Pan-Africanism, the Harlem Renaissance, trade unionism, Communism, socialism)” (Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, 2008). 77 which is in and of itself a significant feat considering the political and economic climate of the time. BSSL would later be absorbed by Ghana’s national shipping line following that country’s independence in 1957, and the Black Star incorporated into the Ghanaian national flag. Despite BSSL’s demise, Garvey did not abandon his dream to make Africa the homeland of all people of African descent. In 1920 and again in 1924, he dispatched a delegation to Liberia to sound out the country’s leadership regarding a plan to resettle Africans of the Diaspora there. Despite the Liberian President’s promise to Garvey “that the government would be glad to have his Association occupy certain settlements in Liberia” (Edwards, 1967, p. 23), the plan had to be scuttled in 1925 owing to Garvey’s criticism of the Firestone Rubber Company, a major investor in the country. The failure of the resettlement plan evinced the extensive power Western nations and their corporate allies could exercise over African nations and called into question Garvey’s supposition that Africa had the wherewithal to liberate itself and become a powerhouse in world affairs. For Garvey, true freedom and emancipation could be won only through “self-achievement and progress, . . . [Thus] the Negro will have to build his own government, industry, art, science, literature and culture, before the world will stop to consider him. Until then, [Africans will remain] . . . wards of the superior race and civilization, and the outcasts of a standard social system” (Jacques-Garvey as cited in Lewis, 2011, p. 480). Garvey’s worst fears of what Africa and Africans would become if they failed to unite and harness the continent’s vast resources have been realized today, notwithstanding a few isolated success stories. After years of independence, African countries continue to struggle under the aegis of neocolonial institutions, e.g., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and their stringent conditionalities attached to loans. The continent’s development is encumbered by neoliberal prescriptions that require cuts to social programs and education among much else. To survive, African countries have been compelled to incorporate foreign prescriptions into domestic policies. 78 3.6. Kwame Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-African concept pertaining to restoring the humanity and innate capabilities of Africans, including those in the diaspora, had a major influence on Afrocentric thought. This is not to say that Afrocentricity was the brainchild of Nkrumah; it was not. Rather, the point to be made here is that even though the theory of Afrocentricity emerged after Nkrumah’s death in 1972, its core imperative, i.e., the building of an African intellectual autonomy capable of speaking to Black oppression and the typecasting of Africans, was one that was intrinsic to his thought. Like present-day Afrocentric scholars, Nkrumah believed that Africans’ servile relationship to Europe sustained their oppression and underwrote the exploitation of the continent’s resources. Like Du Bois, Nkrumah believed that an African identity was in no way predicated on place of birth. From Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist perspective, an African, included all Blacks in the diaspora who could trace their origins to Africa (Nkrumah, 1962). By extending the concept of Pan-African identity thus, Nkrumah fostered an assurance among Blacks across the globe that Africa was their ancestral Homeland and that the African struggle was a struggle of Blacks “everywhere” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xvii). To simplify Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist logic, Blacks in the US were Africans and their struggle a continuum of the African struggle against colonial oppression. It was the latter that would come to dominate Nkrumah’s thought while a student in the US in the early 1940s: I was revolted by the ruthless colonial exploitation and political oppression of the people of Africa [such] that I knew no peace. The matter exercised my mind to such a degree that I decided to put down my thoughts in writing and to dilate on the results of some of my research concerning the subject of colonialism and imperialism. (Nkrumah, 1962, p. ix) One of Nkrumah’s most enduring legacies was his uncompromising faith in the ability and determination of Africans to confront colonial oppression, in whatever guise, steadfastly and courageously, to raise Black consciousness, and to muster sufficient will to dislodge Africa from the colonial orbit. As a student and a political activist, he well 79 understood the magnitude of the task facing Africans, an understanding that would inform his political work. Nkrumah rejected the proposition that because colonialism had laid down the foundation for a modern economy, established law and order and educated the colonized, it was therefore benign. For Nkrumah, imperialism and colonialism were predicated on the principle of divide and rule, of pitting Africans against one another, thus precluding any possibility of them uniting in opposition to White supremacy. Colonial ideologies and aims, Nkrumah argued, were at variance with Africa’s interests. Embedded in the colonial ideology lies the imperative to deny Africans’ their dignity and crush any hope of liberation or national development. Thus, for Nkrumah, the argument, that colonialism was somewhat benevolent appeared farfetched (Nkrumah, 1962). According to Nkrumah, colonialism perpetuates itself in many disparate ways: by sowing discontent among rival ethnic groups, racial or religious groups; by co-opting those among the indigenous populations who can bring influence to bear on the masses, e.g., by offering them employment in the colonial administration or providing them economic incentives in return for their co-operation; by holding forth the promise of a better future to be realized by adopting European culture, technology and administrative methods. The promise of a brighter tomorrow, Nkrumah asserts, has its origin in White paternalism and its corollary: the incurable habit of infantilizing Africans, of relegating them to the status of children to be placated with promises that would never be honored for lack of political will and moral fortitude on the part of the colonial powers. For Nkrumah, Africa’s problems would never be solved by colonial exploitation and domination; only Africans could take on such a task (Nkrumah, 1962). He also rejected categorically the Eurocentric view of colonialism as a missionary undertaking aimed at uplifting the benighted native, recognizing it as the subterfuge it was. According to Nkrumah, colonialism is synonymous with “deception, hypocrisy, oppression and exploitation” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xvi). It marginalized and subordinated Africans, thus depriving them of true liberty and independence while concealing its real aims 80 under the cover of empty phrases, such as “colonial charter,” “trusteeship,” “partnership,” guardianship” . . . “constitutional reforms” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xvi), which, while meaning little to the masses of subjugated Blacks, helped preserve the illusion that colonialism represented a benign force acting in the world. Dispelling that illusion would require raising the political consciousness of Africans to the level where the bankruptcy and vacuity of the colonial system would at last be revealed, a sine qua non for mobilizing resistance. To draw attention to the nefarious goals of colonialism, Nkrumah cited three particularly damning sentences from a speech by Albert Sarraut, France’s colonial secretary, delivered at the Ecole Coloniale in 1923: “What is the use of painting the truth? . . . Colonialism was not an act of civilization; [it] was not a desire to civilize. It was an act of force motivated by interests” (Sarraut as cited in Nkrumah, 1962, p. 3). These words reflect precisely the Afrocentrist view of European education. What I glean from Sarraut’s statement is that colonialism aims not at uplifting Africans but exploiting them for material gain. And what better way to serve this purpose than by ‘miseducating’ them so they might be more easily manipulated. What passed for education in a colonial context aimed at reproducing European dominance, not at producing intellectuals and leaders on a par with those of Europe. According to Nkrumah, colonial education fell short of providing Africans with the savoir faire required to win “political and economic independence” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. 2). Nkrumah was not sparing in his criticism of African educated elites who echoed calls by colonial authorities for a gradual transition to self-government, along with the maintenance of strong ties to the mother country in perpetuity—in other words, neocolonialism. Here was a recipe for national development that combined what for Nkrumah were antithetical concepts: democracy and colonialism. While the former promoted freedom, independence, human dignity, and the building of institutions that fostered equality, the latter was predicated on a “policy by which the ‘Mother Country,’ . . . binds her colonies to herself by political ties with the primary objective of promoting her own economic advantage. Such a system [Nkrumah argued] depends on the opportunities offered by the natural resources of the colonies and uses for them suggested by the dominant economic objectives of the colonial power” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. 2). 81 Nkrumah was also of the view that Africans needed no tutelage from the colonial powers on how to govern themselves, given that prior to colonialism they had succeeded reasonably well in this respect. “Wasn’t the African now considered ‘unprepared’ to govern himself . . . by himself before the advent of Europeans [,] [he asked]?” Indeed, in his view, the “African way of living even today is more democratic than the much vaunted ‘democratic’ manner of life and government of the ‘West’” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. 3), a view wholeheartedly endorsed by Afrocentrists. European prescriptions for African governance, he asserted, were hypocritical; while offering the promise of respecting the political right of Africans to chart their own destiny, at least in principle, they did not aim at abrogating “the legislative power [vested] . . . [in] the [British] Parliament . . . [with a view to ceding colonies their independence] . . . Such an administrative system [is] not only the embodiment of colonial chaos and political confusion, [it] . . . nullif[ies] the idea[l]s of true democracy” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. 25). According to Nkrumah, the solution to colonial domination lay in “political independence” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xv) achieved through African unity. The latter, Nkrumah asserted, was a precondition for mobilizing the continent’s collective strength, which would compel the colonial centre to grant independence. It was only through unity combined with action that Africa would be positioned to (re)gain her independence from the “minute minorities of alien stock” (Nkrumah, 1958, p. 47). This unity must, he warned, shun ethnic and other narrow interests and coalesce around a “national entity” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. 33). Above all else, unity, according to Nkrumah, required an “eager and earnest collaboration [among Africans]” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xvi). Africa’s independence can only be achieved by Africans at a place and time of their own choosing, Nkrumah argued (Nkrumah, 1962; 1968). No White nation, he opined, could free Africa, a thesis that later came to inform, I would argue, liberation struggles in Algeria, Rhodesia, South West Africa, and South Africa as well as those of Blacks in the United States. Writes Nkrumah: The idea that Britain, France or any other colonial power is holding colonies under ‘trusteeship’ until, in their opinion, the colonies become ‘capable’ of self-government is erroneous and misconceived. . . . To imagine that these colonial powers will hand freedom and independence to their colonies on a 82 silver platter without compulsion is the height of folly. (Nkrumah, 1962, pp. xvi-xvii) According to Nkrumah, Black freedom cannot be realized through the auspices or good graces of the colonial powers; no number of conferences or round-table discussions aimed at charting the destiny of colonial peoples could have any purchase in this regard. Thus, he cautioned against accepting “gifts” “charity,” [and] “grants” (Nkrumah, 1962, p. xvii) bestowed upon Africans as tokens of White benevolence. Despite grave doubts concerning the merits of some African leaders, Nkrumah argued that Africa’s fate lay with its anticolonial intellectuals and leadership. The continent’s long-term interests could be advanced, he believed, only by elected public officials who understood the hypocritical and oppressive ethos of colonialism and were committed, albeit at a cost, to fighting it. To wage this battle, he claimed, would require a strong sense of agency on the part of Africans. Nkrumah also believed that Africa’s transformation could be achieved through an intellectual revolution, aimed at, among other things, formulating an educational model informed by a pride in Africa, in its disparate peoples and in their contributions to world civilization. Once independence had been won, the challenges confronting the newly-independent African nations would, he theorized, undermine, their independence unless anticolonial intellectuals and leaders formed a bulwark against neocolonialism, a variant of colonialism, using soft power and operating under the aegis of corrupt indigenous leaders. Only African intellectuals and leaders, Nkrumah argued, were capable of uniting the continent in opposition to the colonial metropolis bent upon exploiting the continent’s natural resources and low-wage labour. Abandoning their anticolonial position, Nkrumah believed, would amount to “welcom[ing] with open arms the very [enemy] which [Africans have] sought to destroy at [a] cost of terrible suffering” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 103). Nkrumah presentiment, of what might befall Africa if she failed to draw upon her indigenous strengths and exercise ownership of her resources has sadly been vindicated; the continent remains divided, destitute and entirely dependent on Europe and China for investment. 83 3.7. Afrocentric Theory: The Civil Rights and Post-Civil Rights Period Afrocentricity, which is based on Afrocentric Theory (AT) draws its inspiration from the struggle against Black oppression, the latter a phenomenon that, while global in scope, was most deeply entrenched in the US. AT rose to prominence in the US at the time of the Civil Rights and Black Panther movements, i.e., during the 1960s. The sources of its inspiration were threefold: the African independence movement, which emerged following World War II; the decolonization of Africa and Asia beginning in the late 1940s with the withdrawal of Britain from the Indian subcontinent; and the writings of some of Africa's most prominent anti-colonial leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and Julius Nyerere, all of whom rejected European “myths of African inferiority” (Lynn, 2004, pp. 157-158) and called for Black unity and liberation across the Atlantic. Asante (2003) defines Afrocentricity as: A mode of thought and action in which the centrality of African interests, values, and perspectives predominate. . . . [It] is the centerpiece of [African] regeneration. It challenges and takes to task the perpetuation of White racial supremacist ideas in the imagination of the African world. . . . It has become revolutionary, [a]ttacking the falsification of truth and attitudes of self-hatred that have oppressed a great many [Africans]. Thus, Afrocentricity is purposeful, giving a true sense of identity [to Africans] based upon the facts of [their] history and experience. Afrocentricity is . . . associated with the discovery . . . of African agency within the context of history and culture. (pp. 2-3). According to Asante (1998), Afrocentricity challenges and subverts dominant formulations, suppositions and typecasts that refute and/or falsify “African classical thought [and] . . . classical past . . . essentially [leaving Africans] with a discontinuous history and uncertain future” (Asante, 1998, p. 11). Afrocentricity seeks to salvage and promote African history and contributions to humankind by “reestablish[ing] the centrality of the ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) civilization and the Nile Valley cultural complex as points of reference for an African perspective in much the same way that Greece and Rome serve as reference points for the European world” (Asante, 1998, p. 11). Afrocentricity is a model of thought 84 that, though routinely accused by its many critics of being blinkered, welcomes diversity of thought. According to Mazama (2001), Afrocentricity is a theory of humanity in all of its aspects and conditions. It is therefore a theory of the oppressed, delineating the “disturbing conditions of African people [and prescribing a] remedy” (Mazama, 2001, p. 387). And it is also a theory of resistance that contests the validity of Eurocentric histories as well as the privileging of those histories in public education. As a pluralist theory, it rejects dominant narratives that celebrate Whites as the principal contributors to civilization, while “relegate[ing] [African knowledge systems] to . . . the margins” (Mazama, 2001, p. 387). One of the central tenets of Afrocentricity, Mazama argues, is that in the context of public education and schooling, Africans students are subordinated to Whites, by means of either compulsion or socialization. Addressing this inequity, Mazama argues, requires critiquing European models of thought and substituting in their place Afrocentric knowledge, which alone is capable of meeting the needs and advancing the interests of these students. According Mazama (2001), Africans can achieve their potential by interrogating what passes for universal knowledge and internalizing ways of thinking that reflect an African cultural ethos: How many of us have really paused to seriously examine and challenge such ideas as development, planning, progress, the need for democracy, and the nation-state as the best form of political and social organization, to name only a few? Our failure to recognize the roots of such ideas in the European cultural ethos has led us, willingly or unwillingly, to agree to [our] footnote status in the White man’s book. . . . We do not exist on our own terms but on borrowed, European ones. We are dislocated, and having lost sight of ourselves in the midst of European decadence and madness . . . Our liberation . . . rests upon our ability to systematically displace European ways of thinking, being, feeling, being, . . . and replac[ing] them with ways that are germane to our African cultural experience. (pp. 387-388) Afrocentric theorists believe that Black liberation across the globe is possible only if those of African descent can break free of the neo-colonial and racist ideas that demean them and naturalize their oppression and begin to affirm their freedom and autonomy. They also 85 held that achieving Black freedom could be accelerated by building a Pan-African alliance aimed at resisting racial oppression, promoting Black freedom, and showcasing Africa’s contributions to civilization (Austin, 2006; Diop, 1974; Ginwright, 2004; Keto, 2001)—something the continent and its people had been denied by the architects of colonial education and knowledge systems. As an oppositional paradigm, AT rejects European racist perceptions of Black people; it also rejects White supremacy and the Eurocentric scholarship underwriting it. According to Asante, Black freedom is attainable if Blacks can only free themselves from an “intellectual plantation” that valorizes European thought as universal (Asante, 2007, p. 7). According to Asante (2007), intellectual autonomy is possible only if Africans eschew Eurocentric constructs in favour of African-oriented paradigms that offer them the sense of agency and empowerment requisite for assuming control over their destiny. The dominance of Eurocentric values in education and other areas, Asante and other Afrocentrists argue, stems from the resilience and adaptability of Eurocentric knowledge systems and their power to instill in the minds of people of African descent the belief that their future and that of Africa is contingent upon internalizing White values and worldviews (Asante, 2007; Keto, 2001). For its proponents, AT represents a milestone in the intellectual growth of Black people and in their opposition to dominant epistemologies that for the longest time have defined them as subjects to be worked upon and continue to do so today with little resistance. AT creates a space, proponents argue, wherein African knowledge systems are not only respected and legitimized and their producers acknowledged, but also perceived to possess analytical frameworks capable of explicating African history and culture from the standpoint of people of African descent—analytical frameworks on a par with their dominant counterparts in terms of theoretical value. Underlying AT is the view that Africans everywhere can and must take ownership of their destiny rather than allow themselves to become a footnote to European history (Asante, 2003; Keto, 2001). In sum, AT promotes a thought process that enables people of African descent to see for themselves, hear for themselves, think for themselves, and make decisions for themselves without second-guessing themselves or turning to colonial orthodoxies (Asante, 1993; Keto, 2001). 86 As a prerequisite for winning their freedom, Africans, Asante contends, must reject ideas that work to reproduce European domination, e.g., the proposition, taken from the playbook of biological determinism and colonial anthropology, and aimed at sowing divisions among the colonized, that the lighter the skin tone, the higher the position on the evolutionary ladder. Afrocentricity, Asante contends, equips Africans with the critical faculties to penetrate the veil of ideologies and practices that serve to perpetuate White domination. One particularly insidious practice indulged in by American slave owners involved bestowing Christian names upon Black slaves, thus undermining their African identity. Notes Asante (2003): Defined collectively by Whites as “Negroes” and identified individually by White names, we are bodies without spirit [and] people without dignity . . . How we perceive ourselves influences how others perceive us. . . . A Muslim takes an Arabic name, a Christian takes a Christian name; [Africans] take African names . . . The ideology of liberation must find its existence in ourselves; it cannot be external to us, and it cannot be imposed by those other than ourselves; it must be derived from our particular historical and cultural experience. (p. 41) According to Asante (2003), Afrocentricity provides Africans with the critical faculties to “uncover all falsehoods, expose fake issues, [and] demonstrate the overpowering effect of a committed will [to] chang[e] behaviors” (p. 111). Changing behaviours, however, requires first regaining a sense of the legitimacy of African culture and of an African worldview predicated upon it. Writes Asante (1998): If we have lost anything [as Africans], it is our cultural centeredness; that is, we have been moved off our own platforms. This means that we cannot truly be ourselves or know our potential since we exist in a borrowed space. . . . Our existential relationship to be the culture that we have borrowed defines what and who we are at a given moment. By regaining our own cultural spaces, and believing that our ways of viewing the universe are just as valid as any, we will achieve the kind of transformation that we need to participate fully in a multicultural society. . . . Without this kind of centeredness, we bring nothing to the multicultural table, but a darker version of Whiteness. (p. 8) 87 Afrocentricity, according to Asante, functions as an earthwork, behind which African knowledge production can proceed relatively unimpeded by European knowledge systems. It denies Eurocentrists the freedom to define their “European line [of thinking] as “universal [thus further] hinder[ing the] cultural understanding [of Africans] and demean[ing their] humanity” (Asante, 1998, p. 11). Abarry posits that AT is a philosophical proposition based on the assumption that “anything meaningful and authentic [with respect to] peoples of African descent must begin and proceed with Africa as the center, not [the] periphery” (as cited in Schiele, 1994, p. 152). An African-centred theory gives Africans due credit as repositories of African knowledge, a view shared by Bekerie. According to the latter, Afrocentricity interjects into modern-day scholarship a model of thought that examines “African cultures and history from [African] centres and locations . . . [with a view to] validat[ing], regenerat[ing] creat[ing], and perpetuat[ing] African life and living—whole and unhindered, [with an] . . . African . . . outlook” (Bekerie, 1994, p. 131). Bekerie defines Afrocentricity as a body of philosophical thought like no other. Sometimes described as a theory of confrontation, Afrocentricity challenges ignorance, particularly among dominant scholars, essayists, and pundits whose understanding of African history is informed by colonial anthropology and racist constructs (Bekerie, 1994). 3.8. Afrocentric Theory: The Criticisms AT is not without its critics whose positions range from the antagonistic (Cobb, 1997; Dick, 1995) to the moderate (Gates, 1991) to the constructive (Walcott, 1997; Collins, 2006), depending on their respective views on African identity and history and their respective worldviews. These contestations foreground the notion that the African identity is not seamless or monolithic as rightwing Afrocentric scholars argue; rather, it is variable and thus determined by factors beyond skin colour or affiliation, real or imagined, with the African Homeland. 88 Prominent among these critics is Myers, who in “Changing Attitudes about Race” asserts: Afrocentrism defies a single definition. Like pornography or obscenity, we know it when we see it. Sometimes I wish that Afrocentrism were a four-letter word and that we could just dispense with it as such. Afrocentrism, in my view is all three—fake, primitive, and anti-intellectual. I believe for scholars to get not just upset at Afrocentrism, but angry. Scholars will have to take on their fellow academicians—not just in academic journals and in their publications, but on their own campuses and on the campuses where Afrocentrists have their strongholds. We need to recognize that the marketplace of ideas requires not only debate, but debaters. We need to get busy. (Myers as cited in Bekerie, 1994, p. 140) According to Verharen (2003), the brand of Afrocentricity espoused by Asante and like-minded Afrocentric scholars is premised on two fundamental tenets: “true self-knowledge must be grounded in one’s own historical context; and self-knowledge properly pursued yields personal agency moving toward a global community that preserves cultural differences” (pp. 73-74). Verharen argues that critics of Afrocentricity very often confuse the Afrocentric “movement with Afrocentrism” (p. 74): [While] some proponents of Afrocentrism deserve criticism for their undocumented and contentious claims . . . Afrocentricity must be singled out as a unique version of Afrocentrism with a distinctive methodology . . . In its most neutral guise, [Afrocentricity] is simply a research methodology. (p. 74) Verharen (2003) identifies three variants of Afrocentrism, which critics, he contends, often conflate, thereby failing to recognize Asante’s brand for what it really is: a philosophical body of thought as well as a methodological approach to studying people of African descent: [The first variant of Afrocentrism] sympathize[s] with Africans on the African continent or in the diaspora. Proponents of this form of Afrocentrism see the world through Africana eyes and reinterpret world history by filtering it through the viewpoint of Africana experience. . . . The second kind of Afrocentrism expresses a philosophy of vindicationism that challenges the European tradition of denying the humanity of Africans. A popular variants of vindicationism called the “Nile Valley Afrocentrism” claims that the ancient 89 Egyptians were Black and that their traditions formed the basis of European civilization. . . . A third kind of Afrocentrism goes beyond vindicationism to a philosophy (perhaps an ideology) of Black supremacy. Citing environmental, cultural, or genetic reasons for Africana superiority, proponents of this form of Afrocentrism argue that not only were Africans the first civilized peoples but they have also proven themselves to be far more civilized than barbaric Europeans could ever hope to be. (pp. 74-75) Verharen simplifies Afrocentricity with a view to reducing the confusion that has so confounded critics. The “Afro” in ‘Afrocentricity’ [Verharen points out] reflects a commitment to the idea that all humans are Africans in origin, the ‘centricity’ a commitment to the idea that people must center themselves in their own cultural experience” (Verharen, 2003, p. 79). According to Verharen, Afrocentricity is by no means exclusionary; indeed, it welcomes non-Blacks to imbibe the African “way of cultural self-knowledge” (Verharen, 2003, p. 75). According to Verharen (2003), far from promoting racial superiority, Afrocentricity is premised on respect for all races, ethnicities, cultures and ways of knowing. What Afrocentricity contests is the passing off of Eurocentric knowledge as universal to the detriment of alternative knowledge systems. According to its principal luminaries, Afrocentricity embodies inclusivity, tolerance and harmony: While all of Afrocentricity’s founders support close study of Africa’s tradition, none of them deny the importance of European cultures—for Whites and Blacks and other humans. In fact, most of them were strongly influenced by their exposure to European traditions in Europe itself. Du Bois’s ideas about global unity through cultural complementarity were current at the University of Berlin, where he was a student during the 1890s. Locke’s cosmopolitanism was nourished in the company of fellow Rhodes scholars from around the world at Oxford in the early 1900s. Though he was born and raised in the Caribbean, Fanon’s French education familiarized him with philosophers from Hegel to Sartre. While Diop was born and raised in West Africa, his explicit references to European classicists and Egyptologists who believed in the African origins of European civilization reflects his many years at the Sorbonne. (p. 78) According to Verharen (2003), “no theory covers all possible experiences for all times and places” (p. 85), a view shared by Mazama (2001). Mazama states: “[t]he 90 Afrocentric Idea . . . means viewing the European voice as just one among many and not necessarily the wisest one” (p. 388). To underscore Afrocentricity’s inclusivity, Verharen (2003) cites the “Out of Africa” hypothesis that holds that regardless of race, there is more that unites than divides us. This hypothesis, Afrocentrists argue, entreats us to move beyond the artificial construct of race and find ways to live together in harmony, notwithstanding our differences. Asserts Verharen: [Afrocentricity] offers a philosophy that brings all people together. Describing humanity’s African origins as an accident of geography, [Afrocentricity] does not privilege Africans over any other group of people. Rather, [it] suggests that we maintain our individual cultural differences yet use our common origins as a foundation for a new global civilization that can stand against [oppression]. In this new world community, [Afrocentricity] can enhance cross-cultural intimacy to unite the world. (p. 78) From an Afrocentric perspective, peaceful coexistence is possible provided the dominant order accepts and respects African-based knowledge systems, history, cultures, and practices that Africans deem essential to their survival (Verharen, 2003). Cobb (1997) dismisses Afrocentric scholarship as “cut-and-paste soundbites of . . . a hyperblack mosaic of ideas, rites, and pratices” (p. 123) and AT as “chauvinist demagoguery” (p. 123). He has this to say about Asante: Asante’s Afrocentricity (1980) [emphasis in original] became the text that reincarnated the movement. Though Asante jacked his predecessors for their ideas and his book is a mosaic of concepts espoused by other thinkers, it pushed Asante and the ill-defined “ism” into the forefront of the intellectual warfare of the 80s. (p. 128) Cobb’s criticism of Afrocentricity is personal. He disregards a normative injunction that applies to all critical scholarship: focus on ideas and steer clear of ad hominem attacks. His indictment of Afrocentricity denies his audience the opportunity to form their own views. His critique of AT, moreover, lends credence to the claim made by proponents that White supremacists and their Black allies find its propositions pertaining to Black intellectual emancipation to be disconcerting, and for this reason, they seek to discredit it, along with its 91 principal supporters. In a critique of Collins’ Black Power and Hip Hop: Racism Nationalism and Feminism (2006), Asante characterizes the author’s understanding of Afrocentric thought as pedestrian and the author herself as a “vulgar careerist whose plan is to distance [herself] from African agency” (Asante, 2007 p. 18). According to Dick (1995), AT promotes epistemic violence (Dick, 1995). He sees the theory as a “reactive” project aimed at subverting “Eurocentric values” and “hegemony” and Afrocentrists as a “coterie of Black scholars driven by a single goal: to discredit Eurocentric thought with a view to promoting the “self-affirmation . . . [of an] oppressed and marginalized peoples” (Dick, 1995, p. 196). Offering no supporting evidence of any substantive kind, he dismisses Afrocentrists as implacable revisionists keen to Africanize Black history by marshaling evidence purporting to show that, for example, ancient Egypt, not Greece, was the font of Western civilization. Afrocentricity has also been criticized for denigrating Black gay men (Austin, 2006; Cobb, 1997). Afrocentric psychologist Wade Noble, for instance, describes homosexuality as a “self-destructive disorder” (Austin, 2006, p. 159), a label that works to normalize violence directed against this already vulnerable minority. The danger here is that such views could be exploited by AT proponents to justify policing every moral space in the Black community and excluding those whose actions and practices they consider to be abnormal and unacceptable. In a Newsweek article titled “Beware of the New Pharaoh”, Gates (1991) dismisses Afrocentricity as little more than polemics while questioning its methodological rigor. He goes on to describe the theory as an ideology that internalizes conformity and fosters a contempt for alternative theoretical frameworks, particularly those viewed as mainstream and or in opposition to African-centred constructs and/or narratives. According to Gates, the aim of African-American Studies should be to inquire into the complexities of being of African descent, rather than promoting an ethnic fundamentalism that eschews critical inquiry. Argues Gates: We need to explore the hyphen in African-American on both sides of the Atlantic. We must chart the porous relations between an "American" culture that officially pretends that Anglo-American regional [emphasis in original] 92 culture is the true, universal culture and the Black cultures it so long stigmatized. We must also document both the continuities and discontinuities between African and African American cultures, rather than to reduce the astonishing diversity of African cultures to a few simple-minded shibboleths. (p. 47) Gates (1991) dismisses the suggestion that Afrocentricity is, and ought to remain, an exclusive area of expertise for Black scholars. The aims of Afrocentric scholarship, he declares, are best served by promoting cross-racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural contributions. Gates further declares that ideas should be judged on their merits, not the race of their proponents. Spurning alternative ideas, he warns, is analogous to barring Black scholars from disciplines thought too mainstream or female scholars from writing on issues deemed outside their province simply because they are women. Writes Gates: In short, [Afrocentricity] is not just for Blacks; [the] subject [should be] open[ed] to all—to study or teach. The fundamental premise of the academy is that all things ultimately are knowable; all are therefore teachable. . . . We do nothing to help our discipline by attempting to make of it a closed shop, where only Blacks need apply. . . . Nobody comes into the world as a "Black" person or a "White" person: these identities are conferred on us by a complex history, by patterns of social acculturation that are both surprisingly labile and persistent. Social identities are never as rigid as we like to pretend: they are constantly being contested and negotiated. For a scholar, "Afrocentrism" should mean more than wearing Kente cloth and celebrating Kwanza instead of Christmas. . . . [or supporting] bogus theories of "sun" and "ice" people and the invidious scapegoating of other ethnic groups . . . —which too many of the pharaohs of "Afrocentrism" have accepted without realizing. We must not . . . resurrect our own version of the thought police, who would determine who, and what, is “Black". (p. 47) In situating Africa’s greatness within the context of ancient Egyptian civilization, moreover, AT has laid itself open to charges of myth making; there exists not a shred of evidence to connect the history and culture of the entire African continent with that of ancient Egypt (Lefkowitz, 1996). Such a position, critics argue, can only encourage those already disposed to fantasizing about their cultural roots; it can offer no basis for a serious historical investigation of any facet of Black culture. Apart from forging spurious links between ancient Egypt and Black Africa, AT tends to focus on a past dominated by the 93 exploits of Kings and Queens, leaving it open to charges of sentimentalizing African history; there is, too, a fascination with the subjugation of Africa by the great European powers, which has the effect of signifying the continent as a victim of European avarice and barbarity, while at the same time attributing its underdevelopment solely to the imperatives of colonial metropolises, in the process denying Africa an independent place in history in the process formulating for Africa a history of dependency (Schreiber, 2000). Lefkowitz views the Afrocentric project as part historical revisionism, part polemic and part anodyne. Lefkowitz dismisses the claim made by Afrocentric scholars that the great philosophers of classical Greece were heavily indebted to the ancient Egyptians. Moreover, she describes Afrocentric scholars as “living in sealed-off intellectual ghettoes, impervious to information from the outside and paying no attention to the truth of their propositions; . . . [as] concerned purely with the ‘feel good’ factor and with boosting the low self-esteem of African Americans” (Lefkowitz as cited in Bernal, 1996, p. 86). The debates between Afrocentrists and Eurocentrists too often degenerate into name-calling. Whereas for Afrocentric scholars the prime objective lies in creating a space for African-centered knowledge systems, Eurocentric scholars are preoccupied with asserting White intellectual dominance. Critics of Afrocentricity argue that in rejecting Western paradigms on the grounds that they are ill-equipped to speak to the Black experience, Afrocentricity is guilty of essentialism as well as a breach of “paradigmatic pluralism” (Schreiber, 2000, p. 656). Moreover, in labeling Western philosophical thought as Eurocentric without taking into consideration its many variations, Afrocentricity loses sight of “intellectual traditions [that arose] in response to hegemony and oppression” (Schreiber, 2000, p. 659) and whose principal advocates are White, e.g., Feminist Theory and Critical Theory. Collins criticizes Afrocentric scholars for failing to give the experience of Black women the prominence it deserves. Collins argues that AT and Afrocentrists relegate Black women to the role of secondary actors, which is hardly surprising given that “neither Afrocentric intellectual production . . . nor Afrocentrism in the academy has shown a 94 sustained interest in gender” (Collins, 2006, p. 98). It is a mindset that views Black women’s experience as undeserving of intellectual exploration (Collins, 2006). In failing Black women in this regard, AT is partly responsible, Collins suggests, for their oppression. At the same time, in its emphasis on traditional gender roles in the African-American family, Afrocentricity naturalizes the role of Black women as “wives” and “mothers” (Collins, 2006, p. 107) and that of Black men as breadwinners. This kind of signification, she argues, restricts Black women to the private sphere of the family, limiting their role to child rearing and homemaking and thus severely limiting opportunities for employment outside the home—an arrangement whereby Black women remain financially dependent on Black men, a principal cause of poverty, or so it is argued, among Black families. Afrocentricity, Collins asserts, imposes and enforces patriarchal canons that hinder Black women from exercising autonomy while investing Black men with unwarranted power in the sphere of gender relations. For their part, Black women, and particularly Black female scholars, who reject patriarchy are either ignored or condemned as “traitors to the [Black] race, too ‘White,’ or lesbians” (Collins, 2006, p. 111). She further asserts that a patriarchal mindset suffuses the views on gender relations held by some Afrocentrists, citing as an example a statement issued by Imamu Amiri Baraka, a prominent Black cultural nationalist: “We [Black men] don’t believe in the equality of men and women. . . . We could never be equals” (Collins, 2006, p. 107). Even though crediting Asante for encouraging Afrocentric scholars to acknowledge the contributions made by Black women to Black history, Collins dismisses his overtures as nothing more than platitudes. By focusing primarily on race, she contends, AT ignores the intersectionality of race, class, gender and sexuality and its impact on Black women. Overall, the Afrocentric approach to gender relations fails to capture in all of their richness and fullness the experiences and struggles of Black women. And apart from publicizing in a very circumscribed way those experiences and struggles through collaborative work with Black female scholars, Afrocentric male scholars have done little, Collins asserts, to interrogate the asymmetrical power relations existing between Black men and women (Collins, 2006). She further asserts that while Afrocentric scholars have come to recognize the achievements of 95 Black women over the years, they have done so in ways that avoid challenging the patriarchal order. According to Collins (2006), the experiences and achievements of Black women are invariably referenced to those of men. In labeling Harriet Tubman the “Moses of Her People,” (p. 113) for example, Afrocentric scholars come to judge her deeds and accomplishments by “male standards of military leadership and warfare” (p. 113). Thus, the greatness of Black women can only be acknowledged in reference to patriarchal values and standards, their success celebrated only under conditions and terms dictated by Black men. Despite these many and varied criticisms, Collins recognizes the importance of AT and the efforts of Afrocentric scholars to promote in Blacks a consciousness of themselves as a people and an awareness of the challenges that confront them across the globe. It should also be pointed out, and to the credit of Afrocentric scholars, that some of the issues and concerns Collins raises, and particularly gender inequality, are today less egregious. To their credit, Afrocentric scholars have come out publicly against gender inequality (Asante, 2007). In Afrocentricity: The theory of social change, Asante writes that Afrocentrists are “against all forms of oppression, including racism, classism, homophobia, patriarchy, child abuse, pedophilia and White racial domination” (Asante, 2003, p. 2). Despite assurances on the part of Asante that Afrocentricity is antithetical to all forms of oppression, some Black scholars remain unconvinced. According to Wright (2000), the uncompromising posturing of Afrocentrists against “tak[ing] up [European] discourses . . . could lead to extreme insularity, minute and ineffective communities, self-marginalization and the restriction of the development of [Afrocentric] discourse” (Wright, 2000, p. 129). 3.9. Afrocentric Education: What Does It Mean and Why Is It Necessary? I begin this section with a quote from McWhorter. I do so to with a view to refuting his argument that we live in a post-racial world where race has no place in social discourse or education. According to McWhorter, race does not matter very much, notwithstanding the 96 stigma attached to those Caucasians so reckless as to criticize immigration policy on grounds entirely divorced from race, e.g., economic or environmental. McWhorter has this to say of Black students: The sad and simple fact is that while there are some excellent Black students . . . on average, Black students do not try as hard as other students. The reason they do not try as hard is not because they are inherently lazy, nor is it because they are stupid . . . these students belong to a culture infected with an anti-intellectual strain, which subtly but decisively teaches them from birth not to embrace schoolwork too whole-heartedly. (McWhorter as cited in Solórzano & Yosso, 2001, p. 2) McWhorter's remarks which supposedly explain the poor performance of Black students highlight one thing: it is no longer acceptable to attribute academic failure to race; rather, if one is to avoid being branded a racist, a tactical shift is required: the “root [cause] of minority children’s failure” (Philips as cited in Ogbu, 1995a, p. 189) is now to be explained in terms, not of race, but of Black culture and the Black family—so goes the argument advanced by those who still believe that Blacks are a lost cause and should be left to their own devices. Afrocentrists, it goes without saying, reject this view, pinning the blame instead on colonial education for which there exists, happily, an obvious corrective. AE is an eclectic concept; it means different things to different people. Differing definitions and interpretations complicate the effort to formulate a precise definition. For Henry (1993), AE constitutes "an alternative, oppositional, and liberatory pedagogy for children of African descent [attending Canadian] schools” (p. 212), a definition that goes beyond a simplistic perception of it as exclusionary, revisionist, and anti-White. Citing Clark, Henry (1993) argues that AE is "not only as a pedagogy of Black self-representation, but . . . a form of "diaspora literacy . . . [and that it provides Black students with the] ability to read and comprehend the discourses of Africa, Afro-America and the Caribbean from an informed [and] indigenous perspective" (p. 214). Citing Joseph, Henry (1993) contends: "The Afrocentric conceptual system is not exclusively Black or exclusively African. It is a journey toward wholeness that requires seeing the world not [as] Black or White, but in its full spectrum" (p. 214). 97 From Henry’s definition, one may gather that the goal of a liberatory education, of which AE is a prime example, can be achieved, so its proponents claim, by making the school curriculum all-inclusive, by which they mean incorporating a comprehensive history of Black people. This gamut of ideas and perspectives, situated within and outside AE, positions this educational model to "challenge the foundations of the Western world and its legacy of colonialism" (Henry, 1993, p 214), the latter constituting one of the principal factors responsible for the disaffection and underachievement of Black students. Dei and Kempf (2011) define Afrocentric education as “pedagogic initiatives, . . . built on a philosophy of education that integrates teachings of culture, identity and history. . . used as cornerstones for both social and academic excellence” (para. 10). They further contend that Afrocentric teachings are “rooted in a worldview that espouses social responsibility, community belonging, mutual interdependence, respect for self, group and community, authority and the duties of citizen responsibility" (para. 11). Gordon (1993) defines AE as an alternative pedagogic framework that incorporates African-centred perspectives. This approach, she argues, allows Black students to gain the knowledge requisite for effecting change, to improve the self, and to confront societal barriers to social justice. In her view AE examines taken-for-granted experiences. Incorporating African history, achievement and heroes, Gordon claims, builds in Black students the confidence and knowledge base essential to interrogating topics often avoided in the public school system for fear of affronting racial sensibilities. AE, she argues, helps students gain the confidence necessary to deconstruct dominant canons, knowledge, traditions, and values passed off as natural and universal, the therefore legitimate. Thus, European knowledge systems presented as such may no longer be seen as applicable to defining the trajectory of Black history and the African experience (Gordon, 1993; James, 2011; Keto, 2001; King & Wilson, 1994). Based on Gordon’s definition, I view AE as an educational model possessing a critical orientation, that of interrogating hegemonic knowledge systems and encouraging Black students to resist dominant discourses that distort the Black experience. At the core of 98 the AE philosophy, moreover, lies a pedagogic imperative: the African reality must be included as part of the school curriculum if Black students are to reclaim their ‘voice.’ That is, only by pluralizing ‘truth,’ as opposed to pressing it into the service of advancing dominant agendas, will Black students be able at last to share their stories without fear of being judged or of their accounts being dismissed as inconsequential. For many Black students—and clearly from an Afrocentric educational standpoint, “truth” exists in the struggle of the oppressed. In his most forceful indictment of colonial and Eurocentric education, Carruthers argues that the crisis facing the African intellectual, both young and old, was the result of the enduring legacy of colonial and Eurocentric education—a legacy that accounts for his/her rejecting the wisdom and erudition of African scholars in favour of that of their foreign counterparts (Carruthers, 1994). The primary goal of Afrocentric education, argues Carruthers, (1994) is to save Africans, especially the young, from the intellectual dislocation stemming from a European-oriented education. What Afrocentric education does, or seeks to do, Carruthers asserts, is to turn the African inward so as to appreciate African-oriented knowledge systems and to be part of an alternative knowledge-based revolution that centres African achievements and promotes Africa’s interests and Pan-African unity. Thus, it may be inferred that Afrocentric education represents a sine qua non for the struggle on the part of Africans to liberate their minds and win freedom from (neo)colonialism (Carruthers, 1994). Put another way Africanizing the mind is essential to transforming the African self. Asante’s analysis of Afrocentric education is most instructive. Drawing on Woodson, Asante (1991) argues that “[Blacks who] have been educated away from their own culture” (p.170) face cultural dislocation. He contends that Blacks who were and are educated in European educational systems tend to worship at the altar of European episteme while rejecting their own culture and knowledge systems. According to Asante, if the traditional objective of education is to “prepare [students] to become part of a social group,” then it is not unreasonable to argue that societies founded on White supremacist values are likely to “develop a White supremacist educational system” (p. 170), promote White superiority and belittle African history and African capabilities. Taught in an environment that espouses 99 White exceptionalism, moreover, White students are more likely to excel vis-à-vis their Black peers. According to Asante (1991), Afrocentric education focuses on the authentic experiences and histories of Africans. In the Afrocentric classroom, students are introduced to African histories, cultures, “heroes and heroines” (p. 171) from an African perspective free of White bias, as evinced by, to take but one example, the “commie” label with which some White Americans branded Dr. Martin Luther King (p. 175). Afrocentric education challenges this kind of misrepresentation; thus, for example, Dr. King is presented as the liberator of an oppressed people, wielding the Ghandian principle of non-violence, which remains, a hallmark of so many democratic revolutions. Where the standard Eurocentric curriculum routinely portrays Black students as “objects” of ridicule, Afrocentric education transforms them into inquisitive subjects. It teaches and empowers Black students to resist the European notion of Africans as passive adjuncts of a White world, as men and women who were introduced to civilization by Europeans. Black students learn to see themselves and their forebears as agents whose contributions to humanity are of equal consequence to those made by Europeans (Asante, 1991). Afrocentric education provides Black students the strength of mind and the voice to contest the assumption that European knowledge is universal and a true reflection of history. It cultivates in them a voice with which to speak for themselves and on issues that affect Africans using an African lens. hooks’ (1989) examination of the role of the voice in the context of Black education and liberation is edifying. According to this author, rather than silencing Black students, a practice frowned upon by Black families, schools should encourage them to speak out. Teaching Black students to cultivate a voice at an early age, argues hooks, affords them the opportunity and instills in them the courage to speak as equals to authority. What I gather from this author is that if encouraged, the oppressed can use their individual and collective voice to claim ownership of their ideas and project their own reality. If I understand hooks correctly, for Black students, the voice represents an ally in the battle against regulatory 100 frameworks that proscribe Black history, practices and knowledge systems. According to this author, silencing the voice of the individual or community, constitutes an “act of persecution, torture—the terrorism that breaks the spirit . . . [and] makes creativity impossible” (pp. 7-8). Analyzing the political effects of the voice, hooks (1989) writes: For [the oppressed, the voice] is not solely an expression of creative power; it is an act of resistance, a political gesture that challenges the politics of domination that would render [the oppressed] nameless and voiceless. . . . It is a courageous act [that] represents a threat [to dominant discourses and actors]. To those who wield oppressive power, that which is threatening must . . . be wiped out, annihilated, [and] silenced [by an avalanche of voices issuing from the oppressed]. (p. 8) I gather from the above quotation that for the oppressed in general, and Black students in particular, voice is weapon of liberation. In the context of the Toronto public education system, it enables Black students to take a stand in defence of their history, thus transforming them into something other than passive objects, “defined by others” (hooks, 1989, p. 12). Hearing one’s voice as it challenges Eurocentric distortions, the author surmises, is liberating. While Walcott is not an Afrocentrist and his work does not focus on AE specifically, selected excerpts from his work offer useful insights regarding the situation in which Black Canadian students find themselves today. Walcott suggests, moreover, that one way to immortalize Black history and heroes is to restore "discredited" and "subjugated" (Walcott, 1997, p. 73) knowledge systems. According to Walcott, the revival and preservation of Black history can be achieved by foregrounding the writings of Black scholars, e.g., Franz Fanon, M. Nourbese Philip, Toni Morrison, Charles Johns and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, authors whose works chronicle the horrifying “history/memory of the Middle Passage” (Walcott, 1997, p. 73). What I gather from Walcott’s (1997) work is that the Black past and present in Canada can be linked through "literatures of reconnection" (p. 73), which are crucial to understanding the "social and cultural formation of Black diasporic communities and what 101 those communities might share [or not share] beyond phenotype" (p. 73). I believe that in using the term ‘literatures of reconnection’ Walcott is alluding to an alternative approach to education that would raise Black consciousness and reclaim Black history, beginning with the arrival in British North America of Black pioneers. Such a project would require the production of oppositional narratives as a counterpoint to official accounts of Canada as anti-slavery and as a sanctuary for enslaved Black Africans fleeing White plantations and repressive slave laws. Reclaiming Black history in this fashion would enable Black students to see themselves as actors rather than a people acted upon, which is how they are signified in the colonial educational system. In a 2006 survey of Black students conducted by the Toronto District School Board, "72% of [the respondents] said they want to learn about their culture; 69% of them said they would enjoy school more if they learned about their culture; and 50% said they would feel better about school if they could learn about their history in the classroom. Moreover, in the 2007 School and Community Safety Advisory Report, it was noted that [Toronto] schools where an [Afrocentric] curriculum was piloted . . . showed significant signs of increased students achievement and engagement” (Toronto District School Board, n.d.). The above reports reveal a very real enthusiasm on the part of Black students for a culturally relevant education, i.e., another name for AE, as well as a desire to have it implemented. As both Woodson (1933) and modern-day Afrocentrists (Lee, 1994) have argued, Black students should learn the fundamentals of the English language by immersing themselves in African folklore, philosophy and proverbs. They further propose that AE feature African knowledge systems together with their European counterparts. Nor are Afrocentric scholars averse to teaching students about the patriotism of White Canadians; they merely insist that Black patriotism not be discounted, that histories like that of Victoria’s Pioneer Rifle Company, aka the African Rifles, formed in 1861 (Kilian, 2008) to defend the British Northwest from an American invasion, to cite but one example, not be confined to dusty archives. If incorporated in school syllabi, histories of this kind would apprise Black students of the willingness on the part of Black men to defend the British Northwest even though they were being treated as second-class citizens; they would also 102 provide Black students with a sense of Canada’s colonial history and an appreciation of the country’s heritage, and particularly of the contribution of Black pioneers to nation building. Making the curriculum inclusive and reflective of Canada’s true history would, for Black students, make class discussions more interesting by presenting an alternative perspective that highlighted the sacrifices made by their forbearers in building the Canadian nation—a perspective to which they could relate personally and which might motivate them to learn more. Several studies have shown that tying learning to the lived experience of students helps them build self-confidence and participate to a greater degree in class discussions (Boykin, 1994; Dei et al., 1997; Lomotey & Brookins, 1988). Others (Dei et al., 1997; Dei, 1994) have revealed that presenting positive images of Black historical figures enhances the self-image of Black students. Thus, for example, Black girls will take pride in the fact that Maria Gibbs, the most educated woman in colonial Canada was Black; that Clarissa Richard, one of the foremost advocates of female suffrage and an inveterate opponent of patriarchy, was also Black; that Annie Norton, whose interracial marriage to John Norton, flew in the face of convention, at the same time demonstrating that such unions represented an arrangement between two human beings, not a contract between two unequal parties, that she too was black (Kilian, 2008). The achievements of these women, and untold others, exemplify the invaluable contributions of Black Canadians, and particularly women, to Canadian history. According to Boykin (1986), Eurocentric education cannot incorporate in the curriculum historical narratives that challenge White supremacy or that would help address the chronic problems afflicting Black students, i.e., poor grades, disaffection, and high dropout rates (Boykin, 1986; Dei et al., 1997). AE, so its proponents claim, is the only way to deprogram and reprogram Black students such that they are disposed to accepting a model of knowledge that offers them positive perspectives on their heritage and inherent ability to succeed if given equal opportunities and resources (Dei, 2008). 103 3.10. Afrocentricity and Afrocentric Education in the Context of Canadian Public Education As stated in the introduction, Afrocentricity, which had its beginnings in the US, has been taken up by African-Canadian scholars, among them George Sefa Dei, a professor with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. “As someone who has been at the forefront of debates and discussions about . . . Afrocentric schooling in the Canadian context” (Dei, 2013, p. 121), Dei would prove to be a pivotal player in establishing the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS), the first of its kind in the city. His motivation to promote TAAS and AE was driven by the racial inequality he believed to permeate the Toronto public school. Of critical concern for Dei (2013), was the high dropout rate among Black students, which had persisted for decades, despite the “lip service” (p. 119) paid by school authorities to prioritizing educational reform. According to Dei, the chief barrier confronting Black students was the absence of anything resembling inclusivity. In his view the sine qua non for inclusive education was “equity, power, and knowledge. . . . [and a genuine willingness to] engag[e] [in] multiple knowledge systems . . . to develop a complete understanding of the history of ideas, events, practices, and experiences that have shaped and continue to shape our worlds” (p. 119). A principal source of inequity in the mainstream public education system, Dei argues, is that it was designed to promote the heritage of a “certain class of people and uphold particular social class values” (Dei, 2013, p. 120). Thus, not surprisingly, initiatives aimed at reforming public education would be frustrated by efforts on the part of mainstream Whites to maintain their supremacy. Moreover, so long as the status quo held, White students would have a competitive advantage vis-à-vis their Black peers while the latter would become increasingly alienated. According to Lee-Ferdinand “Eurocentric [education] has been insidious in its universality, creating a common alienation among [Black students]” (as cited in Dei, 1996b, p. 178). 104 Dei’s work changed the way some Canadians had traditionally perceived public schools, i.e., as culturally neutral sites where all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, were provided an equal opportunity to learn and develop. According to Dei, the public school system had failed to introduce the reforms required to place Black students on an equal footing with their White peers—equal representation in the school curriculum and pedagogy, the hiring of additional Black teachers, and addressing the differential treatment of Black students. What was required, in his view, was a rethinking of public education, with a view to creating an alternative educational model “that will assist Black youth particularly to re-invent their Africannes within a Diasporic context, and to create a way of being and thinking congruent with positive African traditions and values” (Dei, 1996b, p. 178). According to Dei (1996b), Afrocentric education affords the Black student a safe environment in which to learn and think outside the limits imposed by a Eurocentric education; it allows the student to “see and interpret the world through his or her own eyes, rather than through those of the ‘other’” (p. 180). In this schema, the student is a co-producer of knowledge, rather than a tabula rasa, which is currently the case throughout the public school system. The Afrocentric model of education requires that the opinions and experiences of Black students, the source of which is the family and community, are incorporated into the curriculum, thus embedding them in the educational process where they will help build family-school-community partnerships, whose stakeholders support a common cause: the education and development of Black students. Once in place, such partnerships will foster a “pedagogy of the home,” thus making “specific cultural values, norms, social mores, and conduct in the delivery of education” (Dei, 1996b, p. 179). Bringing the “home culture” to school is essential to applying the “concepts, explanations, and interpretations of society that students derive from personal experiences in their homes, families, and out-of-school communities” (Banks as cited in Dei, 1996b, p. 179) and to “destabliz[ing] . . . the status quo . . . [and revealing] the contradictions inherent in . . . an education not appropriately grounded in students’ lived experiences and cultural knowledge” (Dei, 1996b, p. 179). Thus can the classroom serve as a setting where Black students see “themselves] . . . as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but 105 licensed and powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny” (Morrison as cited in Dei, 1994, p. 4). Rather than constituting a hostile battlefield where the unfit are left to their own devices, the classroom, under this stakeholder-driven regime, can be transformed into a marketplace of “fresh ideas . . . [in] search [of] ways to educate a complex, diverse student population” (Dei, 2013, p. 119). Another important function of TAAS and AE, Dei argues, lies in rehabilitating and reaffirming the identity of Black students, which is essential to their “intellectual and social growth” (Dei, 1996b, p. 170). This dual process of rehabilitation and reaffirmation is predicated on membership to a collective, wherein Black students can learn and socialize among their own kind, while being supported by the community both inside and outside the school (Dei, 2008, 2013). Writes Dei (1996b): Afrocentric [education] and pedagogy encourage student-student, student-teacher, and student-teacher-parent interactions that lead to mutual learning. Students teach about their out-of-school cultures, and parents . . . and elders come to [the] school to teach about respect, authority, and communal responsibility . . . Students and parents also become part of a team running the school; they sit on school committees that make major decisions affecting students’ school lives . . . . (p. 181) One of Dei’s most important contributions lies in reversing the public perception of TAAS and AE as a Black version of Eurocentric education (Dei, 1996b). According to Dei, nothing could be farther from the truth; what TAAS and AE really represent is a “counter-vision of schooling . . . to promote alternative educational outlets [for marginalized students]” (Dei, 2013, p. 119). Thus, they aim, firstly, at remapping the public education system to reduce the preponderance of European narratives and their racist representations of Black Canadians. Second, they provide “an alternative [setting] . . . to decolonize and reclaim . . . the myriad identi(ies), knowledge(s) and experience(s)” (Dei, 2013, p. 120). To combat centuries of colonization and its corollary, the erasure of an African identity, Afrocentric education, Dei argues, seeks to interrogate and replace a European-based curriculum, complemented, by a pedagogy aimed at “devaluing and de-privileging [Black] history and ancestral knowledge in Euro-[Canadian schools]” (Dei, 1996b, p. 171). According to Dei, only when Black knowledge systems are centered in an Afrocentric educational setting can 106 Black students come to appreciate their heritage, perceive themselves to be empowered, and be adequately equipped to apply what they have learned to the broader social context. 3.11. Criticism of Dei and Afrocentric Education in Canada In the Canadian context, in “Social Justice and Public Education: A Response to George J. Sefa Dei,” Lund (1998) argues that AT “create[s] a synthetic universality” (p. 194). Thus, for example, in its oversimplification of race, AT dismisses the multiplicity of identities and ethnic categories that fall within the scope of an African-Canadian identity. Thus, while “individuals [Canadians] continue to form their self-identities throughout their lives [in multicultural Canada], [they are subject to] an ongoing, complex interweaving of such intangible social signifiers as culture, colour, ethnicity, language, and religion” (pp. 193-194) that preclude anything like a racial-cultural uniformity that might work to legitimize a Black authenticity. Yet another criticism of AT is that it essentializes a Black identity, thus implying that Black people are indistinguishable from one another, at least in some, if not most, respects, and that the transgressions of the individual are attributable to the collective—notions that serve to reinforce deep racial prejudices. Walcott rejects the concept of Black essentialism, arguing that far from being monolithic, the Black Canadian identity extends beyond fixed “biological” and ethnic" categories (Walcott, 1997, p. xv). In posing the question "Can African-Americans represent the locality of Black Canadian political concerns?" (Walcott, 1997, p. 26), Walcott argues that Black Canadian identity is an artificial construct. He goes on to problematize the Afrocentric view, usually only implied, that every Black person has a connection to Africa through slavery by pointing out that it fails to take into account how identity is invented and reinvented as well as the processes of hybridization through marriage and cultural appropriation. Thus, while it may be instrumental to project a racial sameness for political and strategic reasons, this does not 107 collapse the differences among Black Canadians however much some may wish to view themselves as part of a monolithic Black nation. Wright’s (1994a) criticism of Afrocentric education and Afrocentricity goes to the heart of and beyond some of the issues raised by some in the Toronto Black community. He writes: Educational separation is not the solution [to the achievement gap in the public education system]. The changes need to be made within the existing education systems where they can benefit not only Black students but all Canadians. The solution to the dual problem of racism against Blacks and the inclusion of Black perspectives, cultures, and history in education is the construction and application of anti-racist and progressive Black consciousness approaches. (p. 29) Wright also questions the caliber of the students TAAS and AE are expected to produce and whether White instructors should be employed to teach Afrocentric courses, given the Afrocentric philosophy from which school draws its inspiration (Wright, 1994). One key reason underlying Wright’s criticism of the school is that it could cultivate among the student body an Afrocentric zealotry, leading to confrontations between students and their White teachers, particularly if the views of the latter are perceived to deviate from Afrocentric teachings. Wright cites an incident in the United States involving “Black students leveling charges of racism against . . . White [teachers]” (Wright, 1994b, p. 14) as a warning that TAAS may not be immune to race-related controversy. He also points out that in Afrocentric schools “Black students [are encouraged] to question everything from the course content to . . . [the] pedagogy . . . [and] . . . [the] role [of] the teacher [in the] course” (Wright, 1994, p. 15)—a potential source of disruption. Some in the Afrocentrist camp, e.g., Asante, dismiss such fears, arguing that “given the proper orientation, mastery of facts, basic pedagogical skills, and a willingness to learn from gifted students, any teacher ought to able to teach any subject” (Asante as cited in Wright 1994b, p. 15); others view such an notion to be untenable, citing Dei (1993), who argues that “Afrocentrism is an African-centred discourse open to both Africans and non-Africans” (Dei as cited in Wright, 1994b, p. 15). 108 The debate over what form AE should take and who is qualified to teach Afrocentric courses, Wright observes, provides ammunition to critics who argue that as a philosophy, Afrocentricity is eclectic and emergent and needs to sort itself out. The idea that “only Africans (broadly defined) can teach about and learn about Africa” (Wright, 1994a, p. 30) reinforces “polarizing binarisms” (Giroux as cited in Wright, 2000, p. 127). According to Wright (2000), Afrocentrists suffer from “blinkered skepticism” (p. 128), a leeriness of the views of White academics and teachers. He contends that Afrocentric scholars, hardly, if at all, “take up the discourses of other (racial) groups” (Wright, 2000, p. 129), exposing them to charges of narrow-mindedness, which could be (mis)construed as racism. Wright (2012; 2003) criticizes Afrocentrists for promoting a monolithic African identity. In an essay, “Is this an African I see before me?: Black/African identity and the politics of (Western, academic) knowledge” and in an editorial, “Editorial: Whose diaspora is this anyway? Continental Africans trying on and troubling diasporic identity,” he challenges its singularity. In his view, it is both a hybrid and acquired through cultural appropriation. It is this hybridity and multiplicity, Wright agues, that problematizes the Afrocentrist notion of a solid, unified, and unadulterated African identity. Referencing his Sierra Leonean identity and a life lived mostly in the West (Canada) where he currently teaches, he posits that identity evolves and is, shaped by life’s journeys. Calling oneself an African, without acknowledging one’s multiple identities “conceals the ambiguity and messiness [of identity]” (Wright, 2003, p. 6). According to Wright (2003), an African identity is purely fictional, providing claimants a “singular and fixed identity,” one that conceals the “torrent of hybridity and multiplicity that drowns certainty and sweeps [the] ‘African’ up through the multiple, shifting, hybrid, and contested (re)conceptualisations into a floating signifier” (p. 7). The act of constructing an African identity creates tension: on the one hand, there are continental Africans and émigrés, who perceive themselves as (true) Africans by birth, on the other, the Pan-Africanist family that derives its African identity through slavery. The latter, Wright argues, citing Muteshi, constructs its identity by the “imagining of Africa” as a homeland (Muteshi as cited in Wright, 2003, p. 5), as a “resource, as place of origin, as history and 109 roots” (Wright, 2003, p. 9). As a way of connecting with the homeland, these Africans occupy themselves in acquiring African “artefacts and clothes . . . from the sidewalks of Harlem” (Wright, 2003, p. 9). They romanticize Africa as “an ancestral home to which one can return,” thus keeping alive the Afrocentric narrative of “diasporic Africans descend[ing] from kings and queens of ancient African civilisations” (Wright, 2003, p. 9). According Levine-Rasky (2014), White fear of Afrocentricity has everything to do with race and the resurgence of a Black consciousness and aspirations to escape White oppression by any means possible, including African-centred education. White fear, Levine-Rasky argues, takes on a particular hue in the context of the controversy surrounding the Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS). It is the fear of Blackness, not as an abstraction, but as a particularity, namely the spectre of an educated and politicized Black subject, imagined to have suddenly gained insight into racism and acquired the political power to oppose it. Thus there looms before Whites the prospect of African-Canadian children and youth acquiring dangerous knowledge of their contributions to society and of how those contributions have been denied by a European historiography. The White public imagines a revolutionary Blackness, such as that so vividly evoked by Fanon, emancipated from its oppressors. Writes Levine-Rasky: It fears the possible outcome of an education sufficiently radical to produce a self-determining, Afrocentric subjectivity. White fear is immanent in the knowledge that who one is and what one has are not results of deserts or natural merit. Conversely, others did not underachieve for reasons of their lack of such qualities . . . Achievement and opportunity arise from systemic and cultural inequities. White fear parallels the anticipated retribution for the historical and ongoing forms of racism directed against racialized peoples. (p. 214) 3.12. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School: An Overview The Toronto Africentric Alternative School (TAAS) is located in the North York region of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The school was established against a backdrop of 110 “poor educational achievement” on the part of African-Canadian students (James, 2011, p. 198). Other reasons cited for establishing the school include the high “dropout rate, . . . truancy rate, . . . failure rate, [and] basic streaming rate” among Black students (Working Group as cited in James, 2011, p. 198). Appointed by the Ontario provincial government to investigate the educational needs of the province’s students and provide recommendations aimed at “prepar[ing] [students] . . . for the challenges of the 21st century,” the Royal Commission on Learning (RCOL as cited in James, 2011, p. 199) submitted a report that included the following problem statement: . . . They [we]re concerned about the future of young Blacks who, without a secondary school diploma (let alone a college diploma or university degree), face limited job prospects, social marginalization and personal defeat. [The Commission also] argued forcefully that the educational system is failing Black students, and that there is an educational crisis in [the Black] community. (p. 199) In addition, the RCOL warned that the Ontario education system needed “innovative strategies” and “special programmes” to improve “the academic performance of Black students” (as cited in James, 2011, p. 199). At a Town-Hall meeting in February 2005, dubbed “Making the grade: Are we failing our Black youth?” (James, 2011, p. 199), the panelists and audience members agreed that the public education system was not serving the educational needs of Black students. At the meeting, a leading African-Canadian antiracist scholar, George Dei, argued that “an alternative school for Black students . . . [was] the only way to prevent them from being pushed out of the system” (as cited in James, 2011, p. 200). Working in partnership with the Black community and stakeholders, TDSB acknowledged that the achievement gap and high dropout rates among “students of African descent” were serious concerns that needed to be addressed (Toronto District School Board). At the forefront of the struggle for educational reform were African-Canadian mothers—the pillars of Black activism. In 2008, the Board of Trustees accepted the report’s recommendations, listed under the rubric “Improving Success for Black Students.” In September 2009, TAAS officially opened its doors. 111 3.13. The Afrocentric Curriculum: An Overview In contrast to the mainstream public school system curriculum, which is preponderantly European-based, the TAAS curriculum is Afrocentric or African-centred. Its Afrocentricity is derived from the seven principles of Nguzo Saba: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani. Umoja means unity: To strive and maintain unity in [the Black] family and community. Kujichagulia means “self-determination: To define oneself; peak for oneself and to create for oneself. Ujima means collective work and responsibility. Ujamaa means cooperative economics: To cooperatively build and maintain business. Nia means purpose: To develop community for purpose; Kuumba means creativity: To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful than when we inherited it. Imani means faith: To believe in our parents, teachers, leaders, and ourselves. (Toronto District School Board, n.d., p. 1) The integration of Nguzo Saba into the TAAS curriculum is instructive in a number ways: First, it helps Afrocentric students to build a sense of community as well as personal independence. Second, it instills in them an unlikely combination of entrepreneurial skills and spirituality. The latter teaches students to look beyond “Christian values and prayers” (Dei, 1996b, p. 181) and interrogate the kind of ecclesiastical indoctrination that works to internalize the view that only one race, the White race, is favoured by the Creator and that the only means to salvation lies in adopting Christianity. In addition to core subjects, which are reviewed and approved by TDSB, TAAS offers African-centred drama, experiential pedagogy, and drumming and dancing (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.; Toronto District School Board, n.d.). The students are also taught Swahili, French Creole and Twi. The “Boys to Men” program, designed to facilitate the rite of passage to adulthood to full membership in the community, is geared towards helping male students improve their “interpersonal communication, teamwork and problem-solving” skills (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.). The “Boys and Girls [program],” allows students to participate in a “variety of recreational activities, games and group challenges” (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.). 112 The TAAS “Boys to Men” program and the lack of any counterpart for female students raises serious gender issues. The very title suggests that Black male students are more prone to behavioural problems, e.g., truancy, and thus more likely to drop out, or be pushed out, of school. The remedy lies in the form of “strong” Black male teachers capable of guiding them into manhood. This gender-based program carries with it the implication that Black female teachers contribute less to the development of students and that Black male students are more important vis-à-vis their female counterparts, which bodes ill for their future relations with women. There is also the perception, particularly among the Black male student population, that Black male teachers are more capable than their female colleagues. In denying girls a similar program, TAAS, it can be argued, is failing to address the needs of students. Cognizant of the difficulties some Black families face vis-à-vis their children’s education, e.g., with respect to supervising and/or helping with homework, TAAS offers parent workshops where basic pedagogic skills can be learned (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.). Herein lies a concerted effort to address a fundamental obstacle to educating Black children: the lack of support provided by parents, especially those with English as a Second Language (ESL). In striking contrast to the indifference shown by the mainstream schools, TAAS has demonstrated a willingness to support parents in their efforts to participate in all facets of school life, something that is essential if students are to achieve positive learning outcomes. 3.14. The Toronto Africentric Alternative School: Staff and Governance Established against the backdrop of an achievement gap in the public education system and parental concerns, TAAS has lived up to its promise of creating a safe and democratic learning environment where teachers, parents and stakeholders can work together to ensure that students will succeed. TAAS teachers are employees of TDSB, hired based on their commitment to enhance the learning experience of Black students and foster academic 113 excellence (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.). TAAS is administered by a principal, vice-principal, superintendent, and trustee, all employees of TDSB. A Parent Council Executive (PCE) ensures that parents remain abreast of all school matters of relevance; it also advises the school principal on all matters pertaining to the running of the school. Below are listed key PCE functions: 1. . . . To provide essential updates on developments at the [T]AAS; 2. Share information with [the] Africentric education community about the upcoming press conference to release critical data on 3 years of research on the [T]AAS (2011-2014); 3. To seek vital parent [and] community input on challenges at the [T]AAS; 4. To seek vital AAS parent and community input on strategic planning for the future of the [T]AAS to realize the original vision of achieving a stand-alone-JK-grade 12 school, among other things. (Africentric Alternative School, n.d.) 3.15. Conclusion Although the theory of Afrocentricity entered the popular imagination following the Civil Rights era, its origins lie in the ideas of Du Bois, Garvey and Nkrumah, Black leaders who understood the African experience, forged in both the homeland and in the diaspora, and who worked tirelessly to promote Black unity, freedom, and the will to uphold African values. Following in the footsteps of these luminaries, Afrocentrists challenge White supremacy and oppression. In the context of public education, Afrocentric scholars have created a space for Black students in which to interrogate how knowledge is produced and disseminated. Proposing a new way of seeing and interpreting the world through the prism of education, Afrocentrists have inserted into the broader public debate on education a Black discourse, at the heart of which lie two propositions: Blacks exist and their history and ways of knowing are equally important in the domain of education and for this reason, should be respected as are Eurocentric knowledge systems. The latter has been rejected by mainstream scholars who view Afrocentricity and its advocates as divisive and as obsessed with 114 reenacting a history that has been buried. Now that the Toronto Africentric Alternative School is up and running, educators, indeed the public at large, are beginning to ponder the implications of an Afrocentric education. The following chapter describes the research methodology used in this study. 115 Chapter 4. Research Methodology In the previous chapter, I discussed the historiography of Afrocentrism, which would inspire Afrocentric scholars to examine, through an Afrocentric lens, the social, political, moral and cultural lives of Africans, and in particular educational reforms. Also discussed were various arguments presented by both proponents and critics of Afrocentric theory, the Toronto Africentric Alternative School and Afrocentric education. Lastly, I outlined the Afrocentric curriculum and the management of the school. In this chapter, I discuss the research paradigms upon which this enquiry is based, along with their epistemic assumptions. I also discuss the research strategies and methods, along with the approaches to data collection and analysis. In addition, the backgrounds of the research participants are described. Lastly, I touch upon the dilemmas that confronted me during the course of conducting research. My aim here is to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of how this study was conducted and the challenge encountered. 4.1. Research Paradigm: An Overview As complexes of philosophical assumptions, paradigms play a critical role in informing the research process. Akin to roadmaps, paradigms delineate the researcher’s position on the subject under study. Bateson (1972) defines a paradigm as a set of “abstract principles” [that guide research], . . . shap[ing] how the qualitative researcher sees the world and acts in it” (as cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 19). For Guba (1990), a paradigm is a “basic set of beliefs that guide action (as cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 19). According to Richards (1980), it is simply “the way in which a people make sense of their surroundings; make sense of life and the universe” (as cited in Dillard, 2006, p. 61). I lean more towards 116 Richards’ definition on account of the emphasis placed on how people ascribe meaning to their environments. As with all research paradigms, the one employed here is directed at revealing and understanding how Black parents view their social world and how that world shapes their lived experience. Three elements constitute a paradigm: ontology, which is concerned with the nature or essence of being/reality; epistemology, which deals with the grounds for and validity of knowledge; and axiology, which is concerned with the values the researcher brings to the research project. 4.2. The Researcher’s Paradigm This research is predicated on both an Afrocentric and a critical paradigm, and on the grounds that (a) the oppressed are worthy of study; (b) their oppression can be explicated by understanding their history and location on the power spectrum; and (c) their condition can be ameliorated by developing a knowledge of their history, interrogating oppressive power structures, fostering self-consciousness, and working to achieve agency—all essential steps to realizing their full human potential (Kershaw, 1992). The choice of both an Afrocentric and a critical paradigm is intended to tap into an “epistemological diversity outside . . . [the] consensus model” (Lather, 2006, p. 36). These paradigms offer both the rigor and perspective essential to conducting research on a people that have been marginalized and subordinated and had their history relegated to the status of a footnote in Western historiography. Stepping outside the dominant paradigms and adopting both an Afrocentric and critical paradigm frees one from the diktats of a “resurgent positivism and [its] . . . impositions . . . as the gold standard in research” (Lather, 2006, 35); no longer need one be subject to the tyranny of an “imperial science . . . [and] methodological fundamentali[sm]” (Lather, 2006, pp. 35-36). According to Mazama (2001), “much of what passes for African-American studies is nothing but European studies of Africa” (p. 395). To accept Western paradigms as, in Lather’s words, “the gold standard in research” (Lather, 2006, p. 35) is to be complicit in the practice of “apprehend[ing] [the African] reality through [the European] centre” (Mazama, 2001, p. 398). 117 I begin my discussion of the research paradigms informing this enquiry by referencing Seidman’s critique of the universal validity of foundational paradigms, which is particularly relevant here given the enormous gulf existing between Western and African civilizations and their respective peoples. Writes Seidman (2005): How can a knowing subject , who has particular interests and prejudices by virtue of living in a specific society at a particular historical juncture and occupying a specific social position defined by his or her class, gender, race, sexual orientation, and ethnic and religious status, produce concepts, explanations, and standards of validity that are universally valid? How can we both assert that humans are constituted by their particular socio-historical circumstances and also claim that they can escape their embeddedness by creating nonlocal, universally valid concepts and standards? How can we escape the suspicion that every move by culturally bound agents to generalize their conceptual strategy is not simply an effort to impose particular, local prejudices on others? (p. 269) Thus, research aiming to investigate any matter pertaining to Africa or Africans in their relation to dominant, i.e., colonial paradigms is to be viewed as highly problematic. Regarding my ontological position, I hold reality to be relative. That “there are multiple realities” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 21), of which one is the African reality, I have no doubt. I would also argue that given the unique history, culture and Weltanschauung of Africans, the African reality can be understood only within the context of Africa’s multiple worldviews that eschew the positivist benchmark of “rationality, [and] objectivity (Asante, 1998, p. 179). From an Afrocentric ontological standpoint, the physical and the supernatural worlds are inseparable; thus, humans are in no way independent actors devoid of spiritual influence and/or lacking obligations. They are a part of the cosmology. Our membership in the physical and spiritual worlds, therefore, carries with it a “social [and a spiritual] responsibility” (Dei, 1996b, p. 180). As an Afrocentric researcher, I believe that “we are all spirit, connected by the Creator’s energy of breath. [That] as spirit, we are engage[d] in a human journey for as long as we have the energy of breath: When it is no longer ours, the human journey ends” (Dillard, 2006, p. 68). One’s place and success in the world depends not on personal attributes, e.g., talent, intelligence, physical strength, but on 118 the collective, i.e., the African community, and the Supreme Being. By virtue of membership in the community, one takes on the “social responsibility” (Dei, 1996b, p. 180) to conduct oneself in ways that promote the collective wellbeing of all humans and abstain from behaviours that could “destroy [any] one component of the web of cosmic elements [thereby] destroy[ing] the entire universe—even the creator” (Schiele, 1994, p. 152). An African ontology could, I argue, play a key role in educating Black students. First, it would serve to broaden their intellectual horizons by virtue of viewing the world through an African lens. Second, it would facilitate an understanding of the world in which they live as well as an appreciation of the fact that there is more that binds than divides them, in particular their connection as humans to one another and to the Supreme Being. Incorporating spirituality into Afrocentric education would help Black students understand and appreciate the connection between “spirit, . . . mind, . . . soul, and . . . body” (Dei, 2013, p. 123). Spiritual practices, such as prayer, libations, drumming, singing and dancing, which Afrocentric education promotes, would cultivate in them a “sense of morality and justice” (Dei, 2013, p. 123). Incorporating an Afrocentric ontology into the research methodology, which consists exclusively of one-on-one and group interviews, infuses the interviewer, in this case me, with a sense of humility. From an Afrocentric ontological standpoint, knowledge can be expressed in various ways, including African spirituality, all of which are capable of articulating the African experience. For epistemology, the central question has to do with the “the relationship between the inquirer and the known [i.e., knowledge]” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 19). I argue that knowledge of an African reality can be derived through dialogue stripped of the kind of “language [that] has historically served and continues to serve as a powerful tool in the mental, spiritual, and intellectual colonization of African[s]” (Dillard, 2006, p.70). By sharing their stories through dialogue, not only do the researcher and participants arrive at the ‘truth,’ however situated, they inspire and strengthen each other (Asante, 2003). If knowledge is situated and embedded in meanings, which the African knowledge system and culture are, then it is safe to assume that we can arrive at it by engaging in dialogue with community members of standing “who[se] [views] we perceive as legitimate and powerful 119 . . .” (Dillard, 2006, p. 63). Stripping African languages of their colonial legacy, the African can articulate his or her views without fear if they are being judged illegitimate or unworthy of attention on the basis of a European benchmark. Central to an Afrocentric epistemology are the emotions and feelings of researchers, which are crucial to determining reality. During the interviews, I used dialogue to help “free [the] consciousness [of participants] from its dependence on hypostatized powers” (Habermas as cited in Talburt, 2004, p. 83). The participants were willing, even eager, to answer the interview questions to the best of their ability. By establishing an atmosphere of collegiality and demonstrating sensitivity to the participant’s situation, I succeeded in gaining their trust, which allowed for the co-creation of knowledge. It helped that I was willing to share my own experiences. As Dillard points out, “it seems almost inhumane to just sit and listen [to participants] without sharing [your] own experiences in dealing with similar issues” (Dillard, 2006, p. 66). When required, I inserted myself into the discussion, taking great care as always to privilege the voices of the participants. Ladson-Billings (2003) argues that a key role for Critical and Afrocentric research lies in “challeng[ing] hegemonic symbols that keep injustice and inequality in place” (p. 421). According to Lincoln and Denzin (1994), critical “research or scholarship cannot be considered complete if it fails to capture the perspectives and “misery” of oppressed people vis-à-vis “dominant . . . interest[s]” (p. 581). As a proponent of social justice, I believe it is possible to conduct this study in ways that encourage participants to take an activist stance and to articulate their experience to the best of their ability, thus circumventing a problem that plagues academic research: the tendency of ‘distant experts’ to appropriate the voices of the subordinated and marginalized and stamp their imprimatur on their experiences and on what they hold to be true (Reviere, 2001). Turning interviews into a "transformative intellectual [project]" (Giroux as cited in Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p. 110) and demonstrating to participants that they can control their destiny, I have found emboldens them to interrogate historical and contemporary injustices and propose community initiatives aimed at helping those members of the Black community 120 who are disadvantaged. Assigning participants the role played by the "transformative intellectual" (Giroux as cited in Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p. 115) may stir within them sufficient passion to challenge dominant discourses on Black Canadians and their place in Canada; this would be the first step to nurturing in participants a "critical empowerment" (Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994, p. 139). Like all researchers do, whether they acknowledge it or not, I bring to my work a set of personal values. As a visible minority, I value diversity in the field of research, which translates into foregrounding disparate views, voices and representations that would otherwise remain out of sight and out of mind. This in turn can serve to heighten public awareness of the lived-experience of the marginalized and oppressed, of their trials and tribulations. Diversifying research can, I believe, help to mitigate White oppression, reduce racial tensions, publicize the plight of the marginalized, and create a climate wherein non-mainstream voices, experiences and histories are respected. I also value diversity in the area of public education, believing it to be essential to realizing the full potential of all students, and particularly the marginalized. Thus, for example, AE promotes knowledge of the Black historical experience and cultural heritage, which in turn fosters in Black students self-respect and a willingness to learn. Moreover, the experience-based knowledge AE provides can be applied to understanding the root causes of oppression, the first step along the path leading to liberation. 4.3. Qualitative Methodologies: An Overview Qualitative research are to be found in a number of research traditions, including, but not limited to, ethnography, phenomenology, case studies, discourse analysis, and grounded theory (Bradley 1993; Creswell, 2007; Glesne, 2006; Pollio, Henley & Thompson, 1997). Denzin and Lincoln (2000) define qualitative research as: a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible. . . . They turn the 121 world into a series of representations, including field notes, conversations, photographs, recordings, and memos to the self. At this level, qualitative research involves interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world. This means that qualitative researcher study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. (p. 3) Framed around the life world of people, qualitative research "allows the researcher . . . to record accurately his/her own observations while uncovering the meaning their subjects bring to their life experiences. This meaning relies on the subjective, verbal, and written expressions of meaning given by the individuals studied as windows into the inner lives of the persons" (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, p. 30). According to Merriam (1995), “qualitative research assumes that reality is constructed, multidimensional, and ever-changing; there is no such thing as a single, immutable reality waiting to be observed or measured. Thus, there are interpretations of reality; in a sense the researcher offers his or her interpretation of someone else’s interpretation of reality” (p. 54). According to Denzin and Lincoln, (2000), qualitative research allows the researcher to capture the views of the research participants as opposed to turning them into an “object of [the] ethnograph[ic] gaze” (p. 2). A qualitative methodology was chosen for this study because it allows me to probe the subject’s perceptions and sense of reality, thereby revealing what Black parents really think about TAAS and AE and their children’s underachievement. This methodological approach also allows for close researcher-participant interaction, thus fostering open and honest dialogue. Through the interview process, I was able not only to record the participants’ views on a range of subjects—TAAS, AE, the experience of Black students, etc.—but also to observe them as they spoke. A qualitative research methodology provided the interpretive protocols and techniques, e.g., rephrasing questions, required to “secure an in-depth understanding” of Black parents’ views and perceptions, thus “add[ing] rigor, breadth, complexity, richness, and depth” to the study (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 5). 122 4.4. Critical Ethnography: An Overview This study employs two principal ethnographic methods: in-depth interviews and document collection and analysis. Critical ethnography is an offshoot of traditional ethnography. According to Anderson (1989), it was born out “of dissatisfaction with social accounts of “structures” like class, patriarchy, and racism in which real human actors never appear” and social opposition to “cultural accounts of human actors in which structural constraints like class, patriarchy, and racism never appear” (p. 249). At the same time, critical ethnographers were coming to view the silence embedded in traditional ethnography as antithetical to the moral imperative on the part of the critical researcher to contribute to building a just and equitable society. Thus, in failing to provide an in-depth interrogation of behaviour and social structures, traditional ethnography fell short of challenging the status quo. In contrast, critical ethnographic work, e.g., Willis’ (1977) much acclaimed Learning to Labour: How working class kids get working class jobs, highlights the impact of social structures, e.g., public schooling, the constraints they impose on the working poor, and the need to interrogate in great depth the structures of oppression. While the following discussion may convey the impression that critical ethnography differs from its forebear in essential ways, both share the same goals, methods and foundational assumptions. According to Anderson (1989), both seek knowledge, and an understating of that knowledge, by drawing on the perceptions of the subject under study whose account of reality is assumed to be constructed. Thus, the subject’s version of reality is viewed as a personal construct of what he/she considers to be reality. 4.5. Critical Ethnographic Research: Problematizing Power and Oppression Conducting a study informed by the imperative of ‘speaking truth to power” requires interrogating the structures of power and oppression and how they impact individuals and communities. Critical ethnography is well-suited to this kind of project owing to its 123 investigative orientation, analytical rigor and commitment to “overcoming social injustices” (Madison, 2005, p. 512). It obliged me to take “on the ethical responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice . . . [and to] challenge institutions, regimes of knowledge, and social practices that limit choices, constrain meaning, and denigrate identities and communities” (p. 5). Madison contends that the critical ethnographer must “produce knowledge which guides and equips [society] to identify, name, question, and to act against the unjust; consequently [to] unsettle another layer of complicity” (p. 6). Extending Madison’s conception of critical ethnography, Simon and Dippo, (1986) argue that “critical ethnographic work is not only “political” (p. 196), i.e., in that it interrogates structures of power and oppression; it also has a pedagogical dimension: the “assessment of . . . society as inequitably structured and dominated by a hegemonic culture that suppresses a consideration and understanding of why things are the way they are and what must be done for things to be otherwise
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Afrocentric education : what does it mean to Toronto’s black parents? Radebe, Patrick 2017
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