Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Geekdom: Pt 3B - The Black Geek in America

To begin, let's re- reflect upon the fact that "Geekdom" is -by nature- dubious in the USA, simply because mediocrity is embraced and promoted in the social world of the USA. Education and intelligence are considerably devalued outside of their monetary value. Intellect and knowledge for intellect and knowledge's sake have no value. Education is linked directly to vocation. As a college professor, who has advised countless bright, talented and creative students through the misery of picking a college major based on "what kind of job [they] can get with that degree," as opposed to which major suits their talents and abilities the best; nobody knows this better than somebody in my position.

Equally as disheartening is the factor of race and the institution of racism, which is at the root of the laws and structure of American society. Beyond any other nation that has had a history of slavery, the system as practiced in the US was particularly mentally brutal; a dehumanizing form of mental brutality that permeated into future generations; sustained by the application and practice of "Jim Crow" laws well into the later part of the 20th Century. Arguably, the issue of race in the US is actually a racially-based caste system; where race determines your place in society, regardless of social or economic experiences.

The conditioning of  a racially-based caste system leads to creating a Beta race of sorts; a people with a set of boundaries that they labor to maintain, combined with a none existent sense of self-esteem. The Beta race ends up falling into two basic groups: those who try to assimilate to the "master" race; acculturators as opposed to the assimilationists and the 'bottom rung'.
and those who quietly accept their place as part of the permanent bottom rung of the social system. The third group are the 'Counter Betas', those who rebel and form their own, acculturated system. These three basic groups exist across economic lines within the inner-cities and rural regions of the US.Although a considerable amount of my upbringing was as an 'Urban Geek', my 'group' would be more so along the lines of the rebellious

There are a myriad of societal elements that sustain this 'Beta' mentality among people of color, media and school being the two largest enforcers.  In schools, as an educator, parent, and former student, it's my observation that characteristically and traditionally teachers have remarkably lower expectations of their Black, Native American, and Latino students. This is particularly obvious in schools with a mixed population.  Regardless of socio- economic backgrounds, public or private schools, I've seen, heard and experienced the schism of treatment and regard for students of color, particularly boys.

W.E.B. Dubois
Disciplinary actions are also traditionally uneven in such situations as well. It seems that many
teachers have it in mind that little Black, Latino and Native American boys are "bad" or "poorly behaved" and need to be taught a lesson. Hence, I've observed and challenged such situations where boys of color have been given detention for laughing in class, and their white counter-parts have gotten "written up" for fighting.When the school official was asked about these incidents and their handling, the response was that the first child needed to learn self-control, but the other child who had been fighting was seen as an act of "boyish mischief". 

I can remember being in a class where I got a "B" on an quiz and the teacher congratulated me as if I had won the lottery, but when he handed a "B" to the Asian student sitting next to me, the teacher expressed disappointment. I remember sitting in a parent teacher conference about my son, where one of his teachers spoke with amazement about his vocabulary and command of language, wondering how he could have achieved such a thing. She completely missed the sarcasm when I replied, "it is an absolute enigma to us all."

In the television show, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"  there was the character Carleton was NBC's version of the assimilated Back Geek. While he was the butt of many jokes, in reality he's a remarkably tragic figure when you consider that part of his sub-character arch was to abandon any shred of Blackness that might offend the so-called main stream; down to the irony of having Tom Jones (a suspected Afro-Welshman), as his favorite singer. One of the best lesson episodes for the assimilated Black Geek was the one where Carleton and Will are driving a car for one of Carleton's father's associates; they get pulled over and arrested; and Carleton's parents have to deal with a racist and dismissive policeman. Carleton spends the whole episode trying to convince Will (and himself) they they were pulled over for speeding, and not because they were two young, Black men in an expensive car. I also think back to one of the saddest conversation I ever had; a high school friend and classmate who rejected playing or associating with jazz because he wanted to prove to white people that we could play the classics. Albeit one is fictional, here are two tragic examples of Geeks being forced into a form of the Beta role.
Alexander Pushkin - Father of Russian Literature

Throughout the last two centuries, the Black male Geek in America, or many -predominantly white societies- we have one of three choices: assimilation, isolation (Which has given the world such icons as W.E.B. Dubois; father of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin; and first openly acknowledge Black U.S. president, Barak Obama), or "The Cloaking Device". The Cloaking Device is the ability
for Geeks to blend in with different factions of the social order. For the white Geek in America, such a device is helpful but the the Back Geek, it is a necessity for survival. It's the preferred tool of Geek who have the soul of Nat Turner but can appear to be as conciliatory as Bryant Gumble. In other cases, it's what can make a Black Geek with the soul of Woodie Allen appear to be Bugsy Siegel.

To be Continued...


edward Avant said...

Understanding the triality of this piece is critical to understanding why some act as they do to include myself. No person of color can exclude themselves from the above assessment. Great read and excellent assement value of who the geeks are and why they do what they do sadly by choice for some:)E

Calvin R. Johnson said...

Excellent piece!!!