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Back to the Woodshop: Black Education,

Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial


Mythology Under the Reign of Obama
Tommy J. Curry
Texas A&M University

For centuries, European thinkers, and their contemporary white followers,


have run rampant in the halls of academia prematurely championing the
success of liberalism to speak to the experience of those historical groups
of people excluded from modernity, while simultaneously celebrating the
universal embrace by the supple bosom of whites’ anthropologically spe-
cific ideas of reason and humanity. This philosophical impetus has solidi-
fied the political regime of integration as not only the most desirable but
also the most realizable condition of Black (co)existence in America. The
education of Black Americans has been collapsed into a single ideological
goal, namely, how to mold these Blacks into more functional and produc-
tive members of American society under the idea of equality established by
Brown v. Board of Education. Unfortunately, however, such a commit-
ment elevates the ethical appeals made by Brown, which focused on higher
ideals of reason and humanity found in liberal political thought and the
eventual transcendence of racial identity, to moral code. This ideology,
instead of attending to what Blacks should learn or the knowledge Blacks
need to have in order to thrive as Blacks in America, forces Blacks to abide
by the social motives that aim to create good Negro citizens.

When responding to the great debate over Negro education and Negro
labor in the United States, Du Bois remarked:
My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter, Oswald Gar-
rison Villard were the expression of social forces more than of
our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than
reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psycholog-
ical habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came
natural reaction; the physical recoil of the victims, the uncon-
scious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and
acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may

National Society for the Study of Education, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp. 27–52
Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University
28 National Society for the Study of Education

be epitomize in one word—Empire; the domination of white


Europe over [B]lack Africa and yellow Asia, through political
power built on the economic control of labor, income and idea.
The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the ex-
pulsion of [B]lack men from American democracy, their sub-
jection to caste control and wage slavery. (W. E. B. Du Bois—A
Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of its First Century:
The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois—1968)
Despite the post-humanist critique waged by authors like William V.
Spanos in The End of Education (1993), announcing the crisis of the hu-
manities for their conflation of humanist inquiry with the education/
inculcation of social norms and values that normalized/socialized def-
erence to the state, there has been little theoretical attention paid to the
reproductive nature of education on Blacks in relation to empire. Black
scholars working within the confluence of race and empire have rich
historical recollections of a Black studies movement: energized by the
cultural consciousness of Black students against white supremacy and
apartheid that challenged the repressive nature of university education
on Black minds (Biondi, 2012) and fueled by texts like Carter G. Wood-
son’s The Miseducation of the Negro (1933/1990) or George Jackson’s Blood
in My Eye (1972/1990), which advanced the thesis that “universities and
primary schools are all designed to move people into specifically preor-
dered and monitored actions” (p. 93). But these historical debates over
Black studies waged by the scholarship of thinkers like Harold Cruse in
“The Integrationist Ethic as a Basis for Scholarly Endeavors” (1969) and
“Afrocentricity: A Philosophical Basis for Cultural Equity Battles” (1993)
reflected the larger concerns of an oppressed Black population dealing
with the content, substance, and aims of an education system rooted in
the ordering, subjugation, and political domination of Black peoples.
The cultural nationalist paradigm advocated by Cruse (1969) as the basis
of Black studies exposed the integrationist-universalist dogma of the civil
rights era as little more than white supremacist ideology holding white
cultural explanations of democracy and knowledge above the emerging
Black meanings of these ideas post-Brown v. Board of Education. Specifi-
cally, works like Mwalimu J. Shujaa’s Too Much Schooling, Too Little Educa-
tion: A Paradox of Black Life in White Societies (1994) highlighted the reality
confronting Black people in the post–civil rights era—namely, how in
them being free from Jim-Jane Crowism, they were being educated by
whites to accept the cultural and historical inferiority that served as the
justification not only for segregation but also for the continuation of rac-
ism and Black degradation in America even beyond its de jure demise.
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 29

The focus on equality and inclusion has largely obscured the complexity
of empire and the role that citizenship has played in defusing theoretical
interventions dedicated to the demystification of America’s democratic
pedagogies. While the critical and political interventions into race and
education stress an emphasis on the white supremacist state and school-
ing as an extension of this (white supremacist) aegis, the relationships
between education, empire, and citizenship are not reflected in main-
stream philosophies of education or the contemporary critical race lit-
erature on education and democratic practice(s) in America.
In the 1960s, integration was a policy—the unintended consequence
of desegregation set in motion by Brown v. Board of Education. Today, inte-
grationism is the single most dominant paradigm of thinking about race
in America. The institutionalized dominance of integrationism has not
only made it the logics from which race theorists gauge racial progress
but also changed integration into the dominant ethic through which all
racial discourse and action must be mediated. In the Obama era, integra-
tionism has transformed from a morality of color blindness—which held
that there was a universal and essential human quality whereby race or
ethnicity was irrelevant and accidental to the individual—to a discourse
of post-racialism. Post-racialism emerged over the last several years as a
deterministic discourse proclaiming that the 60 years of integrationism
and color blindness was a success that not only eliminated American rac-
ism but also transformed America into a country that no longer believes
that the concept of race can or does say anything meaningful about the
individual or society. The post-racialist wholeheartedly believes that race
plays no role in the organization of our contemporary world and that
only America, through its exceptional greatness, could have achieved
such a feat.
As mandated by the Warren Court, education is and has been the
means through which these ideologies were to be taught and enacted
on Black and white children alike. Students are being taught that racism
ended with segregation, that integration made everyone an individual,
and that anyone (even Blacks) who attends to race is in effect the real
racist preventing peaceful racial coexistence in America. With the elec-
tion of Obama, this post-racial discourse has now become the symbol of
American progress and the gauge by which Black children are socialized
to understand the duties and obligations of their American citizenship
as free individuals. Because institutions reflect the interests of the repub-
lic on which they rest, schools have sought to stamp out Black radicality,
a potentially destabilizing force, through the education of Black chil-
dren. By eliminating structural explanations of racism, the education
system forces Black children to internalize their racial failures as the
30 National Society for the Study of Education

naturalness of their underclass status while inculcating the myth of the


good Black citizen—a Negro who never criticizes imperialism, colonial-
ism, or state violence against Blacks and remains blind to the ongoing
structural/societal dynamics of white supremacy.
The radicality of the 1960s and ‘70s resulted in the development and
growth of a pessimistic account of civil rights progress by Derrick Bell
that has come to be known as critical race theory (CRT). As the most de-
finitive intervention in education theory over the last two decades, CRT
has formulated much-needed criticisms of white supremacy, whiteness,
and the role that race plays in education policy in the United States.
Despite the salience and practicality of CRT’s interventions against col-
or-blind and integrationist dogma, today, with the election of Barack
Obama, the post-racial epoch has emerged as a hyper-integrationism
claiming that the democratic integrationist project emerging from the
desegregation project of Brown v. Board of Education has created a world
evidenced by Barack Obama’s two-term presidency However, these con-
versations, while faithful to the overall trajectory of Derrick Bell’s work
and his theories of interest convergence, have yet to ask how empire
forms a constitutive role in the analysis of America’s democratic/impe-
rial ethos.

Critical Race Theory Lite: How Ignoring the NeoColonial


Aspects of Desegregation Limits the Field

CRT has done a wonderful job articulating descriptive diagnoses of the


racist pathologies infecting various social structures like the law and edu-
cation in America. However, little work has been done to extend this
structural (material) analysis, which seems to lend itself to the initial
semicolonial or internal colonial paradigms introduced at the beginning
of critical race scholarship with the work of Derrick Bell, forward into
the scholarship of the 21st century. While critical race research into the
relationship between colonialism and settler imperialism to the law was
foundational in the earlier works, like Kenneth Nunn’s (1997) “Law as
Eurocentric Enterprise” or Robert A. Williams’s (1991) “Columbus Leg-
acy: Law as an Instrument of Racial Discrimination against Indigenous
People’s Right of Self-Determination”—works that carved out an antico-
lonial niche in the twilight of CRT—many, if not most, of the contem-
porary work(s) in CRT focus on piecemeal reformism, legal and social
recognition of intersectional identities, and various political-identity-
based accounts of subjective experience at the expense of anticolonial
or material inquiries into social inequality. In fields like philosophy, the
entire history of CRT has been rewritten to reflect only the contribution
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 31

of white psychoanalytic paradigms and challenges to the biological de-


terminism of race—and while education theory remains loyal to the
key historical figures and texts of the movement, there is no literature
representative of CRT presence that explores the cultural and political
function of education in relation to empire, imperialism, and neocolo-
nial submission (Curry, 2008, 2009a). These developments, however, are
not really a shock to any of the early founders of the movement. Over
a decade ago, Richard Delgado, remarking in an article entitled “Cross-
roads and Blind Alleys: A Critical Examination of Recent Writing about
Race,” which concerns the idealist shift in contemporary critical race
approaches, asked,
Will today’s heighted patriotism, fear of outsiders, concerns over
immigration, and retreat on civil liberties produce setbacks for
[B]lacks, Latinos, and other groups of color? In fact, questions
of this type, which examine the material determinants of civil
rights progress, are not even on the radar screen of the leftist
movement—Critical Race Theory—that one would think would
be most vitally interested in them. Why should this be so? My
answer . . . is that Critical Race Theory, after a promising be-
ginning, began to focus almost exclusively on discourse at the
expense of power, history, and similar material determinants of
minority-group fortunes. (Delgado, 2004, p. 122)
In field like education, which is centrally tied to the intent of the War-
ren Court and the political/social arena at stake in America’s triumph
over Russia during the Cold War, this omission is stunning and greatly
worrying.
From the Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education (2009) edited
by Taylor, Gillborn, and Ladson-Billings, to the recently published edi-
tion of Race Ethnicity and Education (2013) honoring Derrick Bell’s con-
tributions to critical race pedagogy and edited by Marvin Lynn, Michael
E. Jennings, and Sherick Hughes, there is an absence of any analysis
looking at the continuing impact Brown v. Board has on colonialism. This
absence is strange given that the historical foundations of the connec-
tions between desegregation and imperialism have been presented in
practically every anthology on CRT from Critical Race Theory: The Key Writ-
ings That Have Formed the Movement (1996) forward, offering material/
archival proof of this interdependence. For example, Mark V. Tushnet’s
(2009) “The We’ve Done Enough Theory of School Desegregation” ar-
gued that “desegregation politics and doctrine interacted with desegre-
gation seen as education policy” (p. 101), and Mary Dudziak’s “Desegre-
gation as Cold War Imperative” (1998), which served as the basis of her
32 National Society for the Study of Education

larger project, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democ-
racy (2002), made clear that U.S. imperialism was a central motivation
behind the desegregation effort. Contemporary critical pedagogies and
critical race education literature concedes this historical fact but seems
to have no interest in examining the current relevance this imperial relic
has to our ongoing theorization.
America’s imperial image was at stake during civil rights era reforms,
and central to it was America’s ability to control and spin the race prob-
lem in favor of Western democratic governance.
In the years following World War II, racial discrimination in the
United States received increasing attention from other coun-
tries. Newspapers throughout the world carried stories about
discrimination against non-white visiting foreign dignitaries, as
well as against American blacks. At a time when the U.S. hoped
to reshape the postwar world in its own image, the international
attention given to racial segregation was troublesome and em-
barrassing. The focus of American foreign policy at this point
was to promote democracy and to “contain” communism. How-
ever, the international focus on U.S. racial problems meant that
the image of American democracy was tarnished. The apparent
contradictions between American political ideology and prac-
tice led to particular foreign policy difficulties with countries
in Asia, Africa and Latin America. U.S. government officials re-
alized that their ability to sell democracy to the Third World
was seriously hampered by continuing racial injustice at home.
Accordingly, efforts to promote civil rights within the United
States were consistent with, and important to, the more central
U.S. mission of fighting world communism. (Dudziak, 1998, pp.
62–63)
As I have pointed out regarding Ladson-Billings and Tate’s (1995) “To-
ward a Critical Race Theory of Education,” the initial radicalism of CRT
has been replaced with an aggressive multiculturalism, which correctly
asserts the value of Black life and the dangers of the material inequality
created by white supremacy but fails to argue against the colonial foun-
dations of the systems Blacks continue to find themselves within. As I
have previously argued,
The consequence of this ubiquity is that it has made even radi-
cal positions like CRT subservient to the larger integrationist
ideal of American democracy, whereby the dominance of this
integrationist politic empowers the ideas of multiculturalism
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 33

and diversity to act as “undergirding drives” in contemporary


education, reifying an unquestioned humanist orientation that
aims to inculcate the ideal of equality in students, while ignoring
the significance of race and racism in the lives of people of color.
(Curry, 2008, p. 36)
This blindness is theoretically debilitating and sustains a political pro-
gram that has significant political and ideological effects on the concep-
tualization that many Black Americans have taken to be the end goal
of desegregation. Although there is no limit to the rightness had in as-
serting the humanity of Black people, our political actualization of this
claim, the normative value of what rights and recognitions we “ought”
to enjoy, must be critically engaged. The civil rights ethos of the 1960s
gave to Black Americans the idea that pursuing education, achieving
academically, would allow them to enjoy the privileges and rights of oth-
er American citizens; but what does this education, this knowledge we
pursue to be citizens, make us into? What kind of education does the
Black American receive so that we might be good citizens, quiet observ-
ers, in a country that continues to make Blacks victims of state violence;
Black citizens morally bound by their implied duties to the state; citizens
trained to be Americans first, and thereby resolved in their indifference
toward the deaths of dark bodies the world over? Unfortunately, race-
crits have grown far too secure in our advocacy of race consciousness
and missed the larger colonial context and exceptionalism lurking with-
in our American provincialist lens. Our descriptions of anti-Blackness
must strive toward the anticolonial. Anything less only reifies rather than
reflects on the reproduction of the concepts that necessitate the institu-
tions we seek to strive against.
For decades, Black Americans have remained captured by the possibil-
ity of social equality and economic mobility promised by a good educa-
tion. Nurtured by the haloed past and caricatures of the civil rights ethos
of the 1960s, education is still viewed as the most readily available path
toward equality—the ability to both gain and utilize the advantages of
American citizenship. We demand that our children be educated, and
we produce article after article, book after book, outlining the obstacles
and racist practices that obscure and deny them this opportunity out of
fear of the alternative—the life chances, or rather, almost certain death
and poverty, of an uneducated Black child. We fixate our lives as academ-
ics and activists on this goal, making it our research areas and intellectu-
al passion, going so far as some Afrocentrists in demanding a change in
what our children are taught, in an effort to subtly answer the question
seemingly most important to our journey, namely, “What does education
34 National Society for the Study of Education

seek to make of us?” However, anti-Blackness changes the stake of this


question. Black Americans are not simply able to control their destinies
without consequence. The most accurate question to ask Black educa-
tion theorists is, “What kind of citizens are Blacks taught to be, allowed to
be, within empire?”
Despite this question being a motivating feature of Black writings like
W. E. B. Du Bois’s (1975) “An Address to the Black Academic Commu-
nity,” E. Franklin Frazier’s (1973) “The Failure of the Negro Intellec-
tual,” or Harold Cruse’s (1969) “The Integrationist Ethic as a Basis for
Scholarly Endeavors,” which aimed at confronting the burgeoning inte-
grationist project pursued by the Warren Court, today our work remains
decidedly dedicated to the reformist goals of the civil rights movement
rather than the revolutionary goals of our foreparents. Since Brown v.
Board of Education, there has been a symbolic worth attached to the im-
ages of little white boys and girls tolerating the Negro child in class-
rooms across the nation. During the Cold War, this symbolism conveyed
to the world the promise of U.S. democratic freedom and sought to re-
fute the idea that the West intended the subjugation of the darker races,
while today little Black children going to school with white children
has convinced many Americans that racism is no longer an issue and
for all intents and purposes is now dead. Because Black children have
now been allowed into white spaces and are able to call white children
classmates and, in some cases, friends, the collective psyche of white
America has chosen to rewrite the historical realities of the imperial
agenda served by interracial education and tout integrationism as an
evolutionary success whereby the contact of white children with Blacks
developed in whites a new faculty: the ability to perceive Black people’s
humanity. Allegedly, several generations of these evolved whites have
ushered in a new post-racial epoch, where whites now believe that Black
people are human beings. These white Americans believe so much in
Black humanity that they will even vote for a Black person, and it is be-
cause of this newfound tolerance—for a white citizen to be represented
by a Black body—that the election of Barack Obama signals to the na-
tion and world alike that America is no longer divided by race, racism,
or the legacies of racial segregation.
Like the reformist sentiments of the civil rights generation, much of
our scholarship remains dedicated to pointing out and condemning the
continuing barriers and obstacles to a fuller social and economic equal-
ity. Although this is an admirable goal, it is not the only goal of Black
scholarship or critical race reflections on the educational inequities con-
fronting Black Americans today. Ultimately, the failure to consider the
political economies and neocolonial consequences of our reformism
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 35

allows Black scholars to uncritically support integrationist ideas through


radical/critical/post-structural rhetoric—discursive formulations with-
out a radical social justice agenda. Race-crits have rightly criticized post-
racialism for its insistence that race does not matter in a world structur-
ally and systemically defined by white supremacy, but these same scholars
have failed to criticize the education, and ideological underpinnings,
that create the milieu offering to Black Americans a Barack Obama who
is complicit in state violence and able to ascend into the White House
precisely because he dismisses the salience and historical relevance of
anti-Black racism. The good Black citizen is not the radical, and certainly
not the revolutionary, but we pretend that the Black intellectual class
nurtured on the bosoms of integrationism are the most correct when
asserting that race matters rather than asking how post-racialism is repre-
sented by Black bodies marked by anti-Blackness.

The Negro and the Citizenry:


Racial Progress within the American Empire

Contrary to the popular proclamations celebrating the triumphs of


American democracy, America is not a democracy but a system that
maintains power and international prominence through its manipula-
tion of social inequity and vast gaps in economic stratification (Gilen &
Page, 2014). America is not organized to be a nation where the senti-
ments and political assertions of the oppressed and marginalized can
overthrow the privileged and powerful. The government, dedicated to
social order and corporatist legitimacy, preserves the various societal hi-
erarchies of production to drive its various imperial endeavors, be they
national or international. In a coauthored chapter with Susan S. Giroux
entitled “Democracy and the Crisis of Public Education,” Henry Giroux
(2006) maintained that America democracy is void of content and trans-
formative power. For Giroux (2006),
democracy appears imperiled as individuals are unable to trans-
late their privately suffered misery into broadly shared public
concerns and collective action. Civic engagement now appears
impotent and public values are rendered invisible in light of the
growing power of multinational corporations to shape the con-
tent of most mainstream media as they privatize remaining pub-
lic. Political exhaustion, the empty ritual of voting, and impov-
erished intellectual visions are fed by the increasingly popular
assumption that there are no alternatives to the present state of
affairs. (p. 43)
36 National Society for the Study of Education

In this American reality, a reality sustained by historical hierarchy and


current political constraint, citizenship becomes a duty-bound endeavor
rather than a creative exercise. Following his critical theorist sensibili-
ties, Giroux (2006) rightly noted that “citizenship is about the act of buy-
ing and selling commodities, rather than increasing the scope of their
freedoms and rights in order to expand the operations of a substantive
democracy” (p. 43) but failed to capture the seriousness of the neolib-
eral repression for Black Americans to conform to this capitalist mode
of exchange and civic life where they are coerced into joining the com-
placent ranks of the exploiters or remain trapped in the various racial
castes of the exploited.
Rather than it being a case of taking “an ethical stand about the pur-
pose and meaning of public education and its crucial role in educat-
ing students to participate in an inclusive democracy” (p. 50), as Gir-
oux (2006) would have us believe, the task for Black people remains
unchanged as it concerns how Blackness—Black knowledge, Black expe-
rience, Black history— is denatured and erased as the basis of educating
Black people who remain victims of the antidemocratic white rule that
has been taken to be synonymous with America as a free, independent
democracy. From this perspective, citizenship remains an obstacle to
Black freedom and liberation, not the conduit of it. In stark contrast
to the traditional progressive vein of education theory, which relishes
the contributions of John Dewey’s pragmatism and Jane Addams’s re-
formism—theories known for their depicting of education as a means
to enhance the transformative and open possibilities of citizenship and
democracy—Kant offers a view of citizenship much more in line with the
problems confronting oppressed populations within empires. In Anthro-
pology From a Pragmatic Point of View (1798/2006), Kant quoted the old
Brocardian dictum, “Salus civitatis suprema lex esto” (“The well being
of the state [not of the citizens] is the highest law”) as the basis of his
political philosophy. Civil society emerges from the force, enforcement,
of law, so it is within the ethical power of the state to preserve itself and
demand from its citizens the obedience and actions necessary for that
preservation (p. 236). Kant’s understanding of citizenship, because it
assumes the colonial nature of states and racial difference, does a bet-
ter job capturing the tensions described by Giroux, as well as the his-
torical paradox of racial repression Black Americans continue to remain
trapped within.
Contrary to Giroux’s reading of Du Bois within the classical liberal
tradition and his assertion that Du Bois was unaware of the “media cul-
ture” and propagandist infiltration of traditional pedagogy, I maintain,
with the exception of technological advances, that Du Bois described,
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 37

analyzed, and castigated the imperialist historiography that Giroux now


sees his work reacting against. In a 1962 essay entitled “American Ne-
groes and Africa’s Rise to Freedom,” Du Bois argued that as
[N]egroes therefore slowly turned to a new ideal: to strive for
equality as American citizens, [they] learned from their environ-
ment to think less and less of their fatherland and its folk. They
learned little of its history or its present conditions. They began
to despise the colored races along with white Americans and to
acquiesce in color prejudice. (Du Bois, 1965, p. 334)
With desegregation, and the promise of equality, that sacred ideal of-
fered to Blacks as a reward for their loyalty to the American state and its
foreign endeavors was a Pyrrhic victory. On the one hand, Blacks became
citizens, but on the other, they became complicit capitalists—duty-bound
exploiters of the darker races abroad, but impoverished at home—a con-
dition they hoped the political designation of citizenship would slowly
improve, raising them from laborer to capitalist owner. Du Bois under-
stood the superficiality of desegregation and recognized that Brown v.
Board was the result of international geopolitical pressures rather than
a change in the moral conscience of whites. In short, “no such decision
would have been possible without the world pressure of communism
led by the Soviet Union” (Du Bois, 1968, p. 333). Du Bois is even more
adamant as to the dangers of Brown v. Board. In “[w]hites in Africa after
Negro Autonomy,” Du Bois warned,
We may not delude ourselves into silence based on undoubted
progress in American race relations during the last 50 years cul-
minating in a Supreme Court decision which is not yet enforced,
or on favors to Negroes in return for acquiescence in national
polices which continue to spell ruin for the colored peoples of
the world. (Du Bois, 1996, p. 674)
The danger of citizenship was that it gave to Blacks a freedom to par-
ticipate in America’s colonial imperialist drive toward empire. It is this
soft power (cultural) victory, which Du Bois (1965) commented on in
his 1961 piece entitled “American Negroes and Africa’s Rise to Free-
dom,” that not only legitimized the expansion of America’s colonialism
but took from Blacks their connection with Africa and the oppressed of
the world. Severing the cultural ties to Africa and embracing American-
ism at the expense of Black consciousness was an ever-present danger
for Du Bois. The solidification of America’s neocolonial project, which
transformed Blacks historically deemed to be nothing more than prop-
erty and lesser human beings to American citizens, became an example
38 National Society for the Study of Education

to the darker world. Integrating Black people into the American em-
pire created the ideal manifold of order within the nation. Not unlike
the Roycean fixation on the white man’s burden within the borders of
America at the dawn of the 20th century that insisted on the elimination
of cultural difference and the diffusion of racial solidarity among Blacks,
the policy of integrationism mandated the deemphasizing of Black racial
and cultural distinctions as a means to sustain order and political homo-
geneity amid racism and economic equality (Curry, 2009a; Royce, 1900).
On the one hand, it is precisely this idea of citizenship (loyal to the
state and organization of society) that excluded Black peoples from the
alleged freedoms whites enjoyed and condemned Blacks as the property
(enslaved chattel) of whites to dwell in America as subhumans. On the
other hand, however, it is precisely this mode of existence, formulated
in America, that created and nurtured notions of freedom rooted in
one’s ability to own and treat Blacks, indigenous, and foreign peoples
as nonhuman. It is this historic contradiction, which now formulates
the endless commodification of ideas, property, and politics by citizens,
that concerns Giroux and makes citizenship a quest for profit instead
of freedom in a system that offers little to no change for the oppressed
and marginalized. Instead of pretending that within empire there is true
freedom, we should begin our analyses with the historical and material
realities that have been mystified by the rhetoric of freedom, democracy,
and equality. The stratification of American society makes it impossible
for citizenship to deliver the promises of racial change hoped for by
the civil rights movement. Black Americans, like the indigenous popula-
tions before them, remain subject to the laws of history and the effects
of colonialism that have determined their current conditions. To pre-
tend that the condition Black Americans find themselves in, even with a
Black president, is freedom is to ultimately suggest that the lives of Black
people, their suffering, is of no consequence, asserting that what is of
ultimate value is only that they can no longer be called slaves.

Reading Obama in Racial Context:


Post-Racialism as HyperIntegrationism

In 2009, Derrick Bell sent me a talk he was working on entitled “On Cel-
ebrating an Election as Racial Progress.” In that talk, he said,
At this point, every aspect of Barack Obama’s election and Inau-
guration has been covered like a heavy rain on a parched land-
scape. His taking office as the first black president is deemed a
racial breakthrough. And it is a unique moment, one even most
civil rights advocates thought would not occur in their lifetimes.
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 39

The question, though, that history, even fairly recent history,


requires that we ask: Is Obama’s elevation to the White House
more than just another unique moment when the fervent hopes
of [B]lacks coincide with the needs of whites and other non-
whites?” (D. Bell, personal communication, October 13, 2009)
This question motivates a very different orientation than the excep-
tionalism usually married to the discussions of America’s first Black pres-
ident. Bell maintained that “we should not confuse progress with fortu-
ity, as we have while celebrating so many earlier unique moments that
appeared to signal significant racial advances” (D. Bell, personal com-
munication, October 13, 2009). Although no one can deny that Obama
ran a compelling campaign, Bell asserted that we cannot deny that while
we progressives hail that the country was able to recognize that
Obama’s ability mattered more than his race, . . . we should
not forget Obama won only 43 percent of the white vote, even
though he was the much superior candidate, with the much su-
perior campaign staff, competing against a party (the Repub-
licans) that had left the nation in shambles. (D. Bell, personal
communication, October 13, 2009)
At the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Derrick Bell had the foresight
to understand and see the historical repletion at play behind the symbol-
ism of Obama’s newfound power and adoption by whites. Bell maintained
that once we understand the political, economic, and racial entangle-
ments of Obama’s victory, we can better see that his presidency solidifies
the cyclical patterns of racist domination in the United States rather than
signal its collapse. Bell suggests that we need to place Obama within the
imperial context of U.S. domination and the colonial dynamics that drove
the Brown v. Board of Education decision in the 1950s. Bell said,
It is with this fuller picture in mind that we can review the similar
situation that existed when Brown v. Board was decided in 1954.
Again, civil rights lawyers had worked diligently for 20 years to
overturn the “separate but equal” doctrine of racial segregation,
and when the decision came down, we hailed the victory, view-
ing it as a major racial breakthrough. We gave little attention
to underlying motivations without which so little headway had
been made until the early 1950s when it became clear to nation-
al policy makers that the nation had to improve its international
and domestic racial image against communism that appeared a
threat both at home and abroad. The Court’s decision, urged
by the Justice Department, was intended to improve our image
40 National Society for the Study of Education

abroad where we were competing with communist nations for


the hearts and minds of peoples of color emerging from long
years of colonial domination. The decision also offered reassur-
ance to blacks at home, still living under segregation that our
subordination, while long ignored, had not been forgotten. (D.
Bell, personal communication, October 13, 2009)
Bell ended his speech modestly, stating that while “The comparison of
1954 and the years that followed with the Obama election are not exact .
. . the similarities are certainly there” (D. Bell, personal communication,
October 13, 2009). What strikes me most concerning Bell’s words is his
tempering of the symbolic momentum generated by Obama’s presiden-
tial election. At a time when Black intellectuals ranging from Skip Gates
to Angela Davis celebrated Obama as the long-sought apex of Black lib-
eration, Bell stood firm on the analytic frameworks he introduced at the
collapse of America’s civil rights program in the late 1970s and mobi-
lized those concepts to diagnose the dynamics and reflect on the politi-
cal symbols mystifying the election of Barack Hussein Obama.
Similar to Bell, Sumi Cho raised similar concerns over the wholesale
adoption of Obama’s post-racial mantra, which insists on the inconse-
quentialism of racism in America. Cho (2009) asserted that “Despite the
ironies of the racialized post-racial campaign, the fact that the Obama
campaign relied upon a ‘post-racial’ strategy that ultimately prevailed
poses a unique crisis for critical-race theorists” (p. 1592). According to
Cho, critical race theory
faces great danger if it fails to acknowledge that one of the great
successes of the Racial Backlash movement is the promotion of
a larger national and legal consensus that ignores the bulk of
racial disparities, inequities, and imbalances in society, and pur-
sues race-neutral remedies as a fundamental, a priori value. (p.
1592)
Rather than simply being a mistaken hypothesis about the current ra-
cial situation many non-whites find themselves in, Cho saw the advance-
ment of post-racialism to be part of a larger political agenda that aims
to continue the propagandist drive of integrationism—to eliminate the
political, economic, and cultural power of race consciousness among the
oppressed. Of particular concern for Cho is the socializing effect that a
powerful symbol like Obama has on the minds and consciousness of ra-
cialized youth. She urged race-crits to “recognize how the legal, political,
and intellectual post-racialisms generated may form a type of cultural
hegemony whose presentist, ‘yes we can’ optimism—slouching towards
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 41

solipsism—resonates widely with youth, including youth of color” (p.


1592). The uncomfortable reality is that the Obama campaign has solidi-
fied post-racialism as not only a political but also a universalist account of
American race relations that serves as the generational model through
which race and racism will be understood by youth of color for decades
to come. Cho recognized that post-racialist ideologues among the ranks
of young Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth only serve to decontextu-
alize future struggles against racism and white supremacy. Political or-
ganization, social movements, and extra-legal forms of protest are now
at risk of being condemned prima facie as relics of a past era. Because
post-racialism is optimistic, encouraging racialized subjects/individuals
to see themselves as the authors of their own destinies, contrary posi-
tions that point out the empirical political and economic barriers to the
success of individuals still burdened by the weight of their racial past are
unlikely to resonate with the romantic notions of agency and uplift to
which these non-white youth ascribe.
The pillars of post-racialism differ depending on context (i.e., politi-
cal or conceptual), but the commonality of the ideology more general-
ly is marked by a transcendental epoché where the material substances
of our social reality (e.g., law, economics, history) have escaped the
consequences and perpetual effects of race. In a similar tone, Cho sug-
gested that
Post racialism in its current iteration is a twenty-first-century
ideology that reflects a belief that due to the significant racial
progress that has been made, the state need not engage in race-
based decision-making or adopt race-based remedies, and that
civil society should eschew race as a central organizing principle
of social action. According to this post-racial logic, the move is
to effectuate a “retreat from race.” (p. 1594)
Similar to the base humanist assertion of integrationism, post-racialism
aims to eliminate race from the consciousness and empirical accounts of
social inequality in the world. Post-racialism maintains that those who
believe in racism as the active dynamic of social disparity must be re-
educated. Like the civil rights mantras of decades past, which sought to
educate whites into tolerance, post-racialism asserts that it is now Blacks
and other non-whites, the historical victims of white racial tyranny, that
need to be saved from their own experiences of oppression. Such a the-
ory would be laughable if it did not have such serious a side. Cho was
spot on in pointing out the dialogical risks of this post-racial imposition:
“Although sociocultural in form, the discursive retreat from race is con-
nected to the other material and political forms of retreat by leveling
42 National Society for the Study of Education

the moral playing field between whites and groups of color. Centuries of
racial apartheid and neo-apartheid are eclipsed by a symbolic ‘big event’
signifying transcendent racial progress” (p. 1595). Our attacks on post-
racialism must not simply retreat to the correctness of the position that
“race matters”; instead, we must look to expose the integrationist logic
that has been persistent and relentless in attacking the race-conscious
analysis of seemingly neutral, rational, and just values used to sustain the
rule of raced peoples.
As Gary Peller (2012) noted in a chapter of his recent book, Critical
Race Consciousness, entitled “The Structure of Integrationist Ideology,”
“Liberal integrationist ideology is structured so that some social practic-
es are taken out of the economy of race relations and understood to be
undistorted by racial power” (p. 14). This decontextualization of racism,
separating the concrete physical manifestations of violence and death
from the Black and Brown bodies who suffer, allows the integrationist to
assert that racism is simply a matter of “thinking” and not societal orga-
nization and gratuitous violence. Peller (2012) continued,
The integrationists’ diagnosis of the distortion of the white su-
premacy ideology focuses on the failure of white supremacists
to recognize the universal characteristics shared by whites and
Blacks. According to the integrationists, white racists perceive
the world through a false structure of “same” and “other” that
utilizes a concept of Blacks as “other” and denies that the at-
tributes that characterize the white racists exist in the “others.”
(p. 4)
For the integrationist, the actual political and economic disparities be-
tween whites and Blacks are of far less concern because the focus is on
the analytic categories dividing the essential qualities between groups
based on phenotype. From the integrationist point of view, “racism is
rooted in consciousness, in the cognitive process that attributes social
significance to the arbitrary trait of skin color” (Peller, 2012, p. 4), not
the cyclical and reemerging patters of marginalization, violence, and re-
pression that seem to follow racialized groups and their progeny from
generation to generation.
At the core of the integrationist paradigm is its resistance to what it
takes to be the irrationalism of biological determinism, or “the white
supremacist myth structure that asserts natural biological differences
between Blacks and whites—the familiar identification of whites with
intelligence, industriousness, and piousness, and the corresponding as-
sociation of Blacks with dullness, laziness, and lustfulness” (p. 4). In-
tegrationism resists the a priori assertion that skin color determines
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 43

civilization, but it makes no such condemnations toward the racial strati-


fications that manifest themselves a posteriori (i.e., socially or historical-
ly that we witness and are apparent through empirical observation). So
although integrationists may suggest that they are antiracist because they
do not believe whites are biologically or naturally superior to Blacks,
this recognition does not extend to stratifications between Blacks and
whites that can be rationalized as the inability of Blacks to work hard
enough to rise to the level of their white counterparts. Integrationism
asserts the power of agency to triumph over history ideally. It has little
concern for the sociological realities of racism that limit the possible
and, by effect, the value of abstract exercises of agency. Post-racialism
utilized a hyperintegrationist logic to sustain its decree. “Integrationists
comprehend racism at a high level of abstraction in part because they
wish to transcend the bias of particularity that they see as the root of
racist consciousness” (Peller, 2012, pp. 5–6). To legitimate the journey
and decades-long pursuit of racial equality, the integrationist mobilizes
symbols and cultural linkages with broader values of liberal thought,
“images that connect truth, universalism, and progress” (Peller, 2012,
pp. 5–6). Despite its ineffectiveness in eliminating racism, post-racialism
attempts to cash in the romantic legacy of integration in this country and
is surprisingly effective at mobilizing and solidifying the anti-Black sen-
timents of white Americans who remain intolerant and frustrated with
accusations of racism and the political aspirations of Blacks, Latino/as,
Asians, and Indigenous peoples.
The exhaustion of whites is of some concern given the rise of white vig-
ilantism, police violence, and legal assaults on the rights of Blacks under
Obama’s reign, and it is an area in need of further research and survey in
critical race literatures. While scholars in Black studies and various eth-
nic studies have developed accounts of white supremacy that consider
the dynamics of racism under Black rule, race-crits have lagged behind.
Dylan Rodriguez (2010), for instance, offered an understanding of white
supremacy as a “logic of social organization that produces regimented,
institutionalized, and militarized conceptions of hierarchized ‘human’
difference, enforced through coercions and violence(s) that are con-
ditioned by genocidal possibility, including physical extermination and
curtailment of people’s collective capacities to socially, culturally, or bio-
logically reproduce” (p. 158). Rodriguez (2010) rightly pointed out that
white supremacy is in constant flux, “constantly reshaping, notions of
the white (European and Euroamerican) ‘human’-as-universal histori-
cal subject through both militarized liquidations and neutralizations of
(non-white) other humans, and multiple institutional incorporations
and empowerments of the white subject’s/body’s racial antagonists”
44 National Society for the Study of Education

(p. 158); I would only add that in this white supremacist dynamic, the
reorientation of normative values like freedom, justice, safety, etc., are
translated through the dominant figures and symbols that transmit cul-
tural relevance and political acquiescence to these emergent regimes.
In other words, the dynamics of white supremacy produce new icons of
identification and rhetoric to allow Blacks and other racialized groups
to accept and interpret the violence and deaths of their own as justified
and necessary to racial progress. This ongoing anti-Black violence marks
a new theoretical complexity in critical race theory and by effect demon-
strates Rodriguez’s (2010) point:
The ascendance of the Obama administration signifies this com-
plex tension between universal (white) humanity, “non-white”
subjection to logics of disposability/genocide, and multicultur-
alist empowerment in continuity with the violence of the white
supremacist state. White supremacy is historically characterized
by a periodic flexibility of phenotype (e.g. “first black president”
as white supremacist nation-building’s moral/political vindica-
tion) that is already determined by the structural durability of
the social logics of racial dominance/violence. (p. 158)

Please, Don’t Ape the whites: Woodson and Du Bois on the


Dangers of Imitative Citizenship

In his brief commentary on Anthony Farley’s (1999) “8th Story: Illness


and Its Interlocutors in Thirteen Stories,” a piece that brilliantly con-
veys the romantic longing for acceptance attached to the quest for racial
equality, Bell (2004) argued, “In our anxiety to identify, we are attracted
to the obvious and the superficial, the least worthy characteristics of the
dominant group. It is that unconscious component of quest that give
even hard-earned progress a mirage-like quality” (p. 200). In a tone simi-
lar to Paul Robeson’s 1935 essay, “Negroes—Don’t Ape the Whites,” a
short essay urging Blacks to consider that “it is not as imitation Euro-
peans, but as Africans, that we have a value” (Robeson, 1978, p. 92),
Bell urges readers to think carefully about the consequences of identify-
ing with the categories built on the historical and political template of
the white racial class. Bell recognized that our attempt to reproduce the
profit and power of whites, as if our participation in the systems that
birth inequity is in fact the finality of our struggle for equality, ultimately
spells doom. Bell’s caution not only arrests our seemingly intuitive no-
tions of equality but also allows us to see that the markers of power,
profit, and citizenship denied to Blacks because of racism are not in fact
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 45

the substance of humanity, but the artifices used to deny that other racial
groups are in fact human. This concern is not unlike that of W. E. B. Du
Bois in his reflections on school desegregation and the burgeoning shift
toward a policy of integration coming about in the 1960s.
On April 1, 1960, W. E. B. Du Bois addressed the Association of Social
Science Teachers concerning the future of Black education under inte-
gration. Adamant that Black knowledge and history must be preserved,
Du Bois (1975) argued, “We Negroes have got to inculcate in the minds
of our children many objects to which white America today is not only
opposed, but bitterly fights” (p. 49). Predicting that the anti-Black senti-
ment of his day would only grow into an institutionalized and the cul-
turally salient disposition toward Blacks of our day following the expan-
sion of U.S. imperialism, Du Bois eerily anticipated the moralism of the
post-racialist era. Du Bois (1975) saw that integration had made it such
that “Any statement of our desire to develop American Negro culture,
to keep our own ties with colored peoples, to remember our past, is re-
garded as racism” (p. 47). Instead of equality offering the substance of
racial opportunity, the capacity to determine and develop aspirations of
a people, citizenship was repressive and fraught with attempts to control
and erase Black culturalisms as the criterion for Black inclusion into the
American public. Du Bois observed that
we are definitely approaching now a time when the American
Negro will become in law equal in citizenship to other Ameri-
cans. . . . Yet, this situation is in sight, and it brings not, as many
assume, an end to the so-called Negro problem. . . . We must
now ask ourselves when we become equal American citizens,
what will be our aims and ideals, and what will we have to do with
the selecting of these aims and ideals. Are we to assume that we
would simply adopt the ideals of Americans, and become what
they are or want to be? Will we have in this process no ideals of
our own? That would mean that we would cease to be Negroes
as such and become whites in action, if not completely in color.
(Du Bois, 1975, p. 46)
Similar to the problems that occupied Derrick Bell toward the end
of his life and Robeson during his travels throughout Asia, Du Bois rec-
ognized that the education of Black people, specifically Black youth,
must be deliberately geared not only to the preservation of Black history
but also to the recognition of the inability of American-white-European
political categories to adequately express the degree of political free-
dom necessary to deliver Black liberation. Mimicry of our oppressors,
instead of innovation and the pursuit of our own particular ideals, would
46 National Society for the Study of Education

ultimately lead to the end of Black people. Du Bois (1975) warned that
through imitation,
We would take our culture from white Americans—doing as they
do and thinking as they think. Manifestly, this would not be sat-
isfactory. . . . We would lose our memory of Negro history, and
of those racial peculiarities with which we have been long associ-
ated. We would cease to acknowledge any greater tie with Africa
than with England or Germany. . . . [And] thus solve our racial
problem in America by committing racial suicide. (p. 46)
Du Bois articulates a powerful reflective attitude on race conscious-
ness that is not reducible to mere politics. Du Bois argued that without
the sense of incongruity, the exteriority Black people inhabit as a function
of anti-Blackness, Black people would seek to reproduce the decadent
humanity and values that white civilization has used to rationalize its tyr-
anny toward racial others as democracy. In seeking equality and freedom
in the anthropology—the theories of humanity—offered by white civili-
zation, Black people confine themselves to the dehumanizing character
of the white race. Carter G. Woodson actually spoke to this reflective
incongruity in a previously lost manuscript written in 1921.
Many philosophers of education and race-critics do not know that
Carter G. Woodson wrote a book before The Miseducation of the Negro
entitled Appeal in 1921. In this manuscript, Woodson concerned himself
with the changes and reflective faculties developed by the Black race in
their persistent struggles for freedom. In his aptly titled chapter “What
the Negro Is Thinking,” Woodson offers an extremely relevant discus-
sion to the conversations and debates over social equality in the early
1900s that resonate with the problems presented by post-racialist ideol-
ogy. Responding to the argument advanced by whites that Blacks would
be more deserving of social equality once they have been adequately
elevated from their previous state of ignorance, Woodson (1921/2008)
remarked that
improvement . . . means not to make the Negro a white man but
to make him a better man. The Negro has no desire to be every-
thing the white man is or to do everything he does. . . . The Ne-
gro is not a white man with a black skin. If the blacks were sud-
denly transformed in spirit into white people, the racial conflict
which would ensue would give rise to a state of anarchy which
would not only drench the soil with blood but would result in
the extermination of a large portion of mankind. (pp. 147–148)
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 47

Like many of the Black education theorists of the 20th century, Wood-
son did not try to degrade the character of Black people through the idle
mimicry of whites. He understood that history, culture, religiosity, op-
pression, and political struggle gave Blacks a different perspective from
which to view the racial landscape of America. While whites were seeking
to consolidate their national power and extend their imperial scope,
Blacks were attempting to resist, rather than imitate, the values, struc-
tures, and poisonous ideals that created the insidious obsession with
domination found at the root of America’s liberal political structure.
Woodson understood as early as the 1920s that white civilization was an
inferior mode of rule. Woodson (1921/2008) argued that
civilization is best which confers the greatest good on the great-
est number. The so-called white man’s civilization primarily
concerned with promoting the interest of Europeans and white
Americans becomes, therefore, decidedly inferior to that of
some of the natives of the jungles. Passing through Europe or
America one finds abundant resources productive of riches, cit-
ies of splendor inhabited by people of luxury and ease, and gov-
ernments controlling dominions almost encircling the globe,
all made possible, however, by forcing to a lower level the man
far down or by enslaving, plundering, or exploiting the weaker
peoples of other lands. This is not in itself progress for mankind.
It is merely the centralization of power in the hands of autocrats.
(p. 149)
“The Negro is wise enough not to worship power” (Woodson,
1921/2008, p. 149). Through struggle, their relentless pursuit of free-
dom against the Western concept of man and the white template of civi-
lization, Blacks/Blackness stood firm on its incongruity with the white
world. Black people did not misunderstand themselves, their position
in the world, or the political philosophy behind the caricatures of white
democracy; they aimed to be a people different and distinct from the
degraded humanity demonstrated by whites. The power behind Wood-
son’s sentiment gets to the root of the ongoing theoretical discussions
that continue to erroneously insist on the neutrality of white/western/
enlightenment/liberal political concepts without any attention or study
of the deliberate rejections of those concepts by Black people. Woodson
adamantly asserted—contrary to the liberal-integrationist-historiogra-
phy of today that draws inspiration from progressive era thinkers like
John Dewey—that “The Negro thoroughly understands the false politi-
cal philosophy behind the whole system of government arrayed against
the man of color” (Woodson, 1921/2008, p. 144). Black people did not
48 National Society for the Study of Education

seek to simply participate in democracy given its predilection towards


error—racism, inequality, exploitation, etc.; in fact, white political phi-
losophy was rejected as barbaric.
“Democracy then,” the Caucasian might as well say, “is a thing
for the white man.” “What then is the white man,” says the Ne-
gro, “but a barbarian belonging to the Middle Ages?” A man
feeling that the law by which he is bound limits his conduct to
his own people; who deems it a crime to steal from members of
his own race but a virtue to steal from others outside his own
clan; who considers himself guilty of murder if he kills one of
his own group but believes that he has done a heroic deed if he
takes the life of one another group. (Woodson, 1921/2008, p.
145)
These thinkers point to a view of American political life that is not
simply critical of the dominant group, but in stark contradiction to it.
Du Bois and Woodson urged a reorientating of the type of equality Black
Americans seek as citizens in the United States. Rather than urging a
critical attitude, they demanded a complete rejection—an understand-
ing and acceptance of the history of a political system fundamentally
dependent on the subjugation of Black bodies and lives for profit and
power. Integration, post-racialism, and democracy are all synergistic
components of the same manifold of anti-Blackness. Each depends
on the related ideology to sustain the legitimacy of the other. Integra-
tionism creates the logic of racial abstraction, which concretizes into a
narrative whereby race is transcended, ultimately enabled by the excep-
tional openness and transformative potential of American democracy.
Rejecting the mythology of post-racialism ultimately requires race-crits
and Black scholars alike to indict the logics and abstractions of integra-
tionism as well as the liberal incantations of American democracy. This is
not a political difference, but a fundamental shift in the paradigms from
which race and racism are to be conceptually viewed and analyzed for
generations to come. The values many of us hold dear—equality, liberty,
freedom, property, and even democracy—must be placed within the his-
torical context of America’s racial economy and the ongoing rationaliza-
tions of Black deaths at the hands of white citizens and the white state.
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 49

Conclusion

For centuries, European thinkers, and their contemporary white follow-


ers, have run rampant in the halls of academia prematurely championing
the success of liberalism to speak to the experience of those historical
groups of people excluded from modernity, while simultaneously cel-
ebrating the universal embrace by the supple bosom of whites’ anthro-
pologically specific ideas of reason and humanity. In the United States,
this philosophical impetus has solidified the political regime of integra-
tion as not only the most desirable but also most realizable condition of
Black (co)existence. Following this course of events, the education of
African-descended people has been collapsed into a single ideological
goal, namely how to mold Blacks into more functional and productive
members of American society under the idea of equality established by
Brown v. Board of Education. Unfortunately, however, such a commitment
elevates the ethical appeals made by Brown, which focused on higher
ideals of reason and humanity found in liberal political thought and the
eventual transcendence of racial identity to moral code. Following the
election of Barack Hussein Obama, a new post-racial morality ushered in
to tout the success of integration in eliminating American racism. Under
this regime, the education of Black people becomes a decidedly norma-
tive endeavor in which institutions of learning compel Black people to
base their consciousness toward the world and toward the continuing
oppression of Blacks and other darker races around the world through
militarism and sanctions around how Black people should act and what
Blacks ought to be if they wish to be recognized as true Americans. This
morality, instead of attending to what Blacks should learn or the knowl-
edge Blacks need to have in order to thrive as Blacks in America, con-
demns racial consciousness; it forces/demands Blacks to conduct them-
selves (politically, culturally, socially) with the aim of being recognized
as good Negro citizens.
Ultimately, post-racialism is a creation of the white imagination, a
flight of fancy able to escape the world of fantasy through the imposi-
tion of white authorship upon the world, an interpretation that owes
its existence not to some attempt to grasp truth about the state of the
world but to the insipid assertions of its white authors. It is not real any
more than any desire about the world is; it is merely the collective as-
piration of whites in a white supremacist world taken to be concrete
and material—a 21st-century assertion by a white populace wishing to
be free from the tyranny and horror of their white selves but only able
to assert their absolution through the still tyrannical power that racism
allows white consensus to have over the realities, material and psychical,
50 National Society for the Study of Education

of racialized peoples: the powerless victims of racism. Blackness, under


post-racialism, is paradigmatized as a viable American existence by the
extent to which it accepts the anti-Black violence and racist inequities
that define the lives of most Black Americans. The Black citizen is re-
warded by the extent to which he or she rationalizes himself or herself as
separate from those “other” Blacks. Aspiring to be the exceptional Black,
to be the citizen and not the slave of empire, creates the logics of being
beyond race while seeing the consequences of racism on the Black bod-
ies condemned to poverty, sentenced to death, and marred by the stain
of anti-Blackness. This is our present-day dilemma where our thought,
our critical faculties are revealed to be extensions of, rather than the
refutations to, the present order of knowledge and pedagogy. As aca-
demics, we have been taught to criticize because we are denied the fruits
of empire, rather than wage critique as a protest of empire’s existence.
True Black radicalism that indicts the class fractures within Black intel-
ligentsia is thought to be dangerous and divisive because it makes clear
that criticism functions as a means to elevate many Black middle-class
thinkers into higher institutional posts based on their ability to translate
the suffering and death of the Black lower class to white entities. Post-
racialism, the idea that race has no material consequence in the world
or in the lives of racialized peoples, is simply the most recent ideologi-
cal programme deployed to sustain white domination over the ability of
Black people to describe their own histories and narrative their own lives
through Blackness. Through moral condemnation, white America as-
serts that racism—the death of Black men and boys, the poverty of Black
women and families, the economic stagnation of Black folk, and their
political marginalization and repression—is ultimately due to their own
(Black) failings, their inability to advance themselves within the param-
eters of a civilized/white/American society. In short, this is a lie.
Black Education, Imperial Pedagogy, and Post-Racial Mythology Under the Reign of Obama 51

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Tommy J. Curry is associate professor of philosophy and affiliated pro-


fessor of Africana studies at Texas A&M University. He is the author of
the republication of William H. Ferris’s The African Abroad and is working
on a forthcoming book on Derrick Bell’s political philosophy, tentatively
entitled Illuminated in Black.