The Power of The Black Narrative

Education reform is a myth and is virtually nonexistent primarily because it excludes the Black narrative voice. Outside of the Black community, the education discussion is about a failing reform model and the conversation is overwhelmingly centered on the deficit lens. The tendency to focus the many problems facing the entire system upon the performance of Black students ignores the elephant in the room of institutionalized racism and instead thrives upon a fractured discourse pretending to improve the outlook of Black students (and other communities of color), without actually engaging Black people in the discussion. This of course, is merely one way that the abject disregard or outright trivializing of the Black narrative has had disastrous implications. Outside the realm of education, in political circles and popular culture alike, the perpetuation of a false narrative is rightfully under indictment. Thanks to Ava DuVernay’s brilliant, four-part treatise on the evils and corruption inherent in America’s so-called justice system which criminalizes Black men; all those outside of the Black community – who manipulatively use ignorance to mask their privilege laden cluelessness – have now been afforded a unique glimpse into the Black narrative via the miniseries “When They See Us”.

The all-inclusive applicability of the value of our narrative voice is admittedly most apparent from within the context of our own families. My unique family historical tradition boasts of a universal reverence for our unique oral history. On my maternal side, we are all well versed in a story of courage and survival (dating back nearly a hundred years) as our family escaped the horrors of the post-enslavement, sharecropping south. On my paternal side, I am conscious of those who labored on the railroads, sacrificed educational pursuits to contribute to the family income and can trace the intersection between our African and Indigenous ancestry, dating back several generations. It is my keen knowledge of my ancestors’ Civil War veteran status, admirable success in small business ownership, awareness of our richly diverse spiritual beliefs and practices and an uncompromising, revolutionary spirit throughout my bloodline which makes me so proud of who I am. The knowledge of our family’s evolution is arguably the most significant element shaping my present-day Pan-African Nationalist, activist and scholarly persona.

In my family we have always been wholly aligned with an age-old (yet extremely relevant), African tradition of vivid engagement in and profound appreciation for our oral history. At nearly every single family gathering we have ever had in my lifetime, from early infancy to as recently as my great-Aunt’s Homegoing celebration just two weeks ago, we engage the ritual of telling our story. In consideration of the sheer volume of occurrences, this is significant because it ultimately translates to literally hundreds of gatherings (birthdays, holidays, cookouts, births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, funerals and hosts of Sunday dinners), where oral literacy takes a powerful ‘center stage’. In proud, outspoken and revolutionary fashion – my entire family, as led by my amazing mother (the spiritual, cultural and intellectually gifted griot of the family) – employs the use of any/every platform to promote the historical narrative of our glorious, yet oppressive past and of the beauty which is our Blackness. To be honest, within every meaningful family gathering, there has been a memorable component in which the ‘elders’ are either specifically prompted and/or spiritually moved to render an oral litany of our family history. We all sit riveted in rapt attention as the impressive history of our innate strength and ancestral traditions is retold (for seemingly the millionth time) and is otherwise seared into our collective consciousness. How blessed and fortunate we are to have been consciously imbued with the exemplary model of learning to: speak for ourselves, tell the truth of our own narrative and to ensure that #WhenTheySeeUs it’s through our own empowering lens. I can therefore testify from my own, up-close and personal experience, that an authentic, unadulterated narrative is vitally important for our collective sustainability as a Black people. This insight into my own family’s priority re: the power of the Black narrative offers merely a glimpse of a universally undervalued and yet treasured history of promoting oral history and a genuine embrace of literacy within each individual family, as a starting point for expanding upon the virtue to each person’s lifelong regard and commitment for speaking for oneself as opposed to being spoken for and ultimately misrepresented.

As a Black scholar, I join countless colleagues and academic peers in fighting for the right to ensure that our research, study, instruction and policy – essentially our life’s work – is inextricably tied to who we are authentically, rather than being forced to conform to a demeaning, compromising and diametrically opposed White, cis gendered male ideal. For those conscious, Black academics we come from a proud tradition of generations of scholars who effectively navigated themselves and our people out of the evils of White supremacist oppression by exclusively employing the use of telling our own narrative. There’s a general consensus in academia, that Black scholars must be second guessed and challenged at every turn for engaging in the self-serving practice of “me” search as a poor substitution to research. Well, my consciousness infused, sincere and heartfelt retort is a defiant “why not? Who TF are we supposed to be immersed in studying, other cultures and people? I think not”. Our historic oppressor is very much a predominant force throughout society and this is a painful reality we are forced to know all too well. In my honest opinion, the dominant culture should never be considered as a basis for the intellectual study of marginalized people – with the exception of expanding upon the work of historic predecessors who thoughtfully challenge and interrogate the oppressive institution as a means for dismantling its stronghold. As a veteran African-centered, anti-racist educator from Detroit, my research focus and lifelong work has always been (and will always be) about contributing to the revolutionary, righteous and urgent agenda to #EducateToLiberate to counter the oppression inherent in the codified system of mis-education. Despite the Black academic always being perceived to be preoccupied with race, what we actually exert is an empowered voice, agency and universal acknowledgement of our distinct narrative, as unencumbered by the gaze and pre-approval of White supremacy. On the contrary, it is in fact the threat of genetic erasure and a preoccupation with falsified claims of Black inferiority which warrants diabolical Nobel Prize winners and legendary racist eugenicists like James Watson to be stripped of his unearned label of scholar. It is an inarguable fact that Watson’s Nobel prize should be duly revoked along w/ the undeserved honors bestowed upon countless legendary racists, sexists and thieves, given that all their genetic inferiority claims are falsified and born of the unscientific phenomena of fearing the Black planet. It is past time to address the inherent bias of IQ tests and to diagnose the institutionalized racism in academia and pedagogy as driven by forces outside of a false deficit narrative of Black people, but rather as born of a genetic annihilation infused, White supremacist narrative.

Universal reliance upon an unfiltered Black narrative is crucial to our continued resistance to oppression, as we collectively embrace the power of our own history, voice and perspective – we are each actively contributing to the arduous labor of freedom fighting. Black people must of necessity celebrate ourselves, amplify our empowered beliefs and knowledge, exercise agency despite preposterous claims that in doing so, we are guilty of something. The reality is that America’s contemptible need to fetishize #Racism and its agents have Mueller and Trump cast as key components of relevance and speaks to an underlying refusal to focus upon anything but White men. It is the whitewashing of narratives, history and media which is precisely why mis-education persists. In my dissertation study, I am proud to have preserved the sanctity of our distinctive narrative voice, as I engaged in a qualitative narrative study to amplify the lens and invaluable insights of Black educators on the pervasive phenomena of the gross mis-education of Black students. Undoubtedly, mis-education will persist so long as solutions and remedies are sought from outside ourselves in the realm of pedagogical policy. Instead, the common models of our natural pedagogical genius and existing, culturally sustaining research and methods must serve as exemplars to be widely taught and replicated by all, if ever Black students stand to prosper in the K-12 arena. We must be increasingly conscious of our obligation to #CiteBlackWomen as a means to give credit when and where due, and we must also see ourselves through our own affirming light as this gives power to the ideal of combatting self-hatred and countering the very real effects of our widespread forms of internalized oppression.

On a national platform, Ava DuVernay has captured the attention of an entire nation by appropriately framing the narrative of the inherent evils of the American system of injustice within which Black men are synonymous with guilt, through our own empowered Black lens. It is particularly imperative that Black and Indigenous women continue to center our unique perspectives, especially given the fact that even though we have ALWAYS told our own narratives, we have endured the frontal assault of having been robbed of our intellectual property by White women and men under the guise of professional development or educational scholarship. There’s no substitute for the power of our oral history and storytelling traditions, as passed down through generations. Our unique voice is infinitely valid, but only to the extent that the narrative remains unbesmirched and unfiltered by self-serving, white interpretation. If for nothing else but for the fact that our confessions can be coerced through targeted torture and interrogation tactics, we must speak our narratives. Because our intellectual property rights can and have long been co-opted by those who seek to profit from our pain – we must unapologetically tell our truths and publish it ourselves as a means for our work to live in perpetuity. As a proud Black people, with a rich oral history, a unique tapestry of family lineage, a valiant inheritance of revolutionary struggle and an internal obligation to our ancestors . . . we must do what Maya Angelou, among others, implored us to collectively do: speak the truth. Let us resolve to embrace and promote the power of the Black narrative, in all things and at all times. Indeed, there is infinite power in the divine narrative of our Blackness – the stories are ours to tell and the time is now. Asé.

Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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