Equal Opportunity Oppression in America

I was listening to the audio version of The Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The narrator isn’t the best, but the book is worthwhile. It is an older book, having been published in 1933, which is part of what makes it interesting. I came across a passage that showed its age (p. 73):

Again, one observes in some of these catalogues numerous courses in art but no well defined course in Negro or African art which early influenced that of the Greeks. Thinkers are now saying that the early culture of the Mediterranean was chiefly African. Most of these colleges do not even direct special attention to Negro music in which the Negro has made his outstanding contribution in America. The unreasonable attitude is that because the whites do not have these things in their schools the Negroes must not have them in theirs. The Catholics and Jews, therefore, are wrong in establishing special schools to teach their principles of religion, and the Germans in America are unwise in having their children taught their mother tongue.

The author is discussing “Negro colleges”. At that time, apparently many of them were managed and operated by whites. Some of these whites were consdescendingly paternalistic and some were indifferent to the the plight of the students in their schools. For many of them, working at a Negro college was probably the last place they hoped their career would bring them. They didn’t want to be there and they certainly didn’t want to help African-Americans to better themselves, much less strive for equality.

That isn’t, however, what dates this passage. Dr. Woodson argues that African-Americans should have the right to teach about their own culture and accomplishments. As a comparison and contrast, he references as one example German-Americans who in many cases still used German in their German-American majority schools, including public schools in German-American majority cities.

Sadly, that world was quickly changing. What the author didn’t realize was that the following decades would become the most culturally oppressive era in all of American history. German culture wouldn’t continue to be celebrated. The German voice in America would be nearly silenced and teaching in German would be outlawed. Nearly all references to the German language and culture would be obliterated, from street names being changed to newspapers being closed down.

The oppression in America has never just been about African-Americans. But back in 1933 maybe that was harder to discern from the perspective of an African-American.

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