The Reverend Jeremiah Wright has become famous after some of his sermons, offered for sale by the church as a “Best of…” series, were played on national TV. The resulting uproar has focused attention on “Black Liberation theology.” This church is attended by middle class people in spite of the admonition on the church web site to “Avoid Middleclassness.” That admonition has since disappeared but, by the magic of the internet, here it is. What does the statement about “middleclassness” mean ? Here is a suggestion.
Remember the fuss about “Ebonics” in Oakland school ? Well, that is only part of it.
At the NAACP meeting, Wright proudly propounded the racist contention that blacks have inherently different “learning styles,” correctly citing as authority for this view Janice Hale of Wayne State University. Pursuing a Ph.D. by logging long hours in the dusty stacks of a library, Wright announced, is “white.” Blacks, by contrast, cannot sit still in class or learn from quiet study, and they have difficulty learning from “objects”—books, for example—but instead learn from “subjects,” such as rap lyrics on the radio. These differences are neurological, according to Hale and Wright: whites use what Wright referred to as the “left-wing, logical, and analytical” side of their brains, whereas blacks use their “right brain,” which is “creative and intuitive.”
When he was of school age in Philadelphia following the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation decision, Wright said, his white teachers “freaked out because the black children did not stay in their place, over there, behind the desk.” Instead, the students “climbed up all over [the teachers], because they learned from a ‘subject,’ not an ‘object.’” How one learns from a teacher as “subject” by climbing on her, as opposed to learning from her as “object”—by listening to her words—is a mystery.
This is ugly stuff. Fortunately, I don’t think this is the mainstream of thought in black educational circles. For the past ten years, I have contributed to my former high school in Chicago. It isn’t too far from Rev Wright’s church, as the crow flies, but, hopefully, it is light years away in concept. When I look at the web site, I don’t see Ebonics or anything about rap music learning. I do see a 96% graduation rate and a college acceptance rate of over 90%. Note the process of application. The school interviews the parents.
This is not a prep school for wealthy black families like the Obamas. This is a blue collar neighborhood and the kids who attend Leo today are working to better themselves. The tuition isn’t cheap for a working family but the school tells me that over 95% of parents are current on tuition at any given time. This is the American dream in action. The last reunion I attended, my 50th, was two years ago. At the first one, in 1996, I saw only one table of black alumni. Two years ago, there were a least three. The white alumni turn out and contribute in hopes that the younger graduates will take over as we die off. It looks like that will happen.
In the meantime, I think a toast to “middleclassness” is in order, no matter what the black liberation theorists say.