Friday, June 6, 2008

Intellectualism as a Class Factor

Intellectual interests, pursuits, and expertise are also class factors. I’ll admit my snobbishness is intellectually based. My reasons why aren’t well-organized, but I think it is because I view education and intellectualism as egalitarian pursuits. You don’t have to come from a particular family or social class to be well-read and up on current events. You don’t have to come from a long line of scholars or artists to become one yourself or to help others become scholars or artists. It is a free and open. So, why aren’t more people pursuing art and scholarship? Why don't “hard-working (white) Americans” or “folks from the hood” appreciate scholarly pursuits?

Where is the American Intelligentsia? First, I’ll define the word. It describes the scientific, literary, artistic and other intellectual members of society. The term is Russian in origin and used around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin during which time the critical, thinking members of society were hunted down. Sometimes, I feel like that is happening today – in this nation. The wave and devotion to anti-intellectualism and carnal pursuits leaves me slack-jawed. Not to mention the angry response to Presidential Candidate Barack Obama & his wife and their Ivy League Educations. (Let’s be clear – Hillary and George W and John Kerry and most Presidential candidates have Ivy League or Posh college & law school educations. What makes the Obamas so uppity?)
And I feel like the Black Community has a heaping extra dose of this herd-stupidity. Kids, especially young men, are chastised for doing well in school. Crack smoking. This aversion to education or even informal scholarly pursuits just seems to make class differences (and exclusions) within our demographic more pronounced. And despite some economic levying, my patience with “financially well-off” blacks but who are as un-read and un-discerning as my sweet-hearted, but “country-as-a-dozen-of- eggs” Delta Mississippi relatives makes me want to cull the Black middle class herd.

So, where is the African-American Intelligentsia? I found his New York Times Article -Magazine for the Black Intelligentsia produced by Law Professor Randall Kennedy.

An excerpt:

There was, for example, a long polemic blasting Harvard Law School for what its author saw as a stress on "white cultural norms" at the expense of "subordinate communities."
"It was clear for a long time that if you went to a bookstore or a newsstand, you wouldn't find a black American equivalent of a Commentary Magazine or a Tikkun," Professor Kennedy said during an interview at Harvard. The reference was to magazines, one generally conservative and the other liberal, that focus on Jewish issues. "That was a real weakness for the African-American intelligentsia, which hasn't had much of an institutional base," he said.

This article was published in 1991! I was in high school that year! And even then there was talk of pounding white cultural norms in the ground – so this stuff we’re - or rather Obama is -dealing with isn’t new.

Professor Randall Kennedy’s comment about there being NO institutional base for Black Intellectualism or Intelligentsia was very true. Considering I’d never heard of this magazine - Reconstruction - until now, and it didn’t last too long, proves it didn’t become an institutional base either. So many concerned Black citizens and Black intellectuals have been put out over the prevailing imagery (and hi-jacking) of Black American culture by BET and other Ghetto-isms, maybe this is the intra-community publicity war worth taking on. Build up the Black Intelligentsia! (?) Can we do that without becoming evil snobbish tyrants against our less educated brethren? I don’t know.
But in the meantime, does the internet, specifically, the AfroSpear, provide that fertile soil for such an institutional movement to spring forth?


Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

i dont know, maybe nowadays
in the day
folks read and the cream came to the top
we got 2 get back to that mentality

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

06 07 08

Good post and the topic has been one of concern in my family for quite a while.

I think that the strength of pop culture and media conglomerates has a lot to do with our values in society. You spoke of the herd, well most folk are herded because it is easy. They don't have to think for themselves, they can accept information from most any source without questioning veracity etc...I think that mental laziness is apparent in a culture where instant gratification is a paramount goal!
For this reason, we are producing far less scientists and techicians because pursuit of such studies requires DEEP THOUGHT. I am not disparaging other disciplines either, just pointing out where the US is deficient.

Alas that I ramble.

Exquisitely Black said...

Excellent post. I think we can, the Black Intelligentsia exists, the AfroSpear is just one example that it does, but we're being overshadowed by the ghetto, keep it real, over-sexed portion of our population. It will be difficult to reassert ourselves without feeling just a tad snobbish towards this group, but we must.

The phone rang the other day and a friend asked what I was doing. I said I was reading and was promptly called a nerd. I laughed it off at the time, but it makes one wonder when reading turned from the most sought after goal of our people to nerd territory.

The Urban Scientist said...

thanks everyone.

EB: Wow! You're so right. My paternal grandmother's greatest wish was to finish high school and get a college education. She refused to marry my gradnfather until she finished high school. She finished 8th grade - a big deal in the 1930's on time. But at the age of 24 she left the rural south & went to the midwest to live with relatives to finish high school. She came back home and married. She was 25.

Reading and writing was a big deal, now it's No big deal... That's the sign of a regressive population.

Lester Spence said...

Do you think that Wynton Marsalis is an intellectual? Common? How about Cassandra Wilson?

Another question. How would you disprove the idea that blacks don't value education, while still acknowledging that class barriers are powerful hurdles?

The "black people don't have X like Y ethnic group" is problematic for a couple of reasons. Once you get in that trick bag it's hard for you to get out, no matter how much you presume to care for black people.