By Funke Oyelade
Dr. Vershawn Young of the University of Kentucky was the keynote speaker for the Black Male Initiative Lecture Series sponsored by the Department of English and Modern Languages at BSU. The series took place on Nov. 19 at the Center for Learning of Technology in room 102. Dr. Young gave a moving discussion about societal views on black men, educational obstacles black men face and how these obstacles affect all black men regardless of where they are from, suburbs or urban areas.
Dr. Young performed a scene from his book "Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity," about two different black men who come face to face in a classroom, while different on the outside, but are much alike underneath. In his performance he used the term cold meshing, which allows the way people talk to combine with academic language.
Young stated that “literacy is an America racist performance” because of the way it is taught. He talked about a device used in schools to teach children how to pronounce words; the voice used is of a Caucasian woman. He asked the audience in attendance how many of them knew any black man that wanted to sound like a Caucasian woman.
The figures of correct speech, those emphasized as great orators and masters of the English language are Caucasian. He states that Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ (HBCUs) role in teaching blacks to assimilate can help keep kids in the ghetto.
What schools do and don’t allow is a form of policing, Young said, and an unwillingness to understand the cultural background of the young black men; communicate to them on their level.
Young mentioned a teaching job he applied for to a school of black males, when he looked at the curriculum; the people the young men were being taught about were all Caucasian. He could not understand how a school of only black boys would not have the kids study black authors, such as Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King Jr. or someone else they could connect with.
There is an unwritten rule that black people cannot carry their blackness with them in certain parts of America due to the stereotypes placed on them. Young mentioned how black men are taught from a young age how to appear less threatening. Young said that he cannot be loud and boisterous without it being looked upon as threatening by non-blacks, but his Caucasian colleagues can do so without problem.
Young’s presentation opened up a conversation that is often iignored when it comes to education and black boys. It’s not so much the research done on the educational gap between young girls and young boys, but more so the fact that educational institutions are teaching black kids that in order to be welcomed into society they must lose their “blackness.”
A person in the audience asked the question, “How is acting white instilled in black’s kids at a young age?” Young responded that it is a process that is taught throughout their lives “due to school and cultural styles that are accepted and those that are not.”
Another attendee asked, “What does it mean to act white?” Young gave background into the phrase by mentioning the study called Beyond Capital High in 1986 where an experiment was done concerning language, education, and young black men. However, the meaning of the phrase is being used differently, “acting white has been used to criticize blacks” that have made it.
It plays into the societal perception of black men who make it, the whole suit and tie image, but “that image is complicated” due to the background of the men that have made it. There is a push to show the end result rather than what made the successful man. There is a push for successful black men to separate from their blackness.
Young’s answer is very similar to the “Black Men and Yin” presentation by Dr. Hoke Glover a couple months ago. Dr. Glover talked about the importance of a free black space, where black people can be themselves away from societal laws and labels. It’s those places that create these men, but when they become successful suddenly credit is given to the Ivy League school they went to and everything else, but the foundation that helped them flourish.
Young brought a different spin on what education is doing to young black men and women and how it can be a hindrance rather than freedom, if their blackness is ignored or looked at as “culturally inappropriate.”