During Black History Month, we can review stories of scientist George Washington Carver or journalist Ida B. Wells.
These and many other stories are notable, but I have a more general point: the need, currently, to recognize and develop the Black intellect.
For instance, many say the best way for poor Black men to exit poverty is through sports. But, as Martellus Bennett, former New England Patriot wrote, “Less than 2 percent of college football or basketball players go on to play in the NFL or the National Basketball Association.”
Bennett advocates widening our options, adding:
"I write this not as a former basketball player who entered the NBA draft in high school or as a Super Bowl champion, but as a children’s book author, a film director, a writer, a comic book enthusiast and creator, a painter, an illustrator, a creative director, an entrepreneur, an investor, a candy-maker, a shoe designer, an executive producer, a musician, an app developer, a political cartoonist, an activist, a toymaker, a husband, a father, a business owner and a property owner."
In order to broaden Black options for success, however, we need to counter the ignorance of those who doubt Black capabilities.
During a medical emergency on a Delta flight, a Black doctor volunteered to help, but she was told, “Oh no sweetie put your hand down.’” The flight attendant told her they were looking for “actual physicians or nurses.”
Recently, some Black journalists have repeatedly been referred to as “stupid” or “dumb,” despite strong credentials and awards.
Years ago, one lay church leader “corrected” me when I said the book of “Lamentations” was poetic. Somehow, two degrees in English, the editorship of the university literary journal, and years of teaching left me unequipped to identify poetry.
Expectations matter. In student teaching at a suburban high school, I heard teachers complain that they could not “expect” the same levels of excellence from the now Black student population. But if we read Mike Rose and his "Lives on the Boundary," we find people rise to the levels we expect. It is one thing to require Shakespeare as a staple. Part of the canon. But instead of Tillie Olsen’s dry “I Stand Here Ironing,” why not use Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” or James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”? Achieve academic goals but also reach your audience.
Bias and condescension survive. But Blacks still achieve. My brother won a “faculty of the year” award for teaching accounting. All five of us earned at least a master’s degree. Dr. Fauci honored Dr. Kizzmekia (Kizzy) Corbett as co-leader in developing “the very vaccine that’s one of the two that has absolutely …almost 100% efficacy” against COVID-19.
So many more examples stand around us – from physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to author Michael Eric Dyson, to the British Kenneh-Mason family, with five extraordinary classical musicians.
Like Blacks in Jordan Peele’s film "Get Out," the Black body is valued but not necessarily the Black mind. Athletics and manual labor are admirable but should not be our only options. In promoting Black minds, we can find benefits that reach far beyond the Black community. Black minds do matter.
Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.