Black studies and the black intelligentsia

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By Muhammad Ahmad

The Battle for Black Studies is one that has deep psychological ramifications because it is a struggle for the redefinition of education in relation to African people in Africa and the Western world. Black Studies led to the questioning of legitimacy—relevancy of the entire western educational system, which in essence is a questioning of the whole European cultural frame of reference.
Black Studies, if correct, lead African Americans into engaging in an African American Cultural Revolution. African American education must be education for liberation, or at least for change. In this respect, it was to prepare African American students to become the catalyst for an African American Cultural Revolution. All courses, whether history, literature, or mathematics would be taught from a revolutionary African American internationalist perspective and become the instrument for change.
Because of the upsurge of the Black Studies Battle and the rise of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, programs such as Project Upward Bound, Project 500 and 300, which gave African American working class youth a chance to enter white colleges have been diluted and almost eliminated.
The power structure hoped to develop a “buffer” group, or a petty bourgeoisie from urban African American working class youth that would be trained in white universities as the new leaders who would “have it made.” These new leaders would contain urban insurrection and would insure the African American working class that the white capitalist system can work for them too. But when the San Francisco State rebellion began to spread to other campuses, the power structure realized these African American working class students were spreading to other campuses. They realized that these African American working class students were becoming radicalized in their own campus struggles and had the potential of becoming a revolutionary intelligentsia. Even worse, they had the potential of becoming an intellectual proletariat intelligentsia.
The intellectual proletariat is the element of the mass that comes into consciousness of itself using its intellect in relation to power for the people. The intellectual proletariat does not have to be a university student, but is often self-educated writers, artists, musicians, and poets, directly coming from the masses. When the intellectual proletariat enters into conscious opposition with the established order, it makes up the backbone for the social revolution and becomes the professional spokesman for the masses in their struggle.
The greater threat to the power structure was this potential African American intellectual proletariat radicalizing its future (white college) middle class, leading it in mass campus activity and helping to transform it into a revolutionary intelligentsia. The basis of our problem is socio-psychological in nature. There is a class correlation between revolutionary internationalism and social psychology. This is why Marcus Garvey, Noble Drew Ali, Malcolm X and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad have been the ones who have come the closest to providing a solution to our plight and developed a mass following.
Coordinating this mass action movement must be connected with an intense struggle for autonomous Black Studies departments that teach the “history of Black political thought.” All Black Studies must deal with the ideology of revolutionary Nationalism.
The new African American college students are the children of the radicalized African American bourgeoisie of the 1950s and the 1960s. When we say the African American bourgeoisie is radicalized, we mean that they have been badly challenged in their Anglo-Saxon middle class orientation, but the radicalization has not fully taken place. The new African American college student is a transitory class within the radicalized African American bourgeoisie. The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the rise of African independence movements along with the African American liberation struggle did much to challenge the African American bourgeoisie in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The late E. Franklin Frazier predicted this radicalization or transformation of the African American bourgeoisie in some of his later writings.
The new African American college students are living in an era of high inflation, external imperialist war, recession and critical lull in our national democratic revolution or struggle for parity. These are some of the environmental factors that will affect their thinking. The Battle for Black Studies must take a deeper dimension and must attack the central factor of neo-colonization.

May 9, 1977

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