The Miseducation Of A Black Millennial: 4 Years Didn't Help But These 4 Books Did
Here's what self education taught me that school didn't
Anger, disappointment, and displeasure was making my blood boil, but at the same time feeling a sense of freedom flow through my mind. I tweeted, “I’ve never felt so deprived, used, and liberated at the same time.”
It felt like a veil had been removed from my eyes. How could I have not seen this myself?
Let me tell you where this derived from.
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Birthed out of boredom and my frustration of not finding a job since I've been out of college almost three years now, I told myself that I’m not going to let that “beat me down.” I’m just going to continue to learn as much as I can by self-educating.
But this time around instead of reading and learning based on an instructors curriculum, I will pick and choose what I want to learn. Things that I know that’ll be beneficial to me as a black millennial woman maneuvering in America. I set out on my self-education journey by listening to podcasts, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, reading articles, and mainly through reading books.
At one point during this whole transition from school to the “real world”, I was confused about what this stage of my life is called. Then one day it clicked that I'm in an adjustment stage. What I mean by that is, I've been adjusting to the world around me outside of the world (school) I've been in since I could remember. Not in a conforming way, but in a way that has allowed me to adjust to myself and to quiet the voices I’ve heard all my life to hear my own. So that I am able to make wise decisions for myself based on what I’m learning and have learned.
As Jasmine Guy once said, “It is when I cannot hear that voice that I've been lost and conflicted.”
I feel like I’ve learned more now by self-educating than I have in all of my schooling (Elementary, Middle, High School and College). It baffles me that it took until I was out of school to actually feel like I’ve learned something. Now, I feel as if I can go out into the world knowing what to expect and what not to expect because in school I didn’t learn any practical tools that made me feel equipped - just theoretical stuff. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t found a job. Maybe it’s Gods way of sitting me down and chilling me out so that I could learn more. I can’t go into something that I’m not really fully prepared for, right?
But honestly, I feel betrayed by school.
That is where that feeling of disappointment and indignant I expressed in the opening of this article stemmed from. At the same time, I’m liberated because my awareness has been heightened and now I know what my responsibility is. That’s to be responsible for myself, my people, and to understand that no one owes me anything. It’s all on me.
These books gave me that realization and opened my eyes to the reality of the world around me.
This is one of the first books I read and although it was published in 1933, I sadly found it to be still applicable to my life today. Two things in this book stood out to me the most. First, Mr. Woodson believing that the mere imparting of information isn’t education he instead defines it as:
“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better...”
Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know that racists whites purposefully omitted the history of Africa and African people, thus only teaching me and the people before me their “history.” I didn’t know that when they did “teach” us our history it was usually in pieces and in a negative light (e.g., slavery).
I learned that Africa had its own language, spices, tools, resources, businesses, culture, and so on before the Europeans exploited, captured, and brought them to America to be Slaves. And that my people were discouraged from going to school, being doctors, lawyers, running businesses, and going to the best schools.
An example of this type of discouragement, to me, was the Tulsa Race riot of 1921 (which I didn’t learn in school by the way). A white mob attacked and bombed a prominent African American community and businesses of Greenwood, known as the "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa, Oklahoma which is considered one of the worst occurrences of racial violence in the history of The United States.
This is where that feeling of betrayal comes from. Every morning in school I stood up from my desk and laid my hand across my chest in allegiance to the American flag that pride itself in equality, liberty, and justice for all only to sit back down in my chair to be taught the opposite.
The second thing that stood out to me was the entire chapter five, “The Failure to Learn to Make a Living”
I interpreted this chapter as African Americans failure to think business (entrepreneurial) because we either weren’t taught to, were discouraged from doing so or didn’t see it around us. The opening line of the second paragraph in this chapter Mr. Woodson states that, “What negroes are now being taught does not bring their minds into harmony with life as they must face it.”
Then he gave an example of how he ran into one of his old classmates from Harvard who had studied wool. Mr. Woodson was basically amazed at his former classmate independence and his leisure time, which prompted him to ask how did he get into the business of wool. The classmate told him that his people had experience in wool, so he pursued it in college. This made Mr. Woodson reflect on the education he received while in college, he studied things like Aristotle, Plato, Marsiglio of Padua, and Pascasius Rathbertus.
I know what was going through Mr. Woodson mind in that moment of reflection he was questioning his education, asking was it really worth it, and mad that he was taught to work for others instead of learning to create and develop something of his own.
Sometimes when one doesn’t see individuals like them represented in a way that’ll make them want to aim for something, it doesn’t give them anything to strive for. After I finished this book, these two Sister Souljah quotes kept replaying in my head:
"Develop a system for yourself in addition to the system you must go through in order to survive in America."
And when she said:
“Nobody ever told me that America is business and, without business, you will have nothing and be nothing... And nobody ever told me how to organize business so that I will be able to develop institutions in my own community.”
Things have progressed since Carter G. Woodson wrote his book and Sister Souljah made those comments. I have a good amount of friends who are business owners, but most of them didn’t learn business, ownership, and the importance of it until after their schooling. Better late than never, right? Right! But it shouldn't be that way. All in all, though I know and understand that I can do the very thing that I wasn’t taught, and I will.
This book changed my view about the whole "Follow Your Passion" hypothesis and deemed it as bad advice and dangerous. Cal Newport explained that "Follow Your Passion" assumes that we already have a pre-existing passion in us waiting to be discovered. And once we find our passion match it with a Job and we'll be happy, but there's little evidence that says we have a pre-existing passion.
Instead of "following your passion" Cal suggested that you should be "So Good They Can't Ignore You." Offer something rare and valuable.
He said you do this by adopting a 'craftsman mindset," where you create something meaningful to offer the world. As opposed to the "passion mindset" where you're focused on what the world can offer.
What I enjoyed about this book so much is that it made me realize that there wasn't and isn't anything wrong with me. Ever since I was young I was asked by family, peers, and teachers "What do you want to be when you grow up?" What are you passionate about?" and other questions along those lines. I always struggled or was afraid to answer those questions because I simply just did not know. I’m in my late twenties now I have an idea of what I’m passionate about but I still really don’t know.
“So Good They Can't Ignore You" and studying the lives and career moves of those who I admire allotted me the comfort to say that with fearlessness. It has also allowed me to eradicate pressure from society, be creative, and make the most out of wherever I end up in life and in my career.
When I opened this book I didn't know what to expect. All I knew about Assata that she was a woman, black, a black panther, great, and Tupac Shakur's aunt. I was sold on that alone. What stood out to me in this book was her openness, honesty, strength and she became the person that she wanted to become.
Assata wasn't always "conscious" or in today's terms "woke." It wasn't until her college years that she grew into who she is and her blackness by that I mean educating herself on the history of Africa and African people, history of America, she grew out her natural hair, and changed her wardrobe. Also, and ironically, it wasn't until she was in prison she learned that even though slavery was outlawed it's still legal in prison. I looked it up and sure enough, she was right. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution says:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
I didn’t know that myself until I read it in this book. I remember learning the amendments in school, but they were really never explained; we just brushed over them. Aside from that Assata taught me that if you’re going to be a struggler, a fighter, and to be free, it’s all or nothing. Don’t take nothing from nobody. Assata never gave up despite her situations, being in prisons, how she was treated in the hospital, conflict with some of her fellow black panthers, and so on. She never had any regrets - now that’s a trait of a true struggler.
She brought to my realization that it’s my right and responsibility to be free, to fight for the freedom of my family and peers. psychologically, racially, economically, et cetera. And to know who my real enemies are.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
I highly recommend this book. In an era where you no longer need the middleman, you really have no choice but to choose yourself.
James says the American Dream and the economy have changed. "Markets have crashed, jobs have disappeared, and industries have been disrupted. Everything we aspired to for security, everything we thought was safe is no longer is." He explained that everything is being cut back, outsourced out of the country, moving towards part-time workers, and taken over by technology. The traditional path to success, you know, attending college for a degree to get job doesn’t work anymore. To truly succeed you have to stop depending on college, companies, and people to define success for you. You have to choose yourself.
“The ethic of the Choose Yourself era is to not depend on those stifling trends that are defeating you. Instead, build your own platform, have faith and confidence in yourself instead of a jury-rigged system, and define success by your own terms.”
He gave examples of some individuals who chose themselves:
Author Tucker Max was getting tired of the publishing industry taking such a large percentage of his earnings due to marketing, distribution, editing, advances, and publicity. He realized he didn't need the publishers for that because of modern technology, the successes of his prior books (this allowed him not to need an advance), and for a cheaper price, he could get marketing, editing, publicity, and the same distribution the publishers pay for. “So he started his own publishing company, in effect, simply to publish his next book."
Alex Day is an example of how the music industry has transformed. Beginning in 2009 he released three albums, had three UK Top40 hits, and got over 100 million views on his Youtube channel. He did all of this with no label backing and with the support of his Youtube fans. "Artist go to Youtube to first get known and then they can skip the major labels altogether as their music gets sold on iTunes."
For those of you who may be afraid to lose the security of your job, you can still choose yourself by being an "entre-ployee.” This is when you take the entrepreneur mentality and apply to your current job. He said you can take control of who you report to, what you do, and what you create.
James is one of the reasons why I started my website. I was writing on other platforms giving them traffic, then it dawned on me that if I could do it for them then I can do it for me. It feels good to have something of my own, yes, even a website. I can do whatever I want with it and write whatever I want without anyone telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.
"Life only tastes good when you eat what you kill. When you hustle for what you earn and someone pays you money in proportion to the service you offered, the idea you've created, your ability to execute on it, and their ability to consume it in a way that benefits them". - James Altucher
I am not against working for others, and I am not against school. In fact, I don’t discourage anyone from going to school because it teaches some of the basic things we need like reading, writing, and math. And with some career choices, you absolutely need a degree. However, I am against not being adequately educated and not being taught that there are alternatives. I encourage you to self-educate in addition to what you’ve been taught and or being taught. Doing so made me realize how much I didn’t/don’t know and how the world really works. And it was right under my nose the whole time, so to speak.
I’m currently reading The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety by M. Scott Peck. He said something that I’m going close with because I thought it was fitting:
One of the most crucial skills of critical thinking is that of deciding what is essential to think or learn about, and what is nonessential. And we must acknowledge the gaps in our own knowledge, rather than feel compelled to let pride, fear, or laziness us into assuming the role of know-it-all.
Ta-Nehisi reminded me that no matter where I go, whether I get a good job, move to a better neighborhood that I can’t escape my blackness. In the eyes of racists, I’m just going to be black. I’m still going to be subject to racism, discrimination, and prejudice - take Lebron James and Serena Williams for example.