August 6, 2012

PotW: Booker T. and W. E. B.


by Dudley Randall

"It seems to me," said Booker T.,
"It shows a mighty lot of cheek
To study chemistry and Greek
When Mister Charlie needs a hand
To hoe the cotton on his land,
And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,
Why stick your nose inside a book?"
"I don't agree," said W.E.B.,
"If I should have the drive to seek
Knowledge of chemistry or Greek,
I'll do it. Charles and Miss can look
Another place for hand or cook.
Some men rejoice in skill of hand,
And some in cultivating land,
But there are others who maintain
The right to cultivate the brain."
"It seems to me," said Booker T.,
"That all you folks have missed the boat
Who shout about the right to vote,
And spend vain days and sleepless nights
In uproar over civil rights.
Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,
But work, and save, and buy a house."
"I don't agree," said W.E.B.,
"For what can property avail
If dignity and justice fail.
Unless you help to make the laws,
They'll steal your house with
trumped-up clause.
A rope's as tight, a fire as hot,
No matter how much cash you've got.
Speak soft, and try your little plan,
But as for me, I'll be a man."
"It seems to me," said Booker T.—
"I don't agree,"
Said W.E.B.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

This is a fascinating poem, written in 1969, which correctly summarizes one of the most important political debates in African-American history. In fact, one of the most important political debates in all of AMERICAN history: the debate at the turn of the century between Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois.

It strikes me that the debate today, between the "education reformers" in the Black community (Geoffrey Canada, Corey Booker, Michelle Rhee and her allies) and those who are resisting this movement is similar. A DuBois has not yet emerged to hold high the banner of true radical reform, but surely one will.

Washington's viewpoint was defined as "accommodationist", as he was looking for a political path for Blacks that was acceptable to the Jim Crow power in the South. And similarly with the "education reformers" -- they are accommodationist to the power of the hedge fund billionaires who are funding their project, and who have quite a different agenda than the education of the Black and hispanic masses. The agenda of the hedge fund billionaires is to regain K-12 education for the private sector, with its billions of possible profits; to bust the power of public service unions, teachers in particular; and to overall strip working class Americans of the fundamental right to an education. They want education to be seen not as a pillar of citizenship but purely as useful worker training.

Washington thought that the way forward for Blacks in those days was to make themselves "useful" to the white power structure. And of course there is partial merit in this position, tactically. Philosophically it is bankrupt. DuBois advocated complete and holistic "personhood" and a culture of political struggle.

One can readily see the parallel today:L the charter schools, with their uniforms, standardized testing, homogenized culture. One difference is that today's "accommodationist" acolytes -- Canada, Booker, et. al. -- are in part destroying existing gains.