Volume 75, Number 2

May 2000

Black Like Me? “Gangsta” Culture, Clarence Thomas, and Afrocentric Academies

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

In this Article, Eleanor Brown seeks to shift the framework through which we view Afrocentric academies. In the spirit of Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in Missouri v. Jenkins, Brown proposes that Afrocentrism represents an innovative educational response to the crisis in urban black communities. Applying social psychological literature, she argues that poor urban environments are ill equipped to provide the intersubjective reinforcement that is essential to healthy identity formation. A significant proportion of black youth have developed an alternative means of validating themselves, adopting a core of “oppositional” or “gangsta” norms that they associate with being authentically “black.” A primary feature of these norms is the rejection of mainstream opportunity-enhancing behaviors, such as educational achievement and law abidance. Drawing on the philosophical insight that black youth who privilege a detrimental picture of themselves are essentially being misrecognized, Brown suggests that Afrocentrism may be viewed as an attempt to recognize properly black youth. She outlines an Afrocentric curriculum that articulates a vision of black culture as constituted by a history of political struggle and promises to meet the intersubjective needs of black youth. Addressing several liberal criticisms, including the concerns that Afrocentrism undermines healthy participation in the body politic and constrains individual autonomy, Brown concludes by offering a compromise: Liberal educational goals should predominate during primary education and an Afrocentric curriculum should guide secondary education.