By Kirtis Thomas, with recommended revisions by Steven Carl Johnson
In the past 50 years, African-Americans have been labeled “Colored”, “Negro”, “Black”, and “African American”. Few cultures in modern history have experienced such fluidity in defining whom they are, as determined by skin color and racial origins. The name game is just a symptom of a more pernicious problem, which correlates with fairly consistent low academic test scores in the African-American community. The difficulty in accurately defining this race and concomitant poor learning skills are demonstrably attributed to the lack of internalized belief systems (IBS).
What passes for thinking may be relegated to comparing and contrasting processes. One thing is measured by its relativity to another. All too often, there is a noticeable lack of definitive criteria by which to relate to one’s environment in a meaningful way. In order to be able to analyze data, one must have an innate belief system with which to compare and contrast information, thereby rendering meaning. Furthermore, it is difficult to utilize the internal beliefs of others when one has no personal belief system or common cultural set of beliefs, because one must believe in something to accept or reject an external belief system. Here, to “accept” means to acknowledge, not condone in agreement.
For the purpose of this discussion, “belief system” may be defined as shared history of mostly unconscious, yet functional, self-knowledge. In other words, it is a personal set of values that may be handed down from one generation to another or learned via a communal setting that can be applied to interpretation and thus accept or reject a particular fact, idea, or position. Validation of these concepts is then internal instead of external.
It is by way of internal validation that a society comes to many widely accepted group norms, including its own identity, or name. The identifying label might not stem from the group’s own choosing, but rather, from the group’s acceptance or acknowledgment of an external belief system. Explained simply, you are what you believe. For people to have core beliefs, they must have a pre-existing template, one that allows people to analyze data, with the template serving as the philosophical platform. For example, Korean people believe their race sprang from the union of a woman with a bear. Jews believe they are God’s chosen people. Whether these beliefs are accurate is irrelevant to this discussion. What matters is that a majority of that culture believes it. And from these basic beliefs, along with religion and history, springs the IBS from which people move forward and experience life. Their impact on daily behavior, cognition, emotional functions, etc., can be seen most clearly in the way an IBS promotes stereotypes, when in fact what is being experienced by others is a gross reflection of the IBS. All groups, from Asians and Jews to Arabs and Hispanics, seem to fit part of stereotypes, at least the positive ones, if not the negative. (SMART, TOUGH, LAZY, etc.) Yet for the most part, fortunately or unfortunately, the shared (IBS) determines who we really are. We are not independent human beings of historical literature; we are more alike than different in our common culturally delineated humanities. There may be an argument about what makes a qualified, belief system: there is room for interpretation; still, at a minimum, the definition of an IBS should answer the following questions:
- Where did I come from?
- What am I doing?
- Where am I going?
- How do I get from here to there?
One of the other potent functions of the IBS is that it combines three things: culture, history, and template (which serve as a catalyst) upon which a culture forms, and individual identities, which are really group identities, function. Most people identify themselves as belonging to a particular nation, race, and ethnic background, and sharing history and origins with those of the same identity. Loyalty to one’s people group, cultural traditions, and religious values form the framework within which each of us exists.
American Blacks do not have collective beliefs as compared to virtually all other recognizable cultures. During slavery, African-Americans were the victims of historic brainwashing. Today’s African-Americans inherited this brainwashing from their slave ancestors. Who, being the last people held in slavery in large numbers, were the benefactors of a well-developed system that strove to erase the remains of a once-held belief system. There were, in slavery, numerous African tribes and, as such, numerous belief systems. [different cultures = different belief systems] In approximately 270 years, all of the significant ingredients of an IBS were removed, from religion to philosophy, language to folk tales, as if erased from a chalkboard. In modern terms, it could be thought of as brainwashing through which no memory of what made up the culture was left. Ergo, no transmittable IBS survived. This theory is based on research and observations of African American students at Michigan State University (1966 – 1971). Most of the African-American students scored, on average, 20 points lower on the Graduate Record Exam than white students, why such a disparity? Over time, people without belief systems are more inclined to engage in less cognitive behaviors that don’t require the utilization of the strengths inherent in a belief system (such as deductive reasoning). Some of these less cognitive behaviors and activities are: spending significant time watching television, being more sensitive to popular culture phenomena (as expressed in such valueless behaviors as promiscuous sexual activity), and or pride in ones ability to engage in rudimentary language skills.
After undergraduate college, many of these same African-American students went to law school. Following graduation from law school, many of them were better-spoken, able to articulate thoughts, debate theories, and discuss complex issues. Before law school training they could not do that. Based upon these observations, the hypothesis is that these African-American students had found something that helped serve as a philosophical platform from which they were able to engage in positive cognitive interaction. What was this platform? It was, in fact, the law. The American legal system is a set of rules that govern society, a set of rules that gave these African-Americans something they had been missing, namely, a functional belief system that was both ordered and organized. This belief system facilitated these students’ ability to climb the intellectual ladder and learn how to think critically and reflectively. As stated earlier what passes for thinking is really comparing and contrasting ideas. In order to be able to analyze data, one must have a reliable, fixed belief system with which, or from which, to compare and contrast the information.
Even concepts such as religious faith had a European perspective, since all that had been African was denied both by slave status and 300 years of distancing from what African religions might have been. Without an IBS logic dictates that one does not truly believe in anything. Having nothing to compare with, one cannot accept anything as fact. Thus, such “system-less” individuals experience inconsistent boundaries or values by which to evaluate everyday occurrences.
Obviously, the advantage of an IBS is the facilitation of data. One can make sense of the world only when external events can be processed, or compared. The disadvantage is less obvious, being that it is nearly impossible for people to break away from a given, ingrained way of thinking. In groups, this is a down side in the sense that they will all tend to think alike and act alike, and feel comfortable while doing the same. This includes all the inherent historically obtained behavioral/cognitive errors, since no belief system is developed perfectly or without errors.
A common saying dictates that people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of that history. This is a fallacy. Groups with IBS often know their history well, and continue the mistake cycle. They will repeat errors because the errors are by-products of their immutable template. This leads to an “echo effect” of sorts, being defined as the unconscious whisper of the original mistake (error) heard in one’s mind, like echo. Some cultures excel in certain areas as a result of following the template; in other areas, mistakes are readily repeated, not only by themselves, but by later generations as well. Mistakes as well as successes can be duplicated, just like any other identifiable feature of a given belief system.
In order to understand and appreciate the strengths of an IBS, one might read the Willie Lynch Letter of 17121. This reading may provide the necessary background as to what brainwashing is, when used on a cultural social basis if understood correctly; the “brainwashing” which is discussed here is outstandingly different from that debated in the 1970’s. Supposedly, Vietnamese intelligence experts were brainwashing individual prisoners of war. There was quite a bit of controversy amongst psychologists as to whether such a measure could actually be effective. That set aside, the brainwashing referred here is a social program, perpetrated and felt broadly across the culture. Its main focus was not that individuals were subjected to intense indoctrination (though in a few cases a slave may have “required” some such in the slave owners’ minds). The main thrust was to develop and maintain the economy as one that used the agricultural “tools” available to the farmer: horses, livestock, equipment, and sadly slaves. This is clearly seen in the Lynch document and / or its equivalent in the 1700’s. In the slave-owner’s mentality, the desired goal was to reduce African-Americans in servitude to the mental and emotional (or psychological) level of barnyard animals for the purpose of breeding them for compliance and work. Obviously, animals have no history, culture, or language, which is why the slave-owners worked viciously to eradicate these things from the minds of their slaves.
There are at least two conclusions regarding internal belief system. Initially they may seem contradictory; however in full form one may gain a complementary picture. First, there are benefits too not having a belief system (this may seem counter intuitive based on what has been written thus far). With that in mind, never the less, functioning without an IBS, or thinking outside of the box IBS one must be aware that they are doing so. In other words, to reap the benefits of being able to think outside of the box (outside the IBS), one must realize the following: the fact that there are boxes, they have limitations, and they have potentials. The creativity of non-box thinking is about as close to genius-thinking as most humans are capable of. Further testing is required.
Second, in order to improve societal functioning of African Americans, a belief system can be taught that would not impose some of the features people find distasteful in other belief systems. This would allow African-Americans to improve their social standing and be able to compete in a society that has been run by flawed, internally corrupt belief systems. Teaching law (American Jurisprudence) starting in kindergarten would be beneficial to African-American students. American law is a simple enough belief system and would empower the students who learn it. In kindergarten, this belief system could be taught in simplified methods, becoming increasingly complex as the student moves into higher grades. This training would provide the students with the ability to make judgments based on comparing and contrasting data to a fixed quantity. On reaching high-school, the students would step beyond instruction in what American Law says and begin to learn about how to adjust in a society based on that Law: how to conduct oneself as a consumer of legal services, how to mount a political campaign, and how to mount a social movement or protest movement.
If correct, several things should occur, grade point averages should rise, violence should decrees, and the general achievement of an entire subject group or race should be raised. If this works to satisfaction, it could become the central engine of a particular society or a significant portion of the engine. It is also possible that by being able to choose a belief system that is based more on logic, reason, and societal mores, we may be able to avoid the pitfalls inherent in other systems that cause repetitive, self-destructing patterns.
1. William Lynch Speech, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lynch_Speech> 2. BAOSU Members, (2005). Belief system: a double-edge sword. Oklahoma State University Buddhist Association. Retrieved November 26, 2006 from <http://www.okstate.edu/osu_orgs/ba/F05/belief_system.pdf>, Oklahoma State University Buddhist Association.