The Audacity of Black Learning

Daring to learn against all odds.

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been head down, deep into research for an upcoming essay I’m writing on Black homeschooling. In particular, my research has been reflecting on what learning and education looked like for Black people “before”. Taking a good long look at what happened after integration and examining the costs and what was lost in pursuit of educational equality. 

One thing I’ve been sitting with and thinking about that’s come up quite often is the ongoing message that Black folk learning has always been considered dangerous. A threat to those people and systems against us. If we think back, we remember our enslaved ancestors were forbidden to learn how to read. We also remember the devastating consequences for doing so. “Freedom” still illuminated the threat as our freed ancestors had their school buildings burned and destroyed. Jim Crow showed us just how dangerous a Black person “thinking they were a smart negro” was. And even now, I see it when I find myself meeting a quiet, and mostly white resistance -- and should I venture to say rage?-- when I speak and write about Black children learning and thriving. 

“Black folk learning has always been considered dangerous. A threat to those people and systems against us.”

I have many layered feelings about this. Too many to fit inside one newsletter essay. There are the thoughts that affirm my belief that Black people can and have always educated ourselves. And then, confusion at trusting a system to educate our children that views Black people learning as a threat. But it’s that last piece, the resistance, unwritten in between the lines that keeps showing up for me now. 

In a recent article for Business Insider, I wrote about reimagining school in the wake of the pandemic. I talked about homeschool, of course, and self-directed education. And while that article was written for general consumption, it was important for me to include images of my Black children living and learning. The subtle anger arrived like clockwork. It reminded me of an essay I recently read, The Black Ambition of Raisin in the Sun. A look into Lorraine Hansberry’s infamous play and the reaction it ignited within white folks both on and off the stage: “In portraying Black ambition, the play also showcases the white hostility that always accompanies it.”

It’s this hostility I’m noticing now. Not quite overtly racist. Not loud and boisterous. Instead a quiet resistance. Like an unspoken rage. You can feel it in the questioning and skepticism around Black children and their abilities. The focus on inaccurate or imposed limitations. And even in the forced acknowledgement with a heavy hint of tokenism -- my experience a suggested exception without possibility to be the rule. 

I’ve been trying to name this. Each time it comes up and makes itself visible to me. Each time the visuals of Black children reading, playing chess, discussing stocks, or any other thing provokes skepticism, disagreement, denial. What is it that they’re leaving unwritten, unspoken? In between the questioning and feigned curiosity? The ability, the possibility, the audacity.

Continue exploring with The Secret Network of Black Teachers Behind the Fight for Desegregation

“There has never been a time where African people did not organize their communities in order to give their children the skills they needed to participate as full human beings in the wider village or society.” ~ Sankofa Freedom Academy

Something to Read

  • A Battle for the Souls of Black Girls - A heartbreaking examination of how Black girls are treated, viewed, and disciplined in school and the effects that last long beyond it. “When we talk about racism, we talk about it in terms of statistics and numbers...But we don’t talk about what happens when you have to go into a school where nobody in that building believes you, or believes in you.” 

An Idea/Concept to Think About

Freedom Schools: “In 1964, a small yet vocal number of African American students opted to boycott the public schools altogether. They questioned the logic of entering white classrooms that had reacted violently to desegregation orders. For students who boycotted their public schools, Freedom Schools served as a replacement for conventional classrooms.” - The Atlantic

As I continue to think about homeschool, self-directed education, and what that looks like specifically for Black children, I am constantly reminded that this isn’t new. In the self-directed space, we talk a lot about the way that conventional schooling doesn’t prepare young people for our current society, and as Black parents we’re acutely aware of the absence of Black culture in the classroom. Freedom schools have a history of being child-centered and culturally enriched. I’m reminded that the journey to liberation isn’t solely forward focused. We have the gift of remembering what we’ve done before and recognizing what’s still here to assist us on our way. 


Liberated Young is an initiative for Black parents, educators, and communities of color seeking liberation through learning. Subscribe for insights on homeschool, self-directed education, and getting free.