Professor questions validity of black anti-intellectualism

Ashley Tsao

The director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis & Studies Department spoke about the myth of African-American students anti-intellectualism at a faculty book presentation Wednesday. 

Director of the institute Kevin Cokley, professor of Education Psychology and the African & African diaspora studies, discussed key issues from, “The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism: A True Psychology of African American Students,“ and said the myth should not be perpetuated among students and faculty. 

Cokley cites in his book a definition of anti-intellectualism — the internal cultural trait that devalues learning — coined by John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at University of California at Berkley.

Cokley questions both the definition and existence of anti-intellectualism in society. 

“It is too much of a generalization,” Cokley says. “Data does not support this idea. It is ahistorical to say blacks are anti-intellectual. How can you say blacks don’t value school if people literally fought and died for the right to be educated to the degree that other people are?” 

While anti-intellectualism is a myth, psychology senior and event attendee Jennifer Oruebor said she thinks black students on college campuses face a broad range of other problems including their voices not being heard.

“We need people who actually want to work out a solution to issues that have been raised,” Oruebor said. “We have to have more minorities in leadership positions, like student government. If there is more interaction with minority students, negative stereotypes are brought down because people have a better perception of minorities.” 

According to Cokley, students and faculty need to make adjustments. 

“One of the main hurdles African-American students face is dealing with teachers and professors who are not culturally competent and have preconceived notions about their capabilities,” Cokley said. “We also have a curriculum that is very Eurocentric and does not embrace the full aspects of the human experience. Having black students being told they are part of a culture that has not contributed anything of significance to the course of human civilization is a disservice.” 

In addition to dispelling the myth that blacks are anti-intellectual, Cokley discussed the idea of black students fearing to “act white” through assimilating to popular white stereotypes. While this fear is present among some students, it is not a cause of anti-intellectualism, Cokley said. 

Brenda Burt, UT professor of African & African diaspora studies and discussant, said many of her students were conscious of the way they spoke when going into an integrated environment. 

“We are not acting white, we have learned how to speak properly,” Burt said. “It is not white. I am black and smart.”