John McWhorter and others have described how many of the things that hold blacks back in America are a function of their own cultural attitudes, in which studiousness or scholarship are derided, or even ostracized, as “acting white.”
This phenomenon carries through all the way to college, in which many talented people are channeled into “African-American Studies” (just as many innocent women are cheated of a true education in “Women’s Studies” departments), rather than into something that offers prospects for professions and productive endeavors beyond being African-American Studies professors.
I ran across this very good article in the Village Voice that deals with the specific issues of black scientists involved with NASA and astronomy, and how they’re often denigrated and discouraged by their own community. I highly recommend it.
But less obvious is that NASA’s move injects life into color-blind disciplines that black scientists say have been eclipsed within their own community by more overtly Afrocentric pursuits. Some top students lifted their faces from difficult physics textbooks only to receive what amounted to a slap from a black hand.
One example: Two African American undergraduate students on the Harvard University wrestling team were walking from the gym. The younger one, a kid from the Bronx named Neil, complained that his astrophysics courses weren’t leaving him time to sleep. The banter stopped as abruptly as their footfalls.
“Blacks in America do not have the luxury of your intellectual talents being spent on astrophysics,” declared the elder student, waving his hand in front of Neil’s chest. That indictment, recounted in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s autobiography, The Sky Is Not the Limit, rings fresh in him today, though he’s an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, where he also teaches classes for the CUNY program.
No, obviously what blacks in America need are more Cornel Wests, not people who discover, and impart real knowledge.