The MisEducation of a Generation

The first time I heard the term ‘miseducation’ was in 1998 when Lauryn Hill’s first solo album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ hit the airwaves and set the hip-hop world a buzz. The album earned five Grammy awards; reinforcing that it was the best album of the year and for some of us, it was one of the best albums ever.  I know that it remains one of the most frequently played on my IPod.

In 75 minutes Ms. Hill offered a brilliant summation of a generation’s experience – touching on everything from school delinquency to teen pregnancy and abortion, to spiritually, self-esteem and peer pressure, to the importance of family and community, to love and lifelong commitments. It was a critical offering that personified the beautiful complexities of growing up in and getting out of the ‘hood’.  Her poetry was profound; her voice dynamic and at the ripe old age of 22, Lauryn became hip-hop royalty. To her fans, Lauryn was a prophet – educating the masses through song.

However, having just read Patricia Hill Collins’ Another Kind of Public Education: Race, Schools, the Media and Democratic Possibilities, the term ‘miseducation’ conjures very different emotions.  Collins poses two essential questions as the base for her work. The first, ‘what kind of critical education might the American public need to picture new democratic possibilities?’ And the second, ‘what changes can we envision in schools and in other important social institutions that might provide this critical education?’ Although Collins was talking primarily about race relations: the post-civil rights’ era (1980-present) color-blind racism that engulfs marginalized communities regardless to their skin color, her principles, which are predominately about power structures and organizational practices that create social climates which foster separatism and perpetuate social blackness, can very much be applied to the inequalities in our food system.

In her explication of social blackness, Collins reasons that one (anyone) can be “blackened’ in many forms because just like ‘white,’ ‘black’ is a social concept which typically means ‘being pushed down on a social scale’ and  most often relates to perception of age, religion, ethnicity, class or markers of subordinate status. She further explains that ‘racism is not simply a system of moral failure that produces prejudiced white individuals. Racism, instead, is a system of power…. And the power to define race lies in the context and not necessarily in the person.’ She offers that racism as a system of power serves as a template for thinking through other similar systems like gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, class, age and ability.

Thus, when I think about culturally biased notions juxtaposed with the uncomfortable reality that by alarming percentages African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have higher rates of poverty, are at higher risk of HIV infection, are more vulnerable in financial security (a fact highlighted by 2008 housing crisis), top the charts amongst the percentage of those involved in the criminal (in)justice system and/or incarcerated and are greater effected by governmental cuts in public education, public learning and recreational space,  public transportation and void of adequate medical assistance, it becomes obvious to me why we also have greater rates of health disparities, obesity and dietary related diseases.  Which causes me to implore the question as to whether the food industry in this country has merely become another system of power?

Most of us, begrudgingly, recognize that the food industry is a business, a big business, concerned more about its shareholders’ profit than the public’s health. When we consider that 80% of the US food dollar goes to cover expenses other than the “farm value” of the food itself, it becomes less of a mystery as to why we have sub-quality food.

The nasty truth is that the food industry-at-large supports an organizational practice that is designed to distort what consumers know about the nutritional value of their products. Their marketing strategies which are designed to mask the extreme amounts of sugar, salt and fat that the products contain, are targeted to the most vulnerable of populations: children and marginalized communities. Government officials who have been elected or appointed to monitor the practices and regulate the policies and behavior of food companies are often compromised and biased by their personal and financial ties to the very companies they are employed to monitor. This is a systematic failure; one that is proliferating a massive miseducation.

If the average middle-class, college educated American has to rely on the work of investigative journalists, documentary film makers and local and global food justice advocates for their food education, what are marginalized, poverty plagued communities afflicted by derisory public education conditions, inadequate housing, under-employment, familiar instability, social stigmas and absent medical care supposed to do?   Rely on the media; a system that we all know is fatally tarnished?

According to political food writer, and editor of the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health, Marion Nestle, ‘the primary mission of food companies, like that of tobacco companies, is to sell products. Food companies are not health or social service agencies, and nutrition becomes a factor in corporate thinking only when it can help sell the food.’  To this end, food service companies spend more than $11 billion dollars annually on direct media advertising – campaigning that people overeat. Nestle reinforces that, ‘in a competitive food marketplace, food companies must satisfy stockholders by encouraging more people to eat more of their products. They seek new audiences among children, among members of minority groups, or internationally…. Advertising, new products, and larger portions all contribute to a food environment that promotes eating more, not less.’

This is crazy. And it becomes even more insane when we consider that Americans spend $40 billion dollars annually on weight loss products. With 50% of all Americans suffering from hypertension and 1 out of every 3 Americans struggling with obesity – African-American women topping the charts with 8 out of 10 of us being critically over weight /obese which is an expressway to heart disease, diabetes, and/or high cholesterol, this can’t just be a failure of the individual.

So as I sit with my newfound definition of miseducation, I am ironically wedged between being stilled with despair and preparing to battle. We are undoubtedly the information/technology generation with mobile communication devises at the nexus of our being and yet in large and growing percentages, particularly when it comes to food and the environment, we are grossly misinformed and horribly miseducated.

Food Education in the ‘hood’ is a creative challenge. When folks struggle daily to make ends meet, knowing wholeheartedly in some sense and completely ignorant in others, that they are being taxed by a governmental system that ignores their most basic needs, it makes it hard for one to self-advocate.  But since our future lies in the hands of today’s youth, their health and wellness is our collective responsibility. We must, not only, advocate for them but infiltrate the very systems that they rely on for information to re-educate them. This is a process and I am happy to report that SOS Juice in Oakland is off to a brilliant start. Check out this link to their video, ‘Food Fight’:

Eat well. Be well.

Love, Peace and Progress!


2 Responses to “The MisEducation of a Generation”

  • Reading this at the end of a full … overfull, fruitful week, all I can say is amen. Keep talking about it. And let’s all keep taking the large and small actions we can toward a healthy future, with more rather than less racial justice and equity in all the systems you mention. I look forward to learning more about SOS Juice…. Love, Peace and Progress back at you!

  • I love the new turn your blog is taking. Keep them coming! I’m learning a lot.

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