Three-Card Monte & the Ghettoization of Black Intellect

Or, Part Three

Clearly, there are more questions about situated and contextual knowledge than answers. The hustler playing three-card monte on 6th Ave. may not have the same credentials, or letters behind his name as I do, but in that situation he certainly was my intellectual equal. This leads us to the question of validated knowledge. What knowledge becomes validated through discourse and what knowledge finds itself slotted way down the intellectual pole of hierarchy?

I don’t want to assume anything about my man’s life situation and how he ended up hustling tourists on a random corner of downtown Manhattan. But because I have had conversations with many students who have Masters and Doctorates, I can assume that, given the “right” opportunities, this dude could have easily taken a seat beside me in any course on Anti-Racism Education and spoken a narrative that was true, poignant, and insightful. Perhaps he would rather be out there “with the people” and making his ends meet by tricking people into a false sense of confidence. But I would wager this: this dude was probably never afforded the opportunity to see the path of higher education as an option.

These hustlers are clearly successful in their vein of employment. Like drug dealers and other criminal forms of occupation, I am agitated with questions regarding why some would choose this over conventional forms of making an honest living. And trust me, the aspect of illicit activity for a means of a living hits home closer than you think (Perhaps…no, never a blog, you’ll have to wait for the book!). The rationale for one to choose this life path over more “safer” options perplexes me. Because I don’t have the answer, despite reading numerous insights on criminology, I am left standing at a corner, still swayed into thinking that I am smarter than this dude facilitating a card game. I guess the only question that we can really answer in education is: How do we get to these brilliant men before they choose a life of the street?

One solution is for education to provide opportunities that validate differentiated knowledges. Hustlers are no dummies, so they couldn’t have been dummies in school. However, they were probably meant to feel that their brand of intellect, or street smarts, would never be valued in the space of a school.

So they left.

What if we were to somehow validate these forms of non-conventional knowledge so that these young men could see themselves in a promising light? Discourse makes it seem as though these black men abandon school. But by a simple observation of the hustler’s intellectual competence, it clearly seems that school, in some form or fashion, abandoned him. His fuck it moment didn’t come from him thinking that he wasn’t smart enough to “do school”. His moment of departure came from school’s insistence that he didn’t fit in with the program. It always takes two to tango.

But in this dance of inequity and injustice, the impetus is on education to take the lead, not the student. We can no longer afford to lose our money to three-card monte pros simply because school crabbed out on them long time ago…


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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