Video: "Ebony Towers" - Black academia versus authentic street black in US and UK

Photo: Black American academic Cornel West

"You can can get more love and consideration in black culture by going out of prison and being a recent ex convict than you can by getting a master's degree," says African-American academic Eric Dyson in the BBC documentary "Ebony Towers: The New Black Intelligentsia" by David Olusoga. 

A documentary which compares the state of black academia in the US and the UK and its relationship with the young urban Hip Hop generation. Update: According to AfricansArise, who uploaded the documentary in 2009, the documentary was actually produced in around 2003-2004, hence the lack of Obama.

The documentary shows how the American Civil Rights generation fought its way in America's prestigious Universities and how it's now dominating the debate on race and identity in the US. But it concludes that in Britain this process has not taken place, black Britons are at the margins of intellectual life, according to documentary. 

But the new American black intelligentsia is now confronted with an urban generation which is left behind.  Although this generation created the Hip Hop and the black street culture, this black urban culture unfortunately has a dangerous anti-intellectual component which now threatens the black intellectual tradition of the past. In Hip Hop it's not it not considered authentic black to get an education, or reading a book . In the UK 10 year old Damilola Taylor was killed because he was considered gay because he frequently visited the the library, according to the documentary.

It's a great documentary, but I sometimes wonder if anti-intellectualism is a urban black problem,  anti-intellectualism is also seen in some white "working-class" communities, as the English call it.

Check out the one-hour documentary below. 

Part 1: This is the first part of "Ebony Towers: The New Black Intelligentsia" by David Olusoga comparing the state of Black Academia in the US and with us here in the UK.

Part 2:   This part remembers the struggles that African-Americans went through just to be able to go to University in the US. It also starts telling the story of black people who came to the UK especially from the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s and their children's experience in the education system.

Part 3:  This section looks at how black children in Britain in the sixties and seventies were pushed into certain kinds of blue-collar jobs. It also looks at the rise of black America in the radical late sixties in the US.

Part 4:  This section looks at some of the influence of those who came into Higher Education in the US in the post-Civil Rights era and the rise of the Black Studies programs. In The UK this process has not taken place. The UK is actually experiencing a black brain drain, many academics and intellectuals are heading abroad.

Part 5: This section discusses the influence of music and urban culture on perceptions of education among young black people on both sides of the pond.

Part 6:  This last part continues on the anti-intellectual mentality that plagues young black people and also makes the call for academics and intellectuals to do their bit to address the socioeconomic deprivation within many black communities.


  1. Thanks for alerting Afro-Europe readers to this interesting & thought provoking Ebony Tower documentary.

    When I clicked on the "view on YouTube" option to read the comments in the viewer comment thread I noticed that this documentary was posted in 2009.

    I wondered why there was so much emphasis given to Cornel West, Condelezza Rice, Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates as African American academics/intellectuals who were considered to be "leading the public discourse about race" etc. For what it's worth, it seems to me that the only one of those four individuals who have fared well with regard to their current status/acceptance among many African Americans is Michael Eric Dyson. since 2011 Dr. Dyson has become a political anaylst and sometime substitute program host on MSNBC television.

    I won't list the reasons why I think that the other three "Black intellectuals" have suffered a diminution in their status/acceptance among African Americans. Yet, it occurs to me that, unfortunately, a person doesn't have to be accepted among most African Americans to be considered by mainstream White American society as "a Black person who leads the public discourse about race".

    That said, I consider Michael Eric Dyson's comment that "You can can get more love and consideration in black culture by going out of prison and being a recent ex convict than you can by getting a master's degree" to be far too general. I say this because there are multiple "black cultures" thus the comment might be true among some African Americans but false among others.

    I also believe that when Michael Eric Dyson (or whoever the person interviewed) said that anyone could go to college in the USA, he (or she) was being far too optimistic in disregarding the negative impact of poverty and class on the quality of education and the ability to afford higher education.

    I suppose this documentary was trying to be apolitical, but it still amazes me that no one mentioned President Barack Obama. After all, he was a Black man who graduated from Harvard and then chose to work in the poor communities of Chicago, and from there went on to politics and the rest is history.

    I believe that President Obama's role modeling alone, not to mention his policy decisions must have had and still will have a real positive impact on the self-esteem of People of Color not just in the USA, but in the UK and elsewhere. I'd like to think that the role model of a Black United States President has inspired and will continue to inspire more young people to strive for leadership positions-in politics and in other areas not just in the USA but elsewhere.

    I would also love to read how things have changed-hopefully for the better in the UK since this documentary was produced in 2009. Have there been more politicians of Color in the UK, and any UK organizations from communities of Color which have attempted to address the issues that were raised in this documentary?

    1. Yes Azizi, you're right about Dyson's comment, he should have said black urban culture.

  2. Hey Azzizi, I actually uploaded this documentary in 2009. But the documentary was actually produced in around 2003-2004, hence the lack of Obama. I too would like to see an update on the situation since then.

    1. AfricansArise, thanks for the upload and the comment.

    2. AfricansArise,

      thanks for your comment and response.

      No wonder there was no mention in that documentary of President Obama, and no wonder those particular African Americans were mentioned as the leading Black intellectuals in the USA.

      I thought Michael Eric Dyson looked rather young in those clips. :o)

      Ok, so who's going to produce a documentary updating what is the status of Black education in the UK now?

    3. Hee hee. Yep, someone needs to do a documentary update on these areas. From what I've heard from lecturers within academia here, it sounds like things have got worse.

  3. Interesting documentary and fascinating parallel stories... The importance of Africana studies was particurlary touching..If the documentary was made today I believe that it should include the growing place of African/ Afro-caribbean intellectuals in US institutions.
    Their contribution is rarely discussed..I seriously believe that there is no (or almost none) US institution of higher learning without an African/Afro-caribbean intellectual...

    Among these immigrants, an important number are Afro-Europeans or Afros who have had a European experience...


Post a Comment