Teaching in the ‘hood, I hear a lot about the Illuminati. Some of my smartest students are hardcore conspiracy theorists, and they are quite good at preaching about the Illuminati, a secret group of elites who supposedly control the world. When we get into dynamic class discussions about police brutality, about the economic crisis, or about hip hop, someone will inevitably bring up the Illuminati as an explanation for why Black people are oppressed, for why politicians or hip hop artists mislead people, or for why society increasingly seems like it’s on the verge of breaking down.
My friends and I wrote this pamphlet to engage with these young intellectuals. We argue against the Illuminati conspiracy theory, but we do so in a way that aims to engage with the questions these folks are trying to answer, instead of patronizingly dismissing them as ignorant:
Illuminati theory helps oppressed people to explain our experiences in the hood. Society throws horrible stuff in our faces: our family members get locked up for bullshit. Our friends kill each other over beefs, money or turf. Our future is full of dead-end jobs that don’t pay shit. We struggle to pay bills while others live in luxury. On TV, we see people all over the world dying in poverty, even though we live in the most materially abundant society in history. Most people act like none of these terrible things are happening. Why does this occur? We start looking for answers, and Illuminati theory provides one.
We believe Illuminati theory is wrong, and we wrote this pamphlet to offer a different answer. We wrote this pamphlet because we know people who think about the Illuminati usually want to stop oppression and exploitation. They’re some of the smartest people in the hood today. Forty years ago, Illuminati theorists would’ve been in the Black Panther Party. Today most of them sit around and talk endlessly about conspiracies. This is a waste of talent.
I am sharing this pamphlet mostly to reach any youth reading this blog. For teachers reading this, I also wonder whether it might be useful in the classroom? I imagine if you teach a lesson on the Illuminati theory, your students will probably be engaged and interested since many of them are studying this stuff already on their own. I’m not sure if you can get away with assigning this pamphlet as part of such a lesson; it may be too direct and too radical for most schools. But at the very least, I hope it can serve as a reference to help get you started.
In any case, I will cover the printing costs of a class set of pamphlets for the first person who manages to teach this text in a school classroom. I will do the same for the first person who convinces your colleagues and administrators that teaching it aligns with the new Common Core standards we are required to teach. If you do that, send me your lesson plan, and we can post it here so others can use it.
We tried as hard as possible to make the pamphlet a considerate text, meaning we define key vocabulary within the narrative, or in the glossary, and attempt to break down complex social theories in everyday language, with references to daily life experiences. The intended audience is not necessarily all youth; it is written for intellectuals in the ‘hood who are already interested in the Illuminati, so it presumes some level of prior knowledge. But it is intentionally written in a non-academic way with as little jargon as possible.
We are trying to reach intellectuals in the ‘hood because we think they could have a tremendous impact on the world if they end up catalyzing social movements, but their conspiracy theories are holding them back. Also, we see many of these young intellectuals dealing with similar problems that older intellectuals and activists are dealing with; they are asking “why do more people around me not see what’s wrong with our society? If they do see it, why aren’t they willing to take action to change it”?
Many academics and activists answer these questions by suggesting that they are the only enlightened ones, destined to teach others who are too blinded by false consciousness, too brainwashed by the media, by their privilege, or by their religion. Young intellectuals in the ‘hood develop an analogous explanation when they say they are the only ones who are not fooled by the Illuminati’s lies. These elitist reactions to our alienation fail to help us overcome it, and fail to explain why more people are not fighting back, and how this might change; instead, they simply widen the gap between the intellectuals and everyone else.
We need a theory we can use to overcome this alienation, to catalyze the processes through which we all fight back together. Conspiracy theories are a roadblock in the way of this.
I am confident that some of my students will overcome his roadblock and will come up with new explanations for their social oppression, and creative strategies for overcoming it.