Circulating around the internet since late April has been this town hall speech that the 10th president of Morehouse College, Robert Michael Franklin, delivered addressing the “Renaissance Men of Morehouse.” He assumed the position while I was here in Atlanta after the esteemed President Walter Massey stepped down from the position. Franklin entered the position after having very successful stints as former president of Interdenominational Theological Center also associated with the Atlanta University Center and was the director of Black Church Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
I even read his book Crisis In The Village. I still think he could have kept that sermon he wrote at the end, especially when I heard him preach it in person at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but that’s my personal opinion.
That being said, back to this speech he gave.
Apparently, this speech was really kept in-house until Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King decided to do a story on this town hall speech it back in the earlier part of this month. King highlighted some of the speech and I read the article then I found the full excerpts (isn’t that oxymoronic) online and I read them fully. Then I realised that I had a response to the whole gist of the message put forth.
While I like the idea of “Renaissance Men” and what it really means, I think that this “renaissance” hearkens back to an era long past. I think that there are a few ideals from the past in which we can learn from and should re-adopt, but to sell the brand of “Renaissance Men” as some novel idea that echoes of the past I think is naive to the presence of pop culture. Namely this hip-hop culture.
In a nutshell, hip hop isn’t just the music, but rather it is also a culture. Molefi Asante, Jr. has made the claim that we already in a post-hip hop generation; I’ve just aptly named it the “Soulja Boy Generation” of kids that were born after about 1985 give or take a few years. When Franklin states that:
We cannot monitor what you wear when you leave campus, but while you are on the Morehouse campus, in the presence of adult learners, do not sag your pants, do not show your undergarments. Do not wear do-rags, and do not wear baseball caps in class or in the cafeteria…
…personally, I feel as though the earlier generation has not had a true dialogue with the younger generation. I’ve yet to hear and see concrete evidence that wearing a baseball cap inside of a building or a doo-rag has affected one’s learning abilities. Aside from those items used as gang signs, I fail to see just how these cultural signifiers will produce a better members of society post-graduation.
But then again, there are aspects of his message that I fully agree with. The idea of being intelligent and being an intellectual appeals to me, so to hear Franklin say that one should be well-read and well-spoken receives nothing but kudos from me. But, then after raising the standard, to me, as an outsider, he seems to kick my generation in the nuts by saying:
I have seen too many students standing in lines wasting time. You should carry something to read and make good use of your down time…This reduces the necessity of relying on profanity or empty verbal placeholders like, ‘um, um, ahh . . . ‘ or nonsense like ‘you know what I’m saying?’..Profanity does not reflect your verbal grace and style, it suggests a lazy mind and is contrary to the Morehouse ideal.”
Personally, I would have been insulted. But, I already have a bachelor’s degree, and I didn’t go to Morehouse, I went to Dillard and graduated from Fisk. So, maybe I don’t get it and never will, and Franklin had already invited the young men that if they had not bought into the idea of the Renaissance Man to exercise their free will and “courage transfer to a more suitable environment.”
And that’s fine.
What I gathered from this speech was clearly a father talking to his sons out of love. I don’t want to take that away from the ethos of the moment, however, even in love, often times the father doesn’t fully understand the son’s point of view. That’s most certainly the case many times with my own father and our relationship. He’s quite clearly old school, and I’m not. I think in this case, more of a dialogue from the older generation is needed in order to hit home runs with more of the general population. I’m not sure if Franklin was aware of the far reaches of this particular speech, but just as a young black male, I feel as though he was speaking directly to me.
The pants “saggin” off of one’s behind is merely a cultural signifier (and I’ve yet to see concrete evidence that “saggin” and “niggas” is nothing more than coincidence and that saggin came magically from the prison culture). Personally, did I enjoy when I was in Ben’s Chili Bowl last year and this dude was almost eye level with me near the counter and his entire butt was hanging out, no. But in the grand scheme of things are there not more important things to worry about? The older generation allows themselves to get bent out of shape because they want to. The same with the do-rag and the baseball cap–unless baseball caps in your school or doo-rags are inciting violence and disruption in the classrooms, I challenge teachers and professor to let the students wear them and see what happens?
Honestly, why can girls wear them and men can’t? Is there some genetic predisposition for women being covered up and men not?
Why not take them off? Some of you ask.
Well, last I checked, the ability on a Saturday morning to roll out of bed with my do-rag on and walk to the cafeteria with sweats on or even plaid sleep pants did not affect my ability to study for my test, it doesn’t negatively affect my intellect. Moreover, I’m more than convinced that idea of “curse” words is nothing more than a societal construct and label that we’ve taken to the next level–God is not going to send me to hell because I said or wrote shit, fuck, hell or damn. Frankly, I’m more concerned about those who place so much emphasis on such words as to reduce my sum existence to the fact that I punctuated a sentence with an emphatic “fuck.”
And I know I’m not lazy.
And I need to have a book in line rather than have a conversation in the cafeteria line?
Now, I wasn’t in the room, and there’s no context in text, but I’m quite interested to know how that one went over. Suffice it to say, the one who actually has a book in his hand may have some other social problems at play. It’s college, so it’s not quite as cruel as high school, but nonetheless, the bookworm is in the minority. Not saying this is a bad thing either. Kudos to the brother who has Native Son in his hand while waiting on his hamburger in the cafe’s line. I’m just hoping that that statement was rhetorical hyperbole pushing some toward that mark of being well-read. That much is true. We don’t read enough. Hell, I don’t read enough. A lot of our time is being wasted on video games and trivial television that really doesn’t advance us personally, nor collectively as a people.
I think what disturbed me the most was that I gathered a pseudo-assimilationist attitude in the speech which really didn’t sit well with me. The skeptic in me already questions the idea that even Japanese and Chinese businessmen are forced to wear cultural signifiers of a Western and European business model at a business meeting even in their own country and how quick we are to denigrate those from the Middle East for still wearing traditional garb. This is not to say that when interviewing for a job that young men should be taught to wear their pants at the waist and to tuck in their shirts and put on a tie if deemed necessary, but seriously walking around on campus?
That is to say that when Franklin made the bold statement
If you cannot follow the guidelines of a moral community, then leave. Change your behavior or separate from this college.”
it seems to me that he just really outlined what it mean to be at a black private school with European ideals.
Yeah, I said it.
Everything that he deemed immoral was something that made us uniquely black. From the doo-rags, to the saggin of the pants, to our type of vernacular, or as James Baldwin called “black English.” Notwithstanding his stance on the whole homosexual population, which I think is a human rights issue and was addressed about as best as one could, he was really asking the young men to be very European in their approach to school, with the hopes that they will be accepted and fit into society post-graduation. Most of his speech addressed the ability of what a man could produce and contribute to society: ultimately the outward appearance. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all well and good, but Franklin, given the published excerpts, was light on the internal workings of the mind and what information should be instilled into the psyche of a Morehouse Man.
It was elitist and not uppity.
An Elitist Negro sees a demarcation between “us and them” even amongst the black community. That’s why Ricky Jones in What’s Wrong With Obamamania was able to write about the “soulessness of the Talented Tenth” because nothing in this speech speaks of helping out your fellow Morehouse Man, or establishing community amongst each other, let alone outside of the campus, all it does is give an ultimatum of “love it or leave” which echoes highly of the jingoistic nature of American capitalism gone awry.
Uppity Negroes don’t give their fellow sister or brother an ultimatum, but rather an understanding ear and they try to engage in a dialogue that finds the best way for them to move forward. An uppity Negro would echo the sentiments of this quote from W.E.B. DuBois at Howard University’s 1930 Commencement Address:
To increase abiding satifaction for the mass of our people, and for al people, someon must sacrifice something of his own happiness. This is a duto only to those who recognize it as a duty. It is silly to tell intelligent human beings: Be good and you will be happy. The truth is today, be good, be decent, be honorable and self-sacrificing and you will not always be happy. You will often be desperately unhappy. You may even be crucified, dead, and buried and the third day you will be just as dead as the first. But with the death of your happiness may easily come the increased happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment for other people–strangers, unborn babes, uncreated worlds. If this is not sufficient incentive, never try it–remain hogs!
I mean, maybe if he made the argument that if our generation sacrificed our hip hop cultural signifiers for the greater good of our people and humanity at large, then maybe it would make sense, but to merely remove my baseball cap because of some ancient tradition that none of us, not even Franklin could easily point to other than “to show respect,” I just want to say ” TO WHO?”
Just like church. I think we get more offended when a young man keeps his baseball cap on in church than God does.
But that’s another blog post, lol.
To my older generation:
We hear you loud and clear. We can’t help but hear you. But, just like you shifted the things of your day and your age, you have to let us as Asante, Jr. quoted Frantz Fanon in his essay “each generation, out of relative obscurity, must discover their destiny and either fulfill or betray it.”
Let us be who we be
I’m sure y’all have comments, lol. I’d love to hear back from y’all.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL