Let me start out by saying this is post is NOT about Joshua Packwood–in fact let me be clear about the congratulations that are due him. I am a firm believer about those that earn awards and acclaim should deserve it. However, this post is to address the issues I couldn’t help but notice that surround his interesting rise to stardom.
Now, I don’t know if I’m beating a dead horse by writing a blog about this the day after it made national news, but here I go.
It was released yesterday that Morehouse College, the institution established in 1867 in Atlanta, Georgia, the nations ONLY undergraduate institution dedicated to educating black males is naming it’s first white valedictorian. His name is Joshua Packwood from Kansas City, MO. A quick Google search will provide further family background stories or some of the embedded links that I’ve done for your convenience and one could see possibly why he chose Morehouse, it was more his speed than some other schools.
Well, if one thinks I’m race baiting, then so be it. If one thinks that I’m “hatin’,” then so be it: you shoulda seen me yesterday, I went to the store and loaded up on Haterade just for moments like this.
Whatever the case may be, this poses some issues, not problems, but issues for those of us who graduated from HBCU’s. Now the following may come off as offensive to non-blacks, but this is how I’m feeling, and some of my other friends that I talked to yesterday about this issue. I’d welcome feedback, and only positive feedback that engenders good, wholesome discussion about this issue.
Issue number one for me is that the only reason this young man is getting press is because he’s white. And yes, Geraldine Ferrarro was right in some respect to the effect that some of Obama’s noveltyis because he’s black. But that’s something she should have known better to not have said where it would have gotten out as such, but that’s a whole other blog about what blacks and what whites can say. But let’s be honest, if the college was on the proverbial other foot, I doubt it would make national news. Perhaps if it were a small school that has a tradition of being liberal, perhaps the local state papers would carry it, but I don’t see it going any farther.
But, all of this plays into the truly complicatedness (yes, I made up a word) that is the black community. Irrespective of Morehouse being Martin Luther King’s alma mater, Morehouse is REALLY a good school to go to. In the black community, Morehouse ranks high in the minds of uppity Negroes. Granted this uppity Negro didn’t apply to Morehouse, in fact University of Alaska-Anchorage was my number one pick, so we see where my mind was, but it was and still is a highly revered school. So, why is it that the previous 140 valedictorians didn’t get write ups in the paper about them? And I wonder would an Oberlin College, known for its historical liberalism make a national press release about their first black valedictorian.
Frankly, a quick internet research only turned up one name of a black valedictorian named Franklin Denison from Northwestern Law School in 1890.
So is it that black students aren’t smart enough to be valedictorians of TWIs (traditionally white institutions) as a reason why when I type in “black valedictorians undergraduate” or “black valedictorians ____________” (insert your school of choice) into a Google search engine that nothing pops up. When I was talking to one of my friends who currently attends Morehouse and I simply asked “What were y’all doing [to seemingly “allow” this boy to be valedictorian]?” to which he replied “f*cking around…..being black and trifling….letting ole boy exist under the radar and then pop up his senior year and end up being valedictorian….that’s wat we’ve been doin.” That was from a Yahoo Instant Messenger conversation, so it’s a direct quote. And for those that are wondering why “black and trifling” are synonymous, that’s yet another instance in coded lanugage.
But, its hard for me to ponder that out of that class, he’s the only white student and he managed to succeed and the others did not. At a school that is quite clear on its goal for educating black males, it’s just very interesting, or even ironic that it’s naming a valedictorian who is white. Now, I’m not going so far as to say it’s a slap in the face of the previous valedictorians, by Packwood simply being named one. If he earned, he should get it. I think the slap in the face, if there even is one, arises when Morehouse, as the pinnacle of uppity Negro maleness is naming someone who looks like the oppressor as the best out of all of those sitting at the graduation.
Now I’m sure if he had been my classmate for four years I’d have a TOTALLY different viewpoint. But in light of recent racial events surround the presidential race, and the Sean Bell case and these Philadelphia police officers pulling a Rodney King on these men (which I think was more racially infused than the Sean Bell case) I think that its quite clear that the United States is not a post-racial society. So, for me, Joshua Packwood does not transcend race–he’s still white.
Another aught with this whole situation is as to whether or not a black student would be as readily accepted on white campus as valedictorian or otherwise. I was previously convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that the answer is no. One is from personal experience, and the other is just as a result of listening to others experiences.
Quick story, back when I had corn rows, I enrolled in a 2nd year graduate level accountancy class at Vanderbilt University because it would have satisfied a credit that I knew I needed when I had intended on still graduating from Dillard University post-Katrina. Lets just say, I didn’t fit the image, and I was given the absolute run-around as far as getting an ID and a password to access the online readings. Suffice it to say, I didn’t do to well because I was unable to get the required reading done. Understand, however, that the professor was all smiles, and nice about the situation. And the lady to whom I talked to each class period concerning the ID and password was all smiles. The only reason I got the ID and password was that one of those days, another younger woman, who happened to be from Chicago as well told me what to do. And when I did it, and caught the older woman in a lie–I was like WOW! This actually happened to me.
Secondly, I REALLY encourage the readers to read this embedded link about being black and attending Yale University and I remember visiting the school in the spring of 2005 as I was looking at Yale Divinity school and walking through the main part of campus and coming from New Orleans, 67% black at the time, it was quite a culture shock.
My mother kind of went off when she quoted the president of Morehouse as saying “Josh Packwood is Morehouse…He happens to be Euro-American and brings much appreciated diversity to our campus.” Well, what did you expect for him to say? “What the hell were the rest of y’all doing to allow a white boy to be valedictorian?” I’d think not.
Whatever the situation, this is definitely going to be a conversation piece for some months probably even years to come. Especially because I know I’ll be the one to always say “Well….you know Morehouse had a white valedictorian back in the day.”
Again, I just wonder was it really worth getting write-ups in the AJC and Newsweek online, especially seeing as how we do NOT yet live in a post-racial society. Contrary to popular belief as disseminated by Sean Hannity, we as black people have not yet gotten to a point where one can “be judged by the content of their character” as opposed to “the color of their skin” as he so famously quotes Martin Luther King.
My final qualm was that a man of Morehouse was quoted as saying “Right now we live in a time where people say the black institution is obsolete, that you can get a better education at a majority institution….To see a white guy who had declined Harvard for Morehouse, I figured it was good enough for me.”
This was by a junior Wendell Marsh, a junior as reported by the AP.
I’d really like to talk to him and tell him that HBCUs and TWIs are the same, and always have been. It’s interesting to see that people still have the “white is right” standard. It seems to me that he only made the decision in comparing it a) to a TWI and b) it seems that Joshua Packwood’s status as a student at Morehouse somehow validated it as a “real school” over that of, hell, Martin Luther King!!! and the THOUSANDS of alumni that have graduated from Morehouse over the years.
I cringed when I read that line in the article.
So, Mr. Marsh, if you happen to read this, please, lets sit down and talk, man to man, no hard feelings and I want to know where you come on this particular issue because, yes, I’m calling you out.
I feel it most appropriate, also, to close with yet another sentiment from one of my Morehouse friends:
If we have a white valedictorian, it’s time for a black President [of the United States.]
keep it uppity, and keep it truthfully radical, JLL
[added after original post date: I believe this CNN article speaks to some of the issues that I was trying to raise in this post. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/US/05/16/white.valedictorian/?imw=Y&iref=mpstoryemail]