When White is Right, even for Morehouse College

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 NegroesGranted 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]


30 thoughts on “When White is Right, even for Morehouse College

  1. “Someone who looks like the oppressor…”, I’m sorry Josh but the only oppressor in this story is the academic apathy of the Morehouse Men.

    But I understand your point.

  2. You just Sean Hannitied me Billy. You took me out of context. I said “The slap in the face, IF THERE EVEN IS ONE…” I left it totally open.

    Secondly, I remember writing that line and feeling Dr. Lomax and “empire speech” rise up in me. And no doubt, you clued in on what I had already deemed as my most incendiary line in my WHOLE article. However, I would pose this counter point to your counter point. In the larger scheme of things, is it okay to compartmentalize this only to Morehouse and not look at a bigger picture?

    Because honestly, if race wasn’t or isn’t an issue, then this DEFINITELY shouldn’t have made national news.

  3. If you knew Josh Packwood, you’d understand. And it isn’t a negative against the men of Morehouse. Packwood earned the honor.

  4. Yeah man, I feel ya.

    I tried to not make this a negative about Packwood, as I said twice, if he earned it, he should get it. And that I was definitely an outsider looking in as far as Morehouse is concerened, yet family, as far as HBCU alumni is concerned.

    It just raised some issues with me, more so about the world we live in, not necessarily about Morehouse or Packwood specifically. However, Wendell Marsh, the brother that was quoted from AP, I would seriously like for him to reconsider his particular view point.

    But, again, I probably figured that if I had done four years of undergrad with him, it probably wouldn’t even had been an issue for me.

  5. For Historical Record, Charles Hamilton Houston graduated valedictorian of Amherst College, 1915 – only African-American attending the institution. Mr. Hamilton went on to attend Harvard University, where he was the first African American on the Harvard Law Review, and graduated Cum Laude. To your point, I’m not certain what media coverage this garnered.
    Mostly, I question why, if accurate, the media isn’t mentioning that Mr. Packwood was co-valedictiorian, which I read in the comments to a news article. If this is correct, I feel that it’s questionable why this would be ignored. Apparently, all the Morehouse men weren’t fooling around, even if the media is suggesting such.

  6. Well, JGreen,

    That kind of solidifies my point.

    And somehow I figured that if there were an African Americans woh graduated from what are considered ivy-league schools they would have been pre-1940, that was just my gut feeling.

    Furthermore, it makes me very leery that it wasn’t covered that it he’s co-valedictorian. Especially since I talked to one of my friends who goes to Morehouse, he told me that it’s not unusual for Morehouse to have dual valedictorians.

    Go figure.

  7. Joshua, I don’t think I have ever been compared to Sean Hannity but i guess there a first time for everything.

    Whatever the case, I concede “The One”‘s comment that Packwood earned the honor and it is not a negative reflection of the Morehouse graduates.

    And Joshua the reason why I singled out your oppressor comment is because I found it odd in the overall theme of your article. I kind of got the feeling that you couldn’t let the article go without taking at least an implicit verbal jab at Packwood and by implication whites (the oppressors). But I could be wrong.

    And lastly, I never compartmentalized this to just Morehouse although the story is about MOREHOUSE. I’ve seen the same thing happen when African and Caribbean students come to HBCU’s and graduate head of the class, there is often a similar type of tension. But to your point, of course race is an issue and that’s why its receiving national coverage as well it should (for better or for worse).

  8. With much respect jlazard10

    How much homework did you do before this post.?

    Josh earned the achievement fair and square—he had a perfect 4.0…the student that’s graduating– 2nd Shannon Joyner had a 3.99–

    Keep in mind it’s a small number graduating…it just worked out that way.

    Do you have issues with all whites that excel in the “black environment”—

    The black experience has become so commercial and mainstream we don’t seem to have ownership over anything anymore-whether it’s culture or education.

    The only area that seems to be permanently implanted in our culture is—prison and poor!

  9. To Brooke:

    With much respect toward you, Brooke, how well did you read my article?

    My four main points really had nothing to do with Packwood as an individual, but rather about race relations in this country as far as colleges and universities are concerned.

    I did my homework as reported by the MSM. As I will restate and as I did in my post, I am not at all saying that Packwood should not be awarded valedictorian status. I said that if one earned it, they should get it, and this case is no exception. I was calling into questions the issues surrounding his valedictory status. This was NOT a character assasination of Joshua Packwood. I would daresay anyone who read it as such, was reading with the intent of finding issue with me, as it was toward him.

  10. Let me ask you this–should a black receive press if he or she is the first African American to become valedictorian at a prestigious institution, win an academy award for best director or heck even coach in the superbowl.

    I read your blog–I like what you have to say most of the time–I just think this post has no real merrit to anything.

  11. I’m not going out on a limb saying that a black person should or should not receive press.

    I just was more commenting on the irony of it all and bringing up some of the issues that I saw surrounding the whole thing.

    And at risk of possibly loosing a reader, I think the fact that you find no merit in the post is evident how sometimes as Americans on both sides of the racial aisle don’t like to deal with some racial issues and dismiss them as “unmerited.”

    But before I go any further, I ask on what basis do you find this post unmerited?

  12. I love how one of my quotes was inserted, LOL. But I was shocked to hear someone say “we fu@cked” up” insinuating that all the black males at Morehouse did not try hard enough. Josh earned his valedictorian honor, and the media will blow it up, especially during a time when race is a hot topic. So let him have his 15 minutes of fame.

  13. Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) had a White valedictorian this year. I also think we had one in 2004. We also had many African valedictorians. I dont see anything wrong with Mr. Packwood being valedictorian.

  14. Southern University Law School is 25% White.
    Southern University at New Orleans Social Work School is 30% White. You get the same education at a predominantly Black school that you will get at a predominantly White school for cheaper price.

  15. I’d like to make a quick comment about each of your points:

    1. It is absolutely getting coverage due to the racial implications, just (as you yourself mentioned) as Barack Obama is getting more coverage (positive and negative) for being what seems to be the first black democratic nominee for President of the United States, and hopefully the first black President. It is out of the norm, and therefore justifies the coverage.

    2. If anyone thinks that a black man or woman can’t do well, or be valedictorian, in a TWI then they are foolish. People don’t make academic achievements by the color of their skin, but rather by the work they put into their education. It’s true that some people catch on easier than others, but race is not a factor in this.

    3. This is something that is hard to answer. A lot of people were quoted as being accepting, but why is it so hard to believe that he would encounter the same of negativity that you yourself encountered at Vanderbilt? My question to you is did EVERYONE at Vanderbilt treat you that way? Or was this experience so negative that it tainted your vision of the overall experience? Could it be that Josh Packwood encountered negativity as well, but chose to dismiss it and persevere? Morehouse’s most famous alumni taught this in his everyday life….

    4. Finally, I don’t think it’s true that Ivy League schools give better educations, but it IS true that the general public has this illusion. The truth is, the quality of education is in the hands of the instructors. There are governing educational bodies who set the general standards, but it’s up to the instuctor to raise the bar.

    Congratulations to Josh for his hard work and to Morehouse for embracing diversity. I’d also like to say I enjoyed reading your article, and I will definitely be checking back to read more of your work. Take care.

  16. To Drake:

    There are a plethora of reasons why a non-white student could not be valedictorian. There are professors out there who are more inclined to be easier on students simply because of their own prejudices–and often times those prejudices are race based. Granted I might pull A minuses or B pluses, not the end of the world, but I might have turned in the same quality and quantity of work and because of my blackness not gotten the fair grade. It’s a sad fact of life, but it happens.

    I would argue, definitely based on Jeremiah Wright’s last claims, that different races are socially and culturally conditioned to learn differently, and I do believe that that does play out in educational endeavors. But as far as innate learning, you’re correct, there is no difference. It just seems to me that you’re claim makes the assumption that the playing field is even when it’s really not.

    As far as the Vanderbilt situation versus Packwood, based on my own cultural upbringing and lifetime of experiences, black folk are more accepting of white folk, than white folk are of black folk. Yes, on the surface it seems equal, but J. Packwood probably had an easier time socializing at Morehouse than I would have going to the all-white Williams College in Williamstown, MA. I would go out on a limb and say that the negativity that he encountered was far outweighed by the positive reception that he got from faculty, staff and the other students.

    And as for everyone at Vanderbilt treat me as such, no, of course not, I didn’t meet everyone at Vanderbilt. Granted it left a very sour taste in my mouth, I still am considering Vandy for doctoral work. And I’m quite sure that that experience didn’t color how I viewed this particularly any different than I would have otherwise.

    Thanks for reading man.

  17. Thanks for responding J…

    I think you would be right when you say that an instructor’s prejudices can alter how they give grades….. however those prejudices are not always race based (though I’ll be the first to admit that it still happens). Rather, I find it best to remain optimistic that people will do the right thing, while I am still cynical enough not to trust them to do so. In other words, I don’t trust anyone until they have proven themselves to be trustworthy, but still I try to give the benefit of the doubt nonetheless. It’s a very contradictory, and confusing, stance, but I feel it has allowed me to remain open minded to people of all races, religions, or otherwise.

    My point is that isn’t it every bit as likely that your work was worthy of the A minus? Or maybe it was your personality that was distasteful? I am by no means judging your personality or academic merit by 2 blog posts, I am simply using this as an example. I think that the mindset that someone is out to get you is harmful to yourself, and more often than not, cannot be proven to be accurate, EVEN if it is true. Without proof, one can only cling to a theory, which will no doubt take up more time and effort than simply trying to move forward and onward. The people that beat the odds are the ones who don’t let the odds beat them.

    Personally, based on my own lifetime of personal experiences and cultural upbringing, I’ve seen people of all races that can be resistant to another culture. However, I’ve also had the privilege of meeting people of all races who would see me as the man I am, rather than just being “one of them”.

    I wish with all my heart that our children would not have to re-play these same tired conversations, but it’s more likely that they will. Racism will not cure itself, but I will continue to live my life judging people by their character, even when they will not give me that same respect, and I will raise my children the same way.

    I respect your opinions, and I look forward to your response.

  18. The only other thing I would add is that you have compared an all-black school in Atlanta (which has a 60% black vs 33% white ratio based on the 2000 U.S. census) to an all-white school in Massachusetts (which has a 90% white vs 2.7% black ratio based on the 2000 U.S. census).

    Naturally, people of BOTH races in Atlanta would be more accepting because they have had the luxury of that diversity in their day to day life. I don’t mean to justify the Massachusetts mentality, I’m just pointing out that it takes open exposure to people and things that are different for us to truly understand and embrace them.

    Thanks again.

  19. Meh, I was going to write something in response to all of this, but I have alot to say, so I’ll just do another post in response to it, lol.


  20. Well, growing up in big cities, yes it does give you a different outlook than that of Williamstown, MA, however, one could very well stay within their own cultural context and every once in a blue moon I’ve encountered white people who kind of give that “perplexed” look when they encounter me, and I just chalk it up to life, and don’t even remotely look at them as racist, but merely prejudiced.

    As equally as prejudiced as me.

    They made some pre-judgments about me and who I was based on how I talked, and what I had on, and I did the same thing.

    The problem comes into when one begins to act on their prejudgments and add skin-color as a basis of superiority to the mix.

  21. I am quite pleased that my perspective on racial difference and the traditionally black institution has generated such debate. However, I do not think that your interpretation does what I was saying justice. I can see how, given the only citation you have, you could assume that I was seeking some sort of validation vis-à-vis a white stamp of approval. However, my intention was to elucidate the transcendence of race that Morehouse seeks.

    I applied to Morehouse College with the main objective of upholding my end of the bargain. Civil rights activists fought so that I could go anywhere but the dignity of our ancestor’s determined that I invest in Black institutions…. For the rest of my response, you can find it at The Maroon Wanderer.

  22. As a black man who has lived “up south” all my life and attended Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey), I get the impression that the attention paid to this issue was, of course, to demonstrate that “Negroes do not have the intellectual acumen to graduate at the top of the class even at Moorehouse.” That’s all.

    Afterall, black males are not interested in academic excellence and, therefore, according ot the media, are prone to a lot of jiving and that sort of thing.

    Look. The larger media can make a big deal out of this; but, brothers at Moorehouse need to keep their degrees, do their thing when they graduate and make damn sure they are not poor.

  23. I think it’s commendable that a White person was selected to be the valedictorian for Morehouse. This was Dr. King’s dream. That is that a man be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. I think Dr. King is one of the greatest Americans since the founding of our country. I especially like the idea that his spiritual relevance is being spotlighted. He transformed our society from one permeated with racism to one in which most people regardless of their race or culture can participate.
    I once met Dr. King when I was a teenager. A local supermarket chain refused to hire black teens as bag boys and I was one of the teenagers who was not allowed to work. Dr. King and his organization SCLC led a protest/picket campaign. Dr. King spoke at a local theatre one night and I got to meet him one on one! I’ll remember the experience and what he told me forever. I tell of this chance meeting with one of the greatest heroes in American culture, in my book, “Talking Penny.”

  24. The very idea that this guy turned down Harvard and Columbia for Morehouse is beyond laughable; it’s on the order of boasts like the “big lie”. More likely, he rejected them before they could reject him and never got that fat envelope from any Ivy. Presidential scholar numbers at Morehouse do not an Ivy admit make.

  25. I believe that at the end of the day, we must all give credit where it is due. This young man went to this school and did what he was supposed to do, period. News reporters are always looking for a juicy story. What could possibly more juicy than the “man” graduating at a negro college? It is terrible that this man had to be white for him to get spotlight for doing EXACTLTY what Morehouse wants their men to do– excel.
    And can we judge or be angry at him for doing it? Especially since so many of us (blacks) have done the same thing. Are our cases not so similiar? Just as we had something to prove, so did he.

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