In the words and tonality of President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address let me be perfectly clear that I hate elitism in the black community with a burning passion. It has done nothing but separate us economically and rendered us even further divided on class boundaries.
That being said, I’m over the Morehouse mystique.
Yes, I said it and I’m not taking it back.
I know I’ve historically drawn the ire of some readers who attend Morehouse or who have recently graduated when I wrote my piece “An Uppity Negro Response to Robert M. Franklin’s ‘Soul of Morehouse and the Future of the Mystique’” when I directly challenged the elitist and somewhat Victorian values that he was asserting. I went so far as to call them “pseudo-assimilationist” and speaks to what author Ricky Jones in What’s Wrong With Obamamania? posited as “the soulessness of the talented tenth.”
And yeah, I definitely got some serious push back on that one.
One commenter began his comment “Dear Uppity Fool.”
And of course the black blogosphere was on fire following the implementation of the dress code of there. I weighed in of course and the comments seemed to be much more in order, but of course on other blogs I visited, I heard much of the same meme that somewhat confirmed my thoughts on the Robert Franklin commentary. At worst it reeked of assimilation, whereas some Morehouse students seemed to buy into the idea that one must dress a certain way for the mere sake of “getting a job” as if going to class or eating in the cafeteria was interview practice.
Well, here, you can read what I said, I don’t want to go off on that tangent again.
And let’s not forget when I took Morehouse and the black community to task over Joshua Packwood being the first valedictorian to graduate from Morehouse.
My point is that in the black community, we have put ourselves in a position where elitism or rather social and class divides are going to be yet another nail in the coffin of moving forward as a black race. Perhaps I am invoking this slightly antiquated and Civil Rights era belief about being unified as a race in order to “move forward” and whatever that is or may look like, but I am quite clear that we have a problem, especially here in the Atlanta University Center.
The main sardonic and caustic response many Morehouse students added at the end of their diatribes in favor of the dress code was that “if you want to dress any old kind of way, you can go on down to Clark Atlanta.”
Clark Atlanta University is treated like some bad step-child of the AUC and Morehouse and Spelman are the evil parents. I even have a female friend, who’s my age and went to Clemson in South Carolina but is at school with me here in the AUC, actually comment that you can tell the difference between a Morehouse or a Clark student by how they dress.
We’re really doing that in 2010 as if it’s okay?
And when I looked at her like “Are your serious?” she refused to engage me on the absurdity of such a statement. Moreover, for one to make that statement be they a student of the AUC or not is a result of the intellectual negligence that far too many blacks engage for the sake of “sounding deep.” It is also a result of the failure of black elitism.
Yes, W.E.B. DuBois was an elitist. Very much so. So much so, he only went to Fisk because in 1884 he had limited choices, but clearly he went on back up North to get his classical education. But, this same DuBois–who taught at Atlanta University and neither Morehouse nor Spelman I might add–kind of stumbled onto something with his idea of the “talented tenth.” In a nutshell saying it was the job of the black middle class to help those who were not as socially and economically stable and advanced, respectively. Of course a century later, DuBois’ classical education and modernist approach to doing this cultural critique are painfully evident and I’m not sure how I feel about the similar assimilationist feelings to such thought–and these are the same predilections I had toward Franklin’s speech.
But even with that, somewhere over the last few generations as we saw the recognizable black middle class form in the 1970s, the “us vs. them” ideals within our race were just ghastly. This was the era when blacks had to put up some kind of “safe” image in order to get a corporate job. Men had to shave their facial hair so as to not give off too much of a “Shaft” vibe of a bad-ass black male. And black women were now straightening their hair once again as they entered the workforce so as not to offend their white counterparts. What became markers of assimilation for blacks into white American culture became signifiers of their middle class status. They turned their assimilation into elitism and began to drive the wedge in between the classes.
So I asked the question to my friend the other day “Do you think that some of these young men who are graduating from Morehouse are just coasting on the name?” To which he replied “some.” What ensued was a conversation that it’s a combination of the Morehouse culture, which I actually applaud, that seems to give entering young men the cultural capital that they are someone simply because they went to Morehouse and the pedestal on which the black community as a whole places Morehouse College. I went so far as to say that when a young man says that they are a graduate from Morehouse (damn what other degrees they may have attained) that in the mind’s eye of your average black person, we project onto them that this young man is going to be the next so-called “black leader.”
And, be prepared, I’m about to pull back for this following punch at Morehouse men:
While I really applaud Morehouse for creating a culture that is on par with no one (thanks Benjamin Mays), have you ever talked to some of these Morehouse graduates?
I stress some and not all, but for some it’s not much going on upstairs. They’re arrogant, pompous, blowhards who think everyone should be bowing and scraping at their feet because they went to Morehouse. As if they’re education and world view and outlook on life is superb to that of many others. However, when you push them on certain ideas and thoughts, one can tell it’s not much going on up there. But for some of these guys, they’re clearly about to coast on the name of their alma mater and use it as a name-dropping tool that allows them to be heads above the rest. And they know they can get away with it because we in the black community have bought into the idea of elitism and assimilation for dually appeasing to the nebulous sense of some Civil Rights era feeling of “unity” and the idea of presenting a relaxed picture of a well-groomed black male to larger white society.
Hear me out.
In the black community, when we think Morehouse, it’s not a hard jump to invoke the image of Martin Luther King. While we may not expect the next graduate from Morehouse to be the next MLK per se, we are comfortable producing an image in the likeness of King. So in some respects, this has just as much to do with the collective culture of the school and the culture of the black community as a whole. While I may have issues with some of that, it’s really not the end of the world, what does become a harbinger of the eschaton is when we act as if only Morehouse, or even a Spelman are capable of producing such individuals.
It’s so bad that when I went to Ebenezer Baptist Church for the first time and stood up as a visitor, with my undergraduate degree already handed to me, many persons walked up to me and point blank asked “Oh, do you go to Morehouse?” As if to say Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Clark Atlanta or any of the vast array of junior colleges in the Atlanta metropolitan weren’t an option for me if I stepped foot in the grand ol’ Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Black elitism has failed because it divides us versus them. When a Morehouse student looks down their nose at a Clark Atlanta student simply because they went to Clark, then we have a problem. When members of the black community give someone a pass simply because they went to Morehouse, then we have a problem. When a Morehouse graduate coasts merely on the name of their alma mater for political reasons, then we have a problem.
Please believe, however, this problem is not relegated to Atlanta, nor the AUC nor Morehouse. The same goes for those who live in Nashville and have to deal with the Fisk University versus Tennessee State argument that continues. Or for the “real HU” be it Hampton or Howard. Or even the dark-skinned blacks that go to Dillard University versus the light skinned blacks that go Xavier University down in New Orleans (which I might add begins even in the high school years with a St. Augustine all black boys school and Xavier Prep for the young women versus sending your child to McDonough #35 public school). And please believe, the HBCU Ivy League list is real–the private HBCUs versus those sponsored by the state.
Going to Morehouse is fine, not knocking it, but let’s be realistic.
To the current students at Morehouse, as a fellow black male, I challenge you to not look down on your fellow AUC students at Morris Brown and Clark Atlanta. They are in school just as you are. They may have chosen to go to go to those institutions for the same reasons you chose yours, for the academics or maybe because of legacy or because of a scholarship. It does nothing to help humanist relationships if you’re looking down your nose because someone went to Clark Atlanta. No one likes an arrogant person just because they can be arrogant.
To the Morehouse Men who have graduated, as a fellow black male, I challenge you to not fall into the pitfalls of resting on your laurels and merely use the name of Morehouse for political advantages: know what you know and back it up.
And to the larger black community: just because a man says he graduated from Morehouse does not make him any more enlightened than the rest of us or even yourself. Stop falling into the trap that cultural signifiers such as an image projected are proof positive or someone with substance.
An Elitist Negro sees a demarcation between “us and them” even amongst the black community. Because far too often their approach once a degree is obtained does nothing to bridge unity even amongst fellow elitist and most certainly not the establishing community amongst each other, let alone outside of the alma mater, 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!
What say ye concerning elitism and assimilation? Did I go to hard on Morehouse and did it just come off as general hatin? Sorry wasn’t my intent, but much of what I’ve observed here over the past four years is just wanton hubris and downright irresponsible on behalf of Morehouse and Spelman concerning how they view Clark Atlanta and their students.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL