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22-year-old Joshua Packwood of Kansas City, Mo., graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a degree in economics...from Morehouse College. He is also the class valedictorian.
Joshua is following in the steps of 19 year-old Ellie Gunderson, who last year was elected president of her Georgetown University’s NAACP chapter. She too is White.
A while back, Gary Dauphin, a contributor on TheRoot.com, wrote an interesting article entitled “Not Safe for White People.” In the article, Gary asserted that “the unintended, long-term consequences of an Obama presidency could very well be the extinction of warmly regarded, “private” cultural practices” of Black folks, like for example Tyler Perry films and the Chitlin Circuit.
I guess you can now add to that list historically Black colleges and universities.
Our organizations, churches, and sermons have been invaded. Locs aren’t just for Blacks anymore. Soul food hit mainstream America a long time ago. My ass, lips, breasts, and beautiful shade of Black can be purchased on just about any corner in Beverly Hills for the right price. And let’s not even get into hip-hop and R&B.
Why I’d like to tell you that it’s okay for a White person to run their local NAACP chapter and be class valedictorian of a HBCU, I can’t, because to me it’s not okay.
It says to me that there are Black people that could have stepped to the plate and assumed a leadership role and didn’t. It says to me that there are Black students at Morehouse that could have risen to the occasion, but didn’t. And like with everything in life, if you snooze you lose.
I go back to the basic premise in why these institutions even exist, because we needed a space of our own that was culturally sensitive to the needs to Blacks.
It’s bad enough that a White girl can get a tan almost the same shade of Black as I am, but still get more respect because she isn’t. I know White boys with locs nappier and longer than mine. And thanks to collagen and botox the fullness and roundness of my lips can be purchased and installed in an one hour lunch break. Shea butter, once a secret among sistas, is now being mass produced and sold on the shelves of major drugstores. And while we know where its origins are, you’ll never see it mentioned on the drugstore bought bottle. Cowry shells are now being used to adorn clothes that are sold in designer boutiques at prices too ridiculous to quote. But I will tell you that if another person admires my “seashells” I am going to have a heart attack.
The time is soon coming where those code words and phrases that we use in mixed company won’t work anymore because after attending our HBCUs, churches, and of course Tyler Perry films, they’ll know exactly what we mean.
To me, all my life there has always been something special about being Black. As beautiful and creative as we are, we have always shared a common cultural bond. Whether it be the way the brothas give dap, the way us sistas roll our hips when we walk, the Blackness of our skin, or the creativity we display with our hair. We continue to be the most beautiful people on Earth.
Most of us will never know where we come from. And so that means that all we have culturally is what we’ve created for ourselves and passed down from generation to generation, both the good and the bad. Is nothing off limits? At what point do we began to preserve what is uniquely ours and stop giving it away?
It’s amazing to me that while we are opening the doors for White students at our HBCUs, we’ve got Black students that want to go to college and can’t afford too or can afford to but are denied entrance because universities are no longer obligated to uphold affirmative actions laws.
This is exactly what I was afraid of happening when Obama is elected president. This idea that we’re all one race. One big happy multi-colored race. The fact of the matter is that we are not one race, we are many, and what define us are our traditions, our sacred cultural traditions.
They have apple pie, we have sweet potato pie. They tell little Timmy “no!” and we have the belt. They have square dancing and we’ve got the cha-cha. It’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to enjoy my grandma’s sweet potato pie, it’s only when they commence to duplicating the recipe and passing it off as their own and their version is viewed as being superior that we’ve got a problem and that’s what’s going on right now with Black culture and traditions. Justin Timberlake, need I say more?
So while Joshua graduates this weekend, keep in mind there’s a whole new generation of Joshua’s preparing to invade our HBCUs. And for Joshua, unlike his Black brethren, attending an HBCU is going to be viewed as progressive by prospective employers and he’s going to benefit from it financially in a way that his classmates probably won’t. Why, because he’s White and he choose to go to a Black university. The same doesn’t always apply to Black graduates, HBCU, ivy league, or otherwise.
Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but my Blackness is not for lease or sale. It is not to be duplicated in mass reproduction and passed off for the real thing. It is all we have that defines who we are. Is nothing sacred anymore?
Jasmyne Cannick n is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes,’ she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.