X-POSITION THE JOURNAL OF THE MALCOLM X INSTITUTE OF BLACK STUDIES • FALL 2011
40th Anniversary Special Edition
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
THE JOURNAL OF THE MALCOLM X INSTITUTE OF BLACK STUDIES
Director Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies Dr. Michael J. Brown PhD email@example.com
Wesley D. Chamblee ’12
C O N T E N T S
Copy Editors Andre Adeyemi ’12 DeVan Taylor ’13 Contributors
Rev. Isaac Bonney ’01 Robert Wedgeworth ’59 Dr. Peter Frederick H’92 Dr. Samuel Rocha Bernard Meyer ’08 Emmanuel Aouad ’10 Ian Kelly ’12 Andre Adeyemi ’12 Adrian Duerson ’13
Jim Amidon Board of Publications
The X-Positon is published annually by members of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, P.O. Box 352, Crawfordsville, IN 47933-0352.
Contact the editor by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Long in our hearts, we’ll bear the sweetest mem’ries of thee” This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies. In September, many alumni and current students participated in the 40th celebration ceremony. This issue is a special edition to not only commemorate the 40th anniversary, but to also celebrate the future of the MXI and to look forward to the next 40 years. Sankofa is the theme of this issue. What we are trying to do is look at the past for guidence in the future. Therefore, you will find two sections: The History and The Here And Now. The History section is divised of piece’s from alumni and represents a past of knowledge for current students to learn from. The Here And Now section is made up of articles from current faculty and students, as well as a couple recent alumni. The purpose of this section is to invite healty discourse about current topics, provide advice for current and future students, and lay down the future vision of the MXI. The school colors red and white are blanketed all over this issue to symbolize the continued effort of Wabash College and the Malcolm X Institute working together to provide better experiences for students. Last but now least, this issue is a challege to Wabash College as a whole to include the MXI in the history books. Particulary, These Fleeting Years and Wabash On My Mind do not mention a word about the Malcolm X Institute and its role on this campus. How can we look at the past for guidence in the future if there is no recolection of the past to learn from? The Malcolm X Institute has too big of a mark on Wabash College for such a great legacy to be lost and forgotten. Wesley D. Chamblee Editor-in-Chief
CONTENTS THE HISTORY 06 Sankofa by Rev. Isaac Bonney ’01 10
Ambiguities and Contradictions in American Life: An African American Perspective by Robert Wedgeworth ’59 16
MXI: By Looking Backward to Move Forward, Trust the Students! by Dr. Peter Frederick H’92
THE HERE AND NOW 22
Solidarity in Vulgarity: the Funk in Racist Jokes by Dr. Samuel Rocha What Does The Help Help? by Bernard Meyer ’08 24
Listen And Learn by Emmanuel Aouad ’10, Ian Kelly ’12, Andre Adeyemi ’12, and Wesley Chamblee ’12 32
God Give Us Men by Dr. Michael Brown
32 Brown 3
THE HISTORY T H E H I S T O R Y
“My whole life has been a chronology of changes...” -Malcolm X-
SANKOFA An African bird, stands so slender, stilts for legs and soaring with wide wings of grace, spreading among the vanilla clouds, embracing lusty winds of aqua skies extending its neck backwards, only to bring forward past knowledge aiding generation after generation history relives, a forthcoming fowl reawakened by our ancestors and carving a way for the present, the rebirth of every tomorrow, the continuous cycle of hope. -Adrian Duerson-
SANKOFA Rev. Isaac Bonney ’01 gave this sermon in the Pioneer Chapel during the 40th Anniversary Celebration weekend. T H E H I S T O R Y
President White, members
of the distinguished faculty, members of the advisory council to the MXI, Dr. Brown, I bring you greetings from the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas—the first black Episcopal Church in these United States and the church that produced the first black priest, in the person of the Rev. Absalom Jones in mainline Protestantism. The congregation and the rector, the Rev. Dr. Martini Shaw send their warm regards and prayers as the Malcolm X Institute, or the ‘Tute as known affectionately among the brothers, celebrates 40 years of service to this great institution of higher learning and the general Crawfordsville community. Let us put our hands together in applause thanking God for the faithful witness of the MXI in shaping leaders, giving voice
and purpose to those whose voice might otherwise be drowned by the cacophony of those who back then and even now continue to question the existence of the ‘Tute. We thank God that the MXI was then, and is now, a place of solace for the brothers (of all stripes, shades, and ethnicities) for encouraging and nurturing the talents of everyone who has passed through its doors; for providing a place for spirited intellectual discussions; and the not-so intellectual discussions that often led to camaraderie and fellowship. Thank God that for forty years the Institute has been a beacon of enlightenment about the African American experience on this campus. Thank God for directors like Horace Turner, who once we got to this campus became a father figure to most of us, occasionally urging us to form committees in order to
discuss pertinent issues, while in the process helping us to develop our own sense of leadership. We may often tease you about that, HT, but in your own way you were turning boys into men. Thank God for forty years of excellence in helping the African American members to hold in creative tension the “double consciousness,” as Dubois describes in the Soul of Black Folks, while keeping us grounded to meet the needs of the Wabash community as well as local needs of Black families in the Crawfordsville community. For a few minutes I want to focus on this message: Building a stronger and lasting legacy. One would think that having read this morning’s Old Testament lesson, it will be wise to steer clear of any talk about building something that serves as a reminder of a group’s achievement, lest God
decide to peek down at what those Little Giants are up to and throw us into total chaos. Not at all! But to speak of building a stronger legacy is to examine from whence we have come in order to lay a clear foundation as to where we are headed. Perhaps this notion of legacy building is best captured by the philosophy of the Akan people of Ghana identified by the Sankofa bird. The bird is always pictured in artwork as moving forward yet looking backwards while delicately holding an egg in its beak. Essentially, it stresses that while progress is inevitable, once in a while we must stop and analyze how we got to where we are and how we move forward based on our past history. Marcus Garvey frames this concept well when he states, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.” No matter how far we have come, there is always room for improvement. There is always room for growth; at most we must endeavor to always make the Institute a better place than we came to meet it. Pericles, the Greek statesman and orator, said “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Unlike the Biblical Hebrews who attracted the ire of God through their unity in disobeying God’s command that they spread over the earth, our legacy building seeks to live out the biblical commandment of Christ to his disciples and by extension to us: to love one another. Identifiable monuments should not measure our legacy; rather, what counts is for us to examine how lives are being and have been impacted over the course of the 40
years of the mission of the MXI. It ought to lead us to constantly strive for justice for the least among us. A stronger and lasting legacy should draw us (Blacks, whites and Latinos) together and hopefully serve as the panacea for the increasing hostility with which we treat one another in both the larger society and our own beloved Wabash community. Maybe just maybe, we can alleviate the reckless and uncompassionate attitude in our society that has produced acrimonious rancor in our political system and has made civil political discourse so hard to attain. This has left us in a position where problems are not solved and lives are imperiled; all because people are determined to make the office of the Presidency and the present incumbent of that office a failure. How do we begin to build this lasting and stronger legacy within the chaos that surrounds our society at this moment? I submit to you, brothers and sisters, that a path towards achieving this legacy is by first and foremost acknowledging that God is the center and source of all that we will ever need and become. Some of us come from homes where the fear of God was instilled into us from day one. However, we seem to forget that when we step foot on this campus. We forget how our grandparents and parents taught us to always take it to the Lord in prayer. We forget that we serve a God who is on time just when we need him. We forget how our mothers used to burn the midnight oil praying to God that somehow, some way, things will work out. But if you have forgotten, there is nothing to wake you up from your stupor than an exam at
Wabash. I remember writing a biochemistry exam and not necessarily doing well (as a matter of fact the late Dr. Cole wrote a nice note for me to come see him so that he could call me out on my stuff). That exam was the first in what was a very long semester that would help me rediscover my maker in a new way in order to forge ahead. If I had forgotten who God was, my memory was quickly refreshed about the importance of keeping a spiritual balance while in the pursuit of higher learning. But then I also had the brothers to pray with me, study with me, tease and build me up to do better. As matter of fact, all we learn in these hallowed walls comes to naught unless we see that there is a greater purpose beyond ourselves, to utilize the talents we have acquired for making our communities, our nation and world, a better place. This was the purpose of folks like Keith Nelson, Charles Ransom, and others when they formed the institute to help members not only support one another through the Wabash pilgrimage but also to help the larger community understand that although we may be different shades of hue, when we take the time to learn about each other’s experiences, we start to live out the mission of this august Institution which is “excellence in teaching and learning within a community built on close and caring relationships among students, faculty, and staff.” That is, we start to become better people and this put us in accord with God’s commandment to love one another. Now, I know in this day and age, we always want to look at ourselves in a post-racial manner. We want
to see things through a prism that experience death of family members common response we often received does not reveal color. But again, I or people who are really close to us. was, “Here come the Wabash guys!” only have to look at how President We will have professors who enPeople were united in making sure Obama is treated and the office courage and some who will outright that our experience was a good one of the Presidency disrespected discourage us. just as others (such as Lino, Archie to know that we still have a ways While these are common charetc.) made their transition better. to go. I have to only recall how acteristics we all share, some of Unity does not and did not mean classmates often asked us while we us have to further deal with that a false sense of harmony. The truth had dinner at Sparks, why do you angst that Dubois terms “double is there was a diversity of opinions all have to sit together and make consciousness” that makes our on a wide range of subjects, yet so much noise, oblivious to the travails harder. We have to step mutual respect and understanding fact that we were but a sprinkle of up our game while, at same time, were the cords that strengthened raisins in a huge bowl of rice. wrestle with questions from friends our bonds. The mantle of unity we However, when we recognize and even professors about whether inherited was passed down and I that we are all children created we belong here. Similarly, we may pray and hope that it has continued. by an omniscient, omnipresent wrestle with how we fit into the If it has not, let us examine how we God who has called all us—Black, larger community while striving to might recapture it as we continue to white, rich, poor, etc.—children maintain a sense of who we are as build a stronger and lasting legacy of God, irrespective of the ways African Americans, molded by the as we look ahead to the next forty we use titles to years. T create confusion Let us continue to build bonds among ourselves noting that we What is unity H among ourselves; have one goal in common: a stronger MXI that will continue and why does E then we would to serve and prick the consciousness of this institution when it the Psalmist see begin the proit as a virtue to veers from its mission. H cess of laying the obtain? Unity I foundation upon is defined as S which to build a stronger legacy various communities from whence “the state or quality of being one;” T not of our own doing, rather, we hail. another definition describes it as O because we have allowed God This was why I was happy that by “singleness.” Another defines unity R through us to do the building. the time our class graduated, mem- as “the combination or arrangement Y You may be asking yourself: bers of the institute had worked of parts into a whole unification.” How can every one of us, ushard together with the AdminisWhatever it is, our unity derives ing our collective talents, build a tration to bring quality African from the sum of our differences, stronger legacy for the ‘Tute, the American professors to this school. which forms around a common larger Wabash and Crawfordsville My class had the option of having ground to further a common goal. community, even when we have Dr. Brown and that was invaluable. As members of the institute our moved beyond Wabash? He encouraged, challenged, and goal will continue to be a place Here are few suggestions: pushed some of us to do better and where people will continue to be We take our cue from the we wanted the same for those who educated about the African AmeriPsalmist who, perhaps in a fit of coming behind us. can experience, to be challenged by nostalgia, looking at how well When the MXI members of the intellectually stimulating conversaeveryone got along said, “How Class of ’00 arrived on campus tions, looking at means of connectvery good and pleasant it is when we had people like Deon Miles, ing to the Crawfordsville communikindred live together in unity.” Kalpesh Unune, Billy Gallippo, ty through mentoring and showing The virtue of our pilgrimage Theo Johnson, KK and Reese Ham- other children (particularly Black through this college makes us all ilton among others who made our children) who may not have role kindred souls. We will all have transition to college from high models that Wabash students—both terrible exams—some of us more school a smooth one. As a matter of Black and white—are showing them than others—we will experience fact, Deon so often drove us in that possibilities that might have otherlove and lack of love, and we will Wabash van to every party that the wise not been apparent to them. 8
There needs to be connection between alumni of different generations and the current students. This unity however can only work when we have mutual respect for one another. Malcolm says, “We Black men have a hard enough time in our own struggle for justice, and already have enough enemies as it is, to make the drastic mistake of attacking each other and adding more weight to an already unbearable load.” For some of us this unity may mean re-engaging with the college if we have been estranged because of past actions. That might mean letting our checkbooks do more talking. You all know money talks. We must find ways to engage and stay connected so we can collectively address issues that are pertinent to us. When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi the problem he dealt with was their lack of unity. Disunity impedes the flow of work and progress and tends to pit people against each other rather than using resources and energies in a wise and productive manner. I believe Paul’s prescription for unity could help us at this juncture. We must learn to encourage rather than discourage. It is always bet-
ter to pick your brother up than to pull him down although sometimes it often easier to do that while attending this place. Let us show compassion and sympathy for one another. In this way, we can truly understand each other’s plight. Borrowing from Dubois again, we can see through the veil from the “Other’s” perspective. As Malcolm states, “There can be no black-white unity until there is first some black unity.... We cannot think of uniting with others, until after we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” We need to help and understand each other without personal egos coming into play. Paul put it this way, “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” No one person makes the Malcolm X Institute. The ‘Tute is an amalgam of current students, student leaders, alumni, and so forth. If we are to lay the foundation for a stronger and long lasting legacy all of us must use our talents given to us by God as we move forward. So, Dr. White and the administration: I pray that you will engage us and be in dialogue with us. We hope your doors will always be opened. There have been encouraging signs; yet there is still more to be done. This is what we know as believers in
Christ: our work is never done but ongoing. My fellow alumni and current students: we also have work to do. Let us continue to build bonds among ourselves noting that we have one goal in common: a stronger MXI that will continue to serve and prick the consciousness of this institution when it veers from its mission. All of our collective talents will be needed, especially now, in order to help Dr. Brown as he takes the helm of the ‘Tute. Dr. Brown: our prayers are with you and have no doubt you will shape and mold many a young man who steps through the doors of the Institute as you have done in the past. May our living God that we serve grant you wisdom in accomplishing the goals and tasks ahead. We know with God as the source of our unity we can achieve common goals. Anything that we do apart from God we labor in vain. Love, trust and respect should at all times serve as the underpinning for all that we do. Jesus could have said many things, but he said love one another. Love enables us to achieve unity because it allows us to see something greater, something beyond ourselves. As we look forward to an exciting, strengthened MXI, may God grant us all the strength to do our part in building a stronger and lasting MXI. God bless you. Amen.
T H E
Ambiguities and Contradictions in American Life: An African American Perspective
H I S During the course of these reT marks I will use the terms colored, O Negro, Black Afro-American and R African American interchangeY ably. Although my preference is African American since it is the most accurate description, I grew up as a “colored” boy, went to high school as a “Negro,” became “black” in the 1960’s, “Afro-American in the 80’s and finally African American in the 90’s. Henry Louis Gates has a humorous and insightful look at this identity issue in his book Colored People (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1994). What I hope to do in these remarks is to answer a few questions about John Evans, share a perspective on his life and times, and pose a few questions about what this means for the Malcolm X Institute and the College. 10
By Robert Wedgeworth ‘59
Legends and facts In the movie western, “Who shot Liberty Valance,” the senator asks the reporter if he will print the real story rather than the legend. The reporter replies, “this is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Joseph Ellis, in his book, American Creation, notes that Americans have tended to teach the legends of our history rather than the facts. By raising Washington, Jefferson, Adams and others to the level of demi-gods, we have ignored their flaws and weaknesses as humans. Conversely, Ellis notes that some revisionist historians, as they focused their efforts on issues related to slavery, Native Americans and women, have tended to demonize the early leaders thus trivializing their actual accomplishments.
The first successful colonial war for independence. The first nation-sized republic. The first wholly secular state. Ellis notes significant failures as well. The failure to end slavery, or adopt measures that would lead to its extinction and the failure to effect a just settlement with Native Americans, are the two most prominent examples. (Ellis, p. 8-10) These failures led us to the Civil War, to race being the single-most divisive issue in our society today, to the Civil Rights Movement, and to the ongoing struggle of Native Americans to obtain a just settlement of their various claims. Indian nation claims to large portions of central New York State have reemerged recently guided by impres-
sive legal talent financed by pooled revenues from casinos in the Indian nations. The American Dream For many, the American experience is to live the “American Dream,” by getting a decent education, making a good living, owning your own home and raising a healthy and happy family. For many others who aspire to that dream their American experience is fraught with ambiguities and contradictions. For African Americans, Native Americans, some immigrants, women, the poor, the seriously ill and the elderly, the “American Dream” is an unfulfilled promise. That unfulfilled promise is the gap between the right promised in the Declaration of Independence to, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and the realities of insuring those rights in a Constitution that would make the government work for all of its people. John W. Evans It is within this context that we view the life of John Williams Evans, who in 1908 became the first African American graduate of Wabash College, the centennial of which we celebrate this weekend. Many details of his life have yet to be discovered, but much of what we do know came to us from Evans himself in a series of correspondence with the College in 1940-41. I would also like to acknowledge assistance from Wilberforce University, University of Minnesota and the St. Louis Public Library. Evans was born February 6, 1877 to Samuel and Nancy (Chavis) Evans in a log cabin in or near Spencer, Indiana. At the age of 12, after the death of his father, he was bound over in service to a white
couple, the Butlers, as security for an unpaid debt. According to Evans this was a small loan taken shortly before his father’s death. Evans did “family work” for the Butlers, a brother-in-law Mr. E.C. McMurtry and an uncle, Mr. Russell. Evans’ mother died when he was 15. He was sent to school and became the first Negro to graduate from the Rockville, Indiana high school. He went on to attend and graduate from Wilberforce University in Ohio (founded in 1856 as the first private university for educating African Americans). Mostly in summers before, during and after Wilberforce, he worked variously as a “coal miner, boot black, cow boy, elevator operator, a table waiter and roustabout on passenger and freight steamers (respectively) on the Great Lakes, a Pullman porter for 9 summers.” (Evans typescript letter to R.E. Banta, signed, September 11, 1940) Reflecting on his early life after a successful career in education Evans said, “As I look back at the days when I was a poor orphan, barefoot, and usually hungry… and attending school it all seems now like something like a dream that I can scarcely realize that such (his career) could ever have come to me; a Negro of ordinary ability.” (Evans typescript letter to R.E. Banta, signed, November 11, 1940) Early on Evans demonstrated that he was far from ordinary. Returning to Indiana after college he became a teacher in Indianapolis, but found time to serve as a juvenile probation officer and to establish the first “colored” YMCA, the Senate Avenue Branch, in 1902. He served as its first Executive Secretary. (Evans typescript letter to R.E. Banta, signed, September 11, 1940) The Young Men’s Christian
Association (YMCA) had begun working with black communities in 1853, but opened a “Colored Work Department” in 1890 over the protests of many members. At that time there were 36 black associations, mostly in academic institutions. By 1945, the last year African American associations were reported as a separate category there were 84 associations. Segregation of YMCA’s as a national policy ended in 1946. (http://special.lib.umn. edu/findaid/html/ymca/yusa0001. phtml#a7) In 1905 Evans moved to Crawfordsville, Indiana to head the Negro school, teaching all grades. He enrolled in Wabash College and completed his A.B. in 1908. (Evans typescript letter to R.E. Banta, signed, June 30, 1940) He moved to St. Louis, Missouri the fall after completing his degree at Wabash. Initially, he was appointed Principal of the Garnett School where he served for ten years. He then served as principal of the Wheatley School for a year and a half before being appointed Principal of Lincoln School where he served for 22 years. By 1927 Lincoln was the largest school in St. Louis. At one time Evans served not only as Principal of the Lincoln School, but also Principal of the continuation (evening) school, the grade manual school and summer schools for Negroes in St. Louis. To further his education, he studied at Harris Teachers College, Missouri State University, University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan, completing an M.A. in 1929 at the State University of Iowa. (Evans typescript letter to R.E. Banta, signed, September 11, 1940) Evans also found the time to help organize the Pine Street Branch YMCA, direct and sing in
his church choir, while supporting from his own funds social centers for youth. American Teachers Association honored Evans as one of ten outstanding teachers with over 35 years of service in 1940. (St. Louis Argus, February, 1940) Despite this extraordinary record of service to the city of St. Louis, his death did not merit an obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the city’s leading newspaper.
T H E H I S T O R Y
that could serve as an ongoing research project for the faculty and students of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies (MXIBS). Was it common for minor children to be held responsible for the debts of deceased parents in Indiana in 1889? Was not involuntary servitude abolished in 1865? Why did Evans seek a degree at Wabash after completing his work for a B.S. at Wilberforce? Was he not considered qualified as a teacher? Did he ever have children? Are there descendants of Mrs. Evans?
that more closely paralleled that of John Evans. Many of them had obtained graduate degrees from some of the nation’s most respected universities, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, Iowa State, University of Chicago, and Yale University, to mention a few. They were unable to obtain employment locally except in the schools for Negroes. The physical plant of my high equaled or exceeded those of white high schools in the city. My Remembering Wabash high school basketball team played Evans told his life story in a against mostly other black high series of letters to R.E. Banta, then schools in the state. However, there Director of Public Relations for were a few high schools in Kansas the College, between June 1940 Related experiences that would schedule games with and December 1941. He initiI too, was an orphan when us, if the games were held on their ated the contact in response to I arrived at Wabash College in courts. a solicitation, contributing $20. 1955. My mother and father had Newspapers in the black comEncouraged to inform the Coldied within three months of each munity like the St. Louis Argus and lege of his career, he responded, other in January and April respecthe Kansas City Call carried stories making additional contributions tively during my senior year in of atrocities committed against with each letter. His story was told high school. I was able to come to black people locally and elsewhere, and re-told in the Wabash BulleWabash on a tuition scholarship along with small triumphs. The tin, Wabash Bachelor, and Wabash from the College and a suppleironies of being treated as secondNotes. mentary scholarship from a Ford class citizens probably reached its Speaking of his Wabash experi- Foundation-sponsored fund for apex during World War II when ence, he wanted to be remembered Negro students. I had attended men were drafted or volunteered to Dr. Millis, who supervised his racially segregated schools from to serve in the armed forces while work in the Crawfordsville school. kindergarten through high schools. being denied basic rights at home. He was proud to be the “first I had experienced some of the Lt. Colonel Charles W. Dryden, Negro to have received a degree ambiguities and contradictions in one of the “Tuskegee Airmen,” for from Wabash,” saying, “what little American life while celebrating example, describes in his memoirs success I have had in life was due the triumphs of individual African traveling in segregated railroad to the fine Christian influence of Americans like Marian Anderson, cars that were inferior to cars used “dear ole Wabash,” and the inspiJoe Louis and Jackie Robinson. I to transport German prisoners of ration received from those most was aware of restrictions on African war. He also recounts being courtexcellent instructors.” (Evans, Americans, mainly in the South, on martialed for a plausible training typescript letter to R.E. Banta, voting, education and employment, exercise, and being reprimanded signed, June 30, 1940) for example. There were accepted for insisting on using a Michigan Evans died June 16, 1953 at the practices of racial discrimination in airbase officers’ club that was off age of 76. His wife, Leona M. Evcertain restaurants, hotels and other limits to black officers by order of ans, survived him. He was buried public venues in Kansas City, but the base commander in violation in Marcellus, Michigan. (State of cultural institutions like the Nelson of regulations. (A-Train: Memoirs Missouri, death certificate, June Art Gallery or the concerts in the of a Tuskegee Airman, University of 16, 1953) Municipal Auditorium were open Alabama Press, 1997) A number of questions arise to everyone. While we did not experience in from this summary of Evans’ life Perhaps, my teachers had lives Kansas and St. Louis the extremes
of racial segregation as practiced in places farther south, there were accepted discriminatory practices that lasted until protests during the Civil Rights Movement forced them to be dropped. The impact of segregated schools and other discriminatory practices in border state communities like St. Louis and Kansas City was not to deprive black children of good teachers and good facilities. They denied the teachers and students basic human dignity and the opportunity to develop our full potential in competition with the rest of society in academics, athletics or the arts. Nevertheless, our teachers were educating us for “export” for they knew that we were going out into to a world that they had not had the opportunity to experience. When Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall died I remember asking my daughter if she was aware of how important he had
been to the black community. Of course, she knew of his role in leading the legal team in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case. What she did not know was how he was revered for taking on countless lesser cases defending African Americans all over the country against basic denials of rights under the law. Eleanor Roosevelt may have been a favorite target of cartoonists during this period, but she also was revered in black communities for her tireless efforts to obtain fair treatment for Negroes. When I arrived in Crawfordsville in the mid-1950’s there was a small black community. There were no black employees of the College. However, several of the fraternities employed blacks as cooks. The cook at the Beta house was very helpful in orienting me to the racial climate in town. For example, blacks were not welcome in the bars, but could
purchase liquor over the counter. Even after I was 21 I never patronized any of the bars. I was always treated with respect and courtesy on campus, but knew that as a basketball player I would probably be accorded privileges that were not accorded other blacks in the community. As a result, I limited my contact with the town. Segregated national fraternities were never an issue for me as I had declined an invitation to join a fraternity in my high school. The College did not inform me that I would be the only black student in the College my freshman year. It came as a surprise, but there were no incidents that I was aware of caused by my presence. After my freshman year the basketball coach, Bob Brock, did not schedule contests with opponents in the South where local laws prohibited interracial athletic contests. A student from Louisville, Kentucky, Julius Price, had attended Honor Scholarship Weekend with me at Wabash, but he received a Congressional appointment the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). He got married at the end of his first year and transferred to Wabash, for at that time cadets were not allowed to be married. Although we had many different interests, Julius and I became good friends from the start. His grandfather had founded the Mammoth Life Insurance Company and after we graduated Julius went into the family firm becoming its president a few years later. He died from a brain tumor in his mid-50’s. During the years we were at Wabash other African American students enrolled, but none of them graduated. Most left because they could not take the rigors of a single-sex college. 13
“To realize this opportunity MXIBS will require continued support from the College and active cooperation from other academic departments. It will also require a broader vision of the role of the Institute. But most important, it will require an active alumni support group that shares this broader vision.”
T H E H I S T O R Y
Malcolm X Generally, during the period leading up to the 1960’s it was thought that by getting an education, working hard and being courteous and respectful, African Americans would be accepted into the mainstream of American life. However, pressures surrounding the inequities, ambiguities and contradictions for African Americans continued to build. It took Malcolm X to end our fantasies. Demonized by the white media, he spoke aloud thoughts that most blacks were afraid to say even in private. We were either too timid or had been co-opted by the system. Malcolm raised a consciousness that only we could change the circumstances of our lives. His courage was contagious. The actor, writer, director, Ossie Davis, spoke eloquently for most African Americans in his eulogy following the assassination of Malcolm X: “Here—at this final hour, in this quiet place—Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes—extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought—his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are—and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again—in Harlem—to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and defended her honor even to the death. ”It is not in the memory of man
that this beleaguered , unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us—unconscious and still. I say the word again as he would want me to: Afro-American—AfroAmerican Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over the minds of men. Malcolm has stopped being a “Negro” years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted so desperately—that we— that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too. There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them. Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever listen to him? Did he ever do
a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him. Malcolm was our manhood, our living black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: ‘My journey,’ he says, ‘is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a united front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.” However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our own black shining Prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.” (Eulogy delivered at
the funeral of Malcolm X, Faith Temple Church of God, February 27, 1965, available on the official web site of Malcolm X, http://www. cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/ about/eulogy.htm) The Promise and the Reality of MXIBS We live in a much more complex world today than even Malcolm contemplated. It is extraordinary that a small college like Wabash has committed such impressive resources to honor its African American students and alumni. It is even more important that we do not squander the opportunity to do something extraordinary in response. There are over 300 degree granting programs in Black or Ethnic Studies across the nation, a number in Indiana alone. Most offer courses that are popular with the students taught by well-qualified faculty. But they struggle to attract and retain faculty, and to attract and retain majors, and to attain a foothold
in the mainstream of the academy. The opportunity that the MXIBS at Wabash has to avoid becoming another marginal department is to enlarge its focus as Malcolm suggested in his letter from Africa. With black Studies at its core, MXIBS can encourage and support other departments to share in presenting a more balanced view of the American experience. Students are hungry for exposure to ideas that inform them of why, given its Bill of Rights, the U.S. fails to provide equal protection under the law for all of its citizens? What does it mean to be a leader in a society where the workers will be mostly of color and substantially female? Why are there so many poor people of Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent in the U.S? How can the MXIBS contribute to a campus environment that teaches us to both honor American achievements while recognizing and understanding our limitations? To realize this opportunity MX-
IBS will require continued support from the College and active cooperation from other academic departments. It will also require a broader vision of the role of the Institute. But most important, it will require an active alumni support group that shares this broader vision. John W. Evans is an example to follow. In his several communications with the College, Evans never failed to include a small financial contribution, nor did he fail to indicate how much he valued his Wabash education. Wabash continues to be successful because each generation of Wabash men understands the debt they owe to their predecessors and their obligation to contribute to future generations. The Alumni of the MXIBS should do no less.
T H E H I S T O R Y
MXI: By Looking Backward to Move Forward, Trust the Students! by Dr. Peter Frederick H’92
Remarks after receiving honorary alumnus award at the MXI 40th anniversary celebration on September 17, 2011 “We and time have things in common/We move forward” ~Terrance Pigues, “Progress,” XPosition, Spring 2011 Although tempted to choose the class of 1971 or 1977 or 1987 or 2006, I selected the Wabash MXI Class of 1992 as the class I wanted to join as an Honorary Alumnus of Wabash College. There were two reasons: The first was the quality of that particular graduation class. Included in the class of ’92 were four attorneys, Kenyatta Brame, Steve Campbell, Quadiru Kent, and Alonzo Weems, all four in influential corporate positions; two in business, Keith Veale, with his own Sustainable Solutions, and Paul Toohey at Amway; and three
PhDs, Charles Ngowe (Chemistry), Patrick Tyndall (Theatre), and John Aden (History). Nice symmetry, for those three disciplines represent each of the three divisions of Wabash College. The second reason for picking 1992 as my honorary class year was that when those students graduated from Wabash, I too left for two years to teach at Carleton College in Minnesota, where I helped to found a Center for Learning and Teaching. I also left because of some intemperate comments I had made the preceding winter about the Trustee decision to remain an all-male college, a decision I had spent two decades opposing. It was a tough spring for faculty who disagreed with the decision while
still loving students and all that was good at Wabash, but it was a “teachable moment” time, and I think I never taught better. I am glad I came back. Although I still believe that men and women should be educated together, let me tell a story about the MXI in that winter of 1991-92. It is a lesson in why we can trust the wisdom of students. As various constituencies of the College voted on whether to remain all-male or go co-ed, so also did the men of the MXI. They met in the old, original, white-framed building with a front porch at 416 West Wabash Avenue, a sacred site now occupied by Trippett Hall. When they came out, I was waiting, curious about their thinking. Corey Braddock ’93, from
the south side of Chicago, came up to tell me that he and the others had voted to remain all-male. “What!?,” I exclaimed in disbelief. Corey calmly explained: “If we went coed, Doc, there’d be a lot of sistas here, they’d do all the work, and we’d never learn how to be leaders.” To his explanation I was (uncharacteristically) speechless. He was right, of course, and it was part of Horace Turner’s genius to play a fatherly, guiding role as Director of the MXIBS, letting the students take and learn responsibility for its purposes, policies, and procedures. Corey’s explanation gave me pause on my principles about coeducation. As I reflect back now, I am reminded of an old Wabash insight that the College is so conservative and behind the times that it is positively ahead of its time. Things come around again, like all-male education. Men in higher education in the 21st century, and especially Black men, are an endangered species (women are now over 60% of college students). Wabash knows extremely well how to educate males, and because of the MXI it knows very well how to educate Black men. Like many other men of the MXI, Corey taught me a lesson in trusting students that I have never forgotten. And this brings me to the current purposes and mission of the MXIBS. The anniversary weekend was a time for looking backward in order to live forward (paraphrasing Kierkegaard). Throughout 2011, the Advisory Committee that searched for and helped name Michael Brown as the new MXIBS Director, President White, Dean Phillips, and several MXI Alumni looked back at 1971 for direction in moving forward. During the Saturday
morning of the anniversary weekend, this group gathered in Baxter 101 and, to be honest, we old folks were struggling with the connections between past and present and how to redefine the mission of the MXIBS. There is, indeed, an ambiguity and creative tension between two definitions of this mission, one emphasizing an MXI that is primarily about student social, cultural and academic affairs and the other focusing on the role of an MXIBS for “Black Studies,” perhaps elevating the Institute to some kind of national center. An invidious distinction, perhaps, but clarity is further confused by Dr. Brown’s dual titles of Director of the MXIBS and Associate Dean of the College, which could potentially divide his focus. I also believe that part of our struggles, although not often mentioned, is because Black students have in many ways literally moved from the margins to the center of the College (praise be!), which raises complex implications for who “owns” and how to “use” the new building. These were rarely concerns at 416 West Wabash in the 1970s, albeit dealing with more marginality, but more of that later. On September 17, in three separate panels, we grappled all morning with these questions. By noon this mixed and lively group of 40-some MXI and other alumni, a handful of current students, the President, Dean, Associate Dean, and the MXI Advisory group of dedicated current faculty and staff finally came to what seemed like an almost epiphany-like clarity. How did that happen? After a morning of listening to the stories, concerns and thoughtful intensity of alumni dating back to 1971, now successful men who had learned about life
and leadership at Wabash and in the MXI, it was the fresh, immediate, purer vision of the current men of MXI that finally clarified, if not resolved, our confusion. Trust the students! Following opening statements and a panel of the 10-person MXI Advisory Group, which explored questions about the redefined mission, a panel of students, including Chairman Reggie Steele, Terrance Pigues, Ian Kelly, and DeVan Taylor, expertly facilitated by Chicago media star Dr. Garrard McClendon ’88, talked about how the MXI helped them learn about leadership. The conversation then shifted again to the mission and Garrard invited us all to think again about what was at the heart of the mission and how it changes, questions he had asked earlier. He drew a circle, actually three overlapping circles, on the board. “What’s in the middle?” Garrard asked, which took us again to some of the earlier arguments. In a dramatic moment, sophomore Terrance Pigues ’14, literally climbed over three rows of fixed chairs to seize the chalk from Dr. McClendon ’88 and take the floor/ stage held earlier by alumni heavyweights like Keith Nelson ’71, Chat Collier ’75, Keith Lee and Eugene Anderson ’83, Jeff Cusic ’87, Luttrell Levingston ’98, Keon Gilbert ‘01 and others. Terrance drew one large circle and in it he boldly wrote “students” and “academics,” and with that crystal clear clarity named what has always been and must always be at the heart and core of the Malcolm X Institute. In that moment he captured the simple truth that for 40 years the center of the mission of MXI has been to help students learn in a liberal arts context, achieve academic success, and
TT HH EE HH I I SS TT OO RR YY
prepare for humane leadership. He nailed it! Trust the students! I confess to having been prepared for this awareness the night before, when, in my comfortable bed in classy Trippett Hall on the very site of the creaky former MXI house, I had read the Spring 2011 issue of X-Position, superbly edited by Wesley Chamblee. With a well-known photo of Malcolm X telling truth to power on the cover, and a theme, “A New Beginning,” current students put together an absolutely fantastic issue. The Table of Contents promised a thoughtful array of articles, interviews and poems in five alliterative categories: Purpose, Perspectives, Provoked, Plan, and Progress. Intermixed were several well-chosen quotations from Malcolm. Chairman Reggie Steele’s “A Brighter Tomorrow, Today!” and Wes’s “Letter from the Editor” set the tone and goals for the issue and, not incidentally, captured the idea of looking backward to move forward. In Reggie’s words: “One major goal was to bring back the heart and spirit of the MXIBS. . . . to relive the goals that were established nearly 40 years ago. These goals included improvement in academic achievement, social and cultural awareness, as well as a distinct organizational identity on campus.” He nailed it, too, consistent with Terrance’s two words in the center of Dr. McClendon’s circle. I am tempted to keep on moving through the excellent articles, poems, and quotations of this issue of X-Position, but let me just urge all readers to find a copy and read it for themselves. Trust the students: see what they wrote! And, to return to 1971, let me suggest placing the Spring 2011
issue of X-Position next to the Volume 1, Number 1 (1971?) issue of the MXI Journal, I believe titled Ujama, and examine continuities and changes. Common to both, I believe, following the inspiration of both Malcolm X quoted in XPosition (“education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”) and W. E. Bu Du Bois, from Souls of Black Folk, Ch. V (“Shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both. . . . the final product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man [sic]. And to make men we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living.”) These quotations both address the education of Black (and Brown and white) students in the center of Terrance’s circle, thereby clarifying the fundamental mission and purpose of the MXI, with or without the BS. On Saturday afternoon, Finley Campbell and I, together again as if 40 years had not passed, this time watching a Wabash football game while talking about the MXI(BS), decided that the first “Black studies” program in America (other than perhaps reading everything written by Dr. DuBois), was Malcolm’s account of reading scores of books by the glow of a corridor light while in prison in the 1940s, one of which was Souls of Black Folk. “My alma mater was books,” he said (see The Autobiography. . ., Chp. 11, pp. 174-83), as he designed his own liberal arts education! In 1971, the eight or nine Black students who founded the Institute went inside the as yet unnamed building at 416 West Wabash and came out with a name “Malcolm X,” not, as some thought, Martin Luther King or Du Bois (who died
at the age of 95 on the eve of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963). But unlike the coed vote in 1991, I was not surprised by their choice. Dr. King fought for social justice and civil rights within America, Malcolm fought for cultural rights, self-identity and human rights internationally across the globe. Both fought for dignity, but Martin found dignity in civic rights; Malcolm found it in educational self-improvement, “the passport to the future.” That focus on student academic success was the essential goal of young Black men at Wabash in 1970-71, and as we learn from current MXI students in 2011, that remains the goal at the center of the mission of the men of MXI. Trust the students! So first there was a name, a “Malcolm X Institute,” which was about the academic, educational aspirations of Black men in a liberal arts Wabash, and soon thereafter was added “of Black Studies” which extended the cultural, educational mission beyond Black students to the wider Wabash and Crawfordsville communities around them. Yes, there was from the start, and still, the need to add more Black faculty and staff to the College (first, a director more appropriate than me: Horace Turner). And yes, there was from the start, and still, interest in adding more “Black Studies” courses and Black content to existing courses, and maybe even a Black Studies program of some sort. But the MXIBS was never intended to mean a national research center for Black Studies (unless one means researching Malcolm and Du Bois). Before I taught that first African-American History course in the fall of 1969, I was part of a faculty committee (with no student members) appointed that sum-
mer to explore these questions, a committee also including Finley and two moderate to conservative faculty members. Knowing what was possible in the context of both time and place, we recommended an area of concentration, but never a major. Our design of the MXI(BS) at 416 West Wabash Avenue reflected multiple visions. On the top floor were social and leisure facilities for Black students: lounges, TV, pool table, and later a barber chair. This was the “home away from home” as Horace often described it, a refuge for students of color, a student organization, a place to discover and define one’s identity. To visually signal that essential goal was the “front porch,” a gathering place for “Black folk.” On the main floor was an academic classroom, open to all Wabash students, encircled with a set of framed photos of great Black leaders that I brought to Indiana from a Black Panther bookstore in San Francisco and which still is present in the main classroom; a library of books on the Black experience; and an office and desk for the director (buried under HT’s mess of papers). There was a reason for that messy office. Horace Turner was implementing the MXI focus on the academic success of students. He spent his time out and about the campus advising freshmen and upper classmen on course selections, tracking students down regularly to make sure they were going to class, going to their rooms to wake them up when they didn’t, checking on their grades, barbecuing meals, connecting students with Black student centers at Purdue and elsewhere, and fixing their cars or rescuing them all over central Indiana in the middle of the night. No wonder he
(and Coach Johnson) has been seen as a “father” by hundreds of MXI students these past 40 years, just as Jasmine Robinson, whose name blesses the computer center upstairs and could just as easily grace the kitchen and classrooms as well, represents the “mother” of the men of MXI. One final story about continuity and change in re-defining the mission of the MXI, and this involves the actual two buildings. In Chapter 3 of Souls of Black Folk, titled “Of the Meaning of Progress,” Du Bois describes his Fisk College internship-like, immersion experience for two summers teaching in a small town in the hills outside of Nashville. The “schoolhouse was a log hut” without a door or windows, with a small blackboard “crouched in the corner” and where the children sat in seats of “rough plank benches without backs.” But the nearly 30 children, typified by a young girl, Josie, “longed to learn” and eagerly followed their teacher’s lessons with energy despite the pressures of having to work in the fields and white kitchens. “We read and spelled together, wrote a little, picked flowers, sang, and listened to stories of the world beyond the hill.” Ten years later, now a Harvard PhD, Du Bois returned to “my little school” and found his former school children scattered and struggling, Josie dead, “Doc Burke” even deeper in debt, and “a heap of trouble” among the people. “My log schoolhouse was gone. In its place stood Progress.” The new, larger school was made of boards, with three windows and “a door that locked.” The blackboard was still there [!], two feet wider, but the seats were still benches without backs. The county owned the build-
ing. As he “rode to Nashville in the Jim Crow car,” Du Bois wondered: “How shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies? How many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat?. . .all this life and love and strife and failure, is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?” The analogy with Wabash’s two MXI buildings is hardly exact, and, not to diminish admiration for the men like Reggie, Wes, Terrance and others I have praised here, it seems to me that student energy in the MXI at 416 West Wabash was more widespread and focused on programs they had more ownership for than in the modern MXI. Maybe these are just the musings of an aging founder, but I wonder how we measure progress today where the building is grander, in fact gorgeous, but where the doors are now locked, the kitchen offlimits, and both the library and barber chair gone? I wonder what is lost where there is no front porch for “Black folk” and others to gather and hangout? I wonder what “progress” means when a people move from the margins to the center of an institution? I wonder. I also believe that there is “a new beginning” now, and that these are questions I trust the likes of Wes, Reggie, Ian, Terrance, Andre, Kessler, DeWayne, Donovan, as well as Tracey, Warren, Clyde, Cheryl, and Michael Brown!—will resolve, ushering in the “faint-dawning day” Du Bois, Malcolm, Martin, Maya and many others have sought. Garrard asked students what they needed from alumni; good question, but I thought he might have reversed it. All together, now: “Trust the students!!”
THE HERE AND NOW T H E H E R E A N D N O W
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” -Malcolm X-
I feel the schemes we dream lack continuity boys boaster of bankroll, while we know they roll like you and me true indeed, religion’s sold in denim with a matching tee If you’re trying to stack that cake, reconstruct your recipe Yes! To “Are you testing me?”, ingest this written ecstasy Expel your inefficiencies then ponder your proficiency Corner the conformity, investigate abnormally Be petrified and ornery at the cobwebs in the corner, B ‘cause they’re not what we’re prone to see We cover scars, who wants to bleed? With purple drink and purple weed Self-medicated to mask a need Never think this world is right I’m sick and lost my appetite We’re delving into darker nights We’d best invest in streetlights… -Anonymous-
Solidarity in Vulgarity: the Funk in Racist Jokes by Dr. Samuel Rocha
“I don’t want your stupid ethnic dances, I want dirty jokes!” —Slavoj Zizek “Gonna have a funky good time, gonna have a funky good time!” T —James Brown H E “The man of knowledge must be H able not only to love his enemies but E also to hate his friends.” —Friedrich Nietzsche R E Like several of my colleagues, A I don’t own a television. On the N occasion that I do watch movies, D sports, or television programs, I rely on the internet. One of the N shows I like to watch is American O Pickers, the series about two guys W who drive around buying junk. Being a lover of flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales, I can relate to these guys. I especially like the fact that they cherish very particular kinds of places: run down, dirty, rust-filled, verging on dangerous sorts of places. If a place is too clean, organized, or well kept, they are usually skeptical and unhappy; when the place is a dump, off the beaten path, teeming with dirt and rust, they are hopeful and excited. These guys don’t want to spend their time in domesticated or 22
sterilized places. They want to be in the wild, untamed, mess of people’s ordinary lives. Many times, they have to literally get lost to find their way. This attitude about things is what this essay is about. Watching YouTube videos of the public intellectual, Slavoj Zizek, is another (nerdy) pastime of mine. I don’t always agree with him, but that’s not the point. One of the many reasons I enjoy him is that, from time to time, he puts into speech a sentiment I have felt before, but have struggled to express and understand. I recently had this experience while watching a clip excerpted from a talk he gave at Princeton entitled, “Why Only an Atheist Can Be a True Christian.” (You can find it by searching “Zizek on Racism” on YouTube.) During questions and answers, Zizek discusses racism. He responds to the question, “How should we fight racism?,” with this quixotic answer: “with progressive racism.” He argues that there are forms of racist discourse—especially racist jokes—that are not racist at all, but are actually a powerful form of shared solidarity. Hold that thought.
I also love to listen to and perform music. But I’m extremely picky about my music. I’m not looking for virtuosos. I’m after a pocket, a thick-ass groove, the perfect feel—I’m looking for music that is rootsy, earthy, that makes me wrinkle my nose, crunch my brow, and rock my head from side to side. I’m looking for real, funky music. The funk.
For music to be soulful to me, for it to be an experience that really hits me, it must be anchored in funk. (And funk must be anchored in the blues.) When I play guitar, whether at a church or a club, I’m looking for that part that dwells in the funkiest depths of the song. Sometimes that means not playing at all, just pick-scratching at muted
strings, turning my melodic guitar into a percussion instrument. Funky playing requires precision; no one can get in the other guy’s way. It’s all about space. Any band that is funky is in perfect balance, a fragile form of community. To be funky is to dwell with others in a radical moment of solidarity. What people don’t often realize or pay attention to is this: the funk literally refers to something vulgar. Body odor. Funk is dirty. It is born from the bloody womb of the blues, Negro spirituals, the African “one” beat. It is baptized in suffering and hard work. You can’t play good, funky music just because you play the right notes or follow all the rules. You can’t really teach funkiness. You have to acquire the ability to dwell in the music in a way that has grit, sensuality, sexuality, and even vulgarity. The funk isn’t just about the bandstand; it’s also about how the music affects the listener. The funk is physical, somatic music: it makes you dance, sweat, it makes you shout, it makes you feel—and more. The funk makes you swear beautifully. When you hear something funky you know it, you (like Erykah Badu) might ask the person next to you, “damn, you feel that?” If they do, then, it’s a useless, rhetorical question. There is something about funk that is absolutely authentic. As a genre, funk is born from jazz and gives birth to hip-hop. (Hip-hop drum samples are usually taken from funk bands, especially the work of Clyde Stubblefield, the original “funky drummer” for James Brown.) It is the crucial link between these two improvisational
art forms. This is why I make a sharp distinction between hip-hop and rap—and especially gansta rap. Hip-hop is ALWAYS funky. There is something beautifully real about funky music, funky people, and the funk as more than just music. Back to Zizek. I doubt that Zizek knows much about the musical genre of funk, but he is absolutely funky. His lecturing style is endearingly sloppy: he is usually sweating and/ or unbathed, his hair is greasy and unkept, his English accent is spotted with saliva and he is constantly wiping/picking at his nose. But he is more than just funky in this literal way. Zizek understands the danger of trying to combat social injustice through sterilization or domestication. He challenges us to be more honest. To be funky. We all know that there are real, intimate spaces in our lives where racial jokes and vulgar language are not only acceptable, they are serious signs of real trust and genuine affection. My true friends, many of them on this campus, are not verified by their outward kindness or politeness to me, but, instead, by their earned freedom to insult me; to tell racist, vulgar jokes and speak in racist, vulgar ways when we spend time together. There are trendy, pious forms of white guilt where fear of funky relationships is so strong that people try to organize, clean up, and deodorize these authentic ways of living, speaking, and being together. But make no mistake: you can’t kill the funk. It is stronger than the soap of white guilt—itself a deodorized form of white supremacy— that is so often carried by so-called
white people and, even more ironically, by gentrified people of color. There is a powerful, funky form of solidarity in vulgarities exchanged between true friends. The funk is not an excuse to be dirty for no good reason or to skip a shower, but it is a real example of the inescapable fact that we all sweat, lust, swear, and more. We all love and hate. We are alive. In the same spirit, this absolutely does not mean we should just tell racist jokes willy-nilly or accept racist remarks easily, but it does mean that we shouldn’t assume that a racist joke is always racist. It may actually be a deep form of affection and solidarity. These obscene forms of social life are harder to pursue and attain than the facile attempts at creating comfortable, civil forms of solidarity. The funk is tremendously difficult, both in music and in friendship. If you want to play the funk, you must be properly initiated and learn to dwell authentically with others. If you want to gain my personal trust, respect, and affection to be able to affectionately call me a “dirty Mexican,” you will have to dwell with me. And to dwell with me, you must love me. When that day comes, we will be funky friends. I’d rather have a real, rude, funky-ass friend—a friend like Ralph Elison’s man of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—than a deodorized, thoroughly gentrified so-called “friend.” The former is a friend I might die for. So, Wabash: Shall we be vulgar friends—or polite enemies?
What Does The Help Help? by Bernard Meyer ’08
T H E H E R E A N D N O W
Many praises and criticisms have been leveled against the movie (and novel) The Help. These criticisms have focused on the images portrayed of the main black characters: Aibileen and Minny, domestics during the tumultuous Civil Rights Era in Jackson, Mississippi. These particular critiques can be added to the general criticism of Hollywood when it comes to the topic of African Americans in movies: the same stock images. We’ve had the “Black Brute” of the early ’90’s and the lazy “Sambo” brothers. And, of course, the age-old “Mammy” famously portrayed by Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind, faithfully reprised in Maude with Mammy Florida before becoming center-focus in Good Times, Martin Lawrence’s creative imitations, and of course the tragedy known as Tyler Perry’s Madea incarnations. A few of these archetypal images can also be found in Stockett’s The Help (as it does not veer far from the novel, it is her movie). In the film, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a recent graduate of Ole Miss, which sets her apart from her child-rearing, backwardsthinking friends. She quickly finds work at a newspaper writing a column on housekeeping tips, which she needs Aibileen’s
help to write (she doesn’t pay her, by the way, for doing all the work). The main villain in this is Ms. Hilly Holbrook, the mean-spirited Junior League woman hell bent on terrorizing anyone or anything she finds disagreeable, black or white. The film finds Skeeter trying to accomplish something great by going to work for Ms. Elaine Stein in the publishing company Harper & Row. As Skeeter is a middle or upper-middle class recent graduate without an iota of work experience, Stein tells her to write about something that bothers her, and then she’ll see if she can find a position for her in the company. Skeeter, when coming home, finds out that the maid who raised her, Constantine, was fired, so she decides to write about life from the viewpoint of the maids. Enter Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) who, with all the other maids, speak with a heavy “southern” dialect; the white characters surprisingly do not. One of them is a hard-working, quietly-struggling, conservative woman who cries a lot. The other is a sassy-mouthing, stout, jovial woman who gets into trouble a lot. The three women write the book together (with the help of another dozen maids), and the published novel becomes something of a best-seller, impacting segregated Jackson and displaying
how a mixture of courage, approximately a dozen disciple maids, and one curly-haired, determined and white-guilted woman can change society and the way we interact with one another. Along with this nostalgic, dreamy image of Jackson in the 1960’s, are other things the movie reveals. Primarily, The Help is not about the help. It is Skeeter’s story, her development from an inexperienced, naïve virgin, to someone who discovered what it means to have real friendship, to fight for what you believe in, and to finally get a job in New York City, leaving the domestic workers to deal with the mess she’s created. The story of the help can be seen as a backdrop, a landscape upon which Skeeter exposes, analyzes, and develops her inner turmoil, her hopes, fears, and secret desires. It is not primarily about revealing the Black maids’ turmoil or fears. We get to see a lot of Skeeter’s personal, social, and professional life, and everyone involved in it. Of the maids’ lives, we do not get such an in depth view. We see their struggles, but do we see their personal lives? We get a glimpse of Aibileen’s, of her deceased son, and we know that Minny has a husband and a few (maybe 4 or 5?) children. Where is Aibileen’s husband? Why does she live alone? The movie doesn’t bother to mention it. The
movie ends with Minny deciding to leave her husband when her new employees cook for her. Aibileen is accused of stealing silverware and fired, then walks down an endless road (of possibility) where she decides to become a writer. If it weren’t for the awkward Jackson, Mississippi 1960’s setting, this ending would have been perfect. Beyond being a landscape for the white protagonist’s development (in a minor way similar to Conrad’s Heart), in which Skeeter comes, sees, and conquers, with nary a thought to the destruction she’s left behind, we see (in the combination of Minny and Aibileen) more of the portly, jovial, thickly dialected, asexual, romanticized, and undeveloped Mammy. We don’t know anything about Aibileen’s husband because it isn’t important. We don’t see much of her interaction with her friends, outside of the few instances with Minny at work and at church. Who can imagine these fat black women as being sexual? We can see them saying: “Love life? Mammy ain’t got no time for no lovin. I gots to feeds these heah white chillun!” A stereotypical, cringe-worthy scene is when Minny is in the middle of explaining how to cook food to her new ditsy employer, Celia. In a one-minute commercial presentation, she pulls out a tub of Crisco and reflects upon all its amazing uses, making sure to tilt the tub of lard to show the brand to the camera. Then, wide-eyed, widegrinned and glowing, she states amorously: “Frying chicken just tend to make you feel better about life, at least me anyway. Hmm, I love me some fried chicken!” A solution to every black woman’s problems. Two other maid characters are
also worth mentioning: Yule May Crookle and Constantine. Yule May is young, thin, attractive, and determined. She has a husband and two college-aged twin boys and she speaks without the mammy-dialect. In fact, she seems to be a character set up in opposition to the more important black characters. However, because of her determination, and that she doesn’t have enough money to send both boys to college, she ends up stealing a ring out of desperation—from the nefarious Hilly. Naturally she gets arrested when she tries to pawn the ring in the same town. A silly thief; her crookedness is even implied in her name, Yule May Crookle. Her character, as a deviation from the norm of the black woman, seems to be a subtle warning about straying outside of the preset parameters, and that being strong-willed, successful, non-fat and obviously not loyal may also get you arrested. Constantine was an old, single, hobbling woman, with a dialect thicker than Aibileen’s. Beyond the obvious mammy, we can also see another archetype within her: the sage-like “magical Negro.” The magical Negro is a character who, by use of special insight or powers, aims to help the white protagonist. In a flashback, we see Constantine coming to a dejected Skeeter, who did not get asked to the dance, advising, “You gonna do something big, you wait and see.” This information is presented dramatically, with a close-up and a pause in the up-lifting music that had been playing throughout. In the midst of her decision whether or not to write the book, it is understood by Skeeter almost as a prophecy soon to be fulfilled. The magic Negro can also
be found in Aibileen’s character, whose magic has helped raise 17 children. We see it in the first few scenes, and frequently throughout the movie with Elizabeth’s child, as she teaches her the following: “You is smart, you is kind, you is important” (as “mummified” as possible). She says this to the young girl time and again, and it comes to be a charm, a sort of spell, to protect the young girl from the dangers of the world. One criticism overlooked, however, is the image of the men in this film. Being largely a tale by and for women (which kind of women?), the men in this story—both Black and white— are minor characters. There are three Black men in this movie. Two of them are outside the personal lives of the black maids. One is Reverend Johnson, and the other is Henry the Waiter. The one privately involved black male is “one-scene Leroy.” We only see him once, and we watch him verbally and physically abuse his wife Minny, with later implications of further and consistent abuse of her and her children. He is the image of the aforementioned Black Brute. Vicious, animalistic, with a junglefire in his eyeballs, and a slithering python in his loins, or whatever the image is. We do not get any other image. Reverend Johnson is a non-sexual reverend, and the other Black male is a waiter in three unimportant scenes. The Black male in this film is limited, enraged, and negative. Apparently, he was based on Stockett’s real-life maid’s husband, and presented as a somewhat accurate, depressing fact of Black American life in those times. In the novel, moreover, Minny states the follow-
T H E H E R E A N D N O W
ing: “Plenty of Black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about.” However, according to census data, it seems that in 1960, 74% of black households were composed of married couples, while only 22% were “female householder,” women living alone. In Stockett’s Jackson, this is not the norm. Of all the Black maids in the movie (besides the crook), who had a husband, and a non-abusive one at that? Even more egregious than the images of Black males within the film are the misrepresentations of white males. In the film, white males are passive, jovial, aloof characters. They are all handsome, or at least not too bad to look at. The love interest temporarily takes on the role of the drunk, unmannered jerk, but we find out later it was only because he wasn’t ready to meet a new woman after his fiancée broke his heart. The white male characters are far in the background, but exist only in reaction to the events that occur. Even after the book is published, and the gossip from the women-folk figures the Black maids as having exposed all this information about the households they work in, nothing happens. They just take it, seemingly, as more women-folk gossip. They do not react violently. An incident where there is violence is when the crook maid is arrested, and the officer raises his baton to beat her. We don’t see it landing on her head, we don’t even really hear it; we only see the reactions of the other maids
as they wince. Minny’s husband doesn’t beat her; the police officer doesn’t beat the crook. There actually isn’t much violence in Stockett’s recreation of those times. She seems to have forgotten that this is the 1960’s we’re talking about here. Not just the 1960’s in some auxiliary setting, but this is Jackson, Mississippi’s 1960s, and by all accounts, it was tough. People got strung up for saying the wrong words, for giving the wrong look. For talking to white women, for not getting out the way, and certainly much less than writing about everything that happens inside a man’s household or feeding a man’s wife a shitpie. Stuart is enraged and breaks up with Skeeter when she tells him it was she that wrote the book. He states that things were fine the way they were, and why couldn’t she just leave it alone? He doesn’t go out, round up some friends, and stop by the hardware store to go pay those maids a visit. He merely disagrees. His only action is vocal, and it seems to hint that the forces that be, having placed Blacks in their roles and whites in theirs, are in place for a reason unbeknownst to him and outside his power to control. Stuart, himself, is only a passive participant in that system, not attacking, not defending, not supporting. Just viewing, working, and surviving within it, as are the other white males. They weren’t members of the White Council or the KKK. They were innocent, good men. It was the system that forced the white men to act like that, if they did at all. They are not at fault. They should not be blamed. In fact, one may go so far as to say that if there were no system in place that forced them to be that way, they wouldn’t
be that way. This explains the quick progression of thought that the nation as a whole took from Jim Crow to Civil Rights, from slain Black leaders and the march on Washington, to desegregation and full rights for all (or most) citizens. When the noose of the system was removed from the white man’s neck, they were allowed to be as progressive, equality-minded as they always, secretly wanted to be. In the nostalgic recreation of her child, adolescent, and young womanhood, the men only slightly disagree with desegregation; the maids are jovial, quiet, wise, loyal, asexual, and magical; the black men are either brutes or non-sexual reverends; the apex of Southern discomfort for all involved comes down to a catfight between Junior League women. Stockett reinvents the past as much as any proud revisionist would, and she does so seamlessly while presenting a beautiful story of fiction that others would see as true. And here, we have my main complaint: This movie, if it were set amongst countless more accurate portrayals, amongst a sea of varied Black and multi-cultural, multi-ethnic characters—movies in which Black actors don’t have to play the same characters in the same movies—at that fantastical point it might have some value. At least, it wouldn’t be so bad. But in our reality, we have to pit this against the context of Black characters in popular cinema. We have to hold this up against the history of America, its wishes for revision in the context of slavery and civil rights, and the ongoing struggles for appropriate education. This film makes it easier for the American nation to remember
those times. It is less severe. Devoid of violence, in one way or another, people got what they deserved, or at least there was hope for everyone involved. Within this revisionist story, white Americans can, do, and will feel nostalgic about those times without having to remember everything. It is comfortable enough that white Americans can publicly disagree with those times, and ensure themselves that if it were them in those situations, they would’ve acted much differently. I mean, look at the villain: mean, vicious Hilly, profusely using the words negra/nigger, forcing Black maids to use different bathrooms, while the college-educated Skeeter, bright, determined, and opinionated, is a stand-in for the audience members who can more easily recognize themselves in her. Where are the college-educated racists? Where are the nice white women who believe in segregation? Where are the ambiguous characters? To revise is to easily set up the good and the bad, and to separate ourselves from the bad so that we can seem good and the past can continue to look not so bad. The reasons are then clear why it happened, but those bad people are dead, or marginalized, possibly hidden in some woodside cabin with a two-holed sheet and a shotgun. They are not here, amongst us; educated, progressive, Democratic. It’s easy to spot a racist: they are them, they are not us. We can be safe here, we can be comfortable with ourselves, because to be a racist is to be x, y, and z, and we are only a, b, and c. Who does The Help really help? The answer is obvious.
M.O.W.N.B.U. is the motto of the Wabash College Track and Field team. However, this phrase does not just apply to the track. Many alumni and current students use this motto in real life situations. So if you’re going through it, just N.B.U. it!
M.O.W.N.B.U. There are times in the lives of the Men of Wabash when they will go through adversity. The types of adversity may be Personal, Social, Spiritual, Academic, or Track and Field related. The Track and Field Family of Wabash College believes in N.B.U. (Nothing Breaks Us!). We believe you have to break through and conquer any adversity that may fall in your path. We also believe adversity builds character, and we do not shy away from it. We put our chin down and break through whatever it is. Our goal is for this motto to spread through the Wabash community. We are Men Of Wabash, and Nothing Breaks Us! 27
Listen And Learn
A Few Experienced Wabash Men Share Their Stories and Advice For Future Wabash Men We love to sit as the shadows flit
T H E
“We love to sit as the shadows flit And praise it in song and story”
H E R E
College - The hardest four years of your life by Eman ’10
A N D N O W
I’ve heard many people refer to college as being the best four years of their lives. The critical thinking mindset that grew in me during my time at Wabash made me analyze and dig deeper into this saying. Catch a man a fish and you feed him for a day... Teach him to fish and you feed him for the rest of his life. I think the Wabash experience is more like the latter. People who had the best four years often tell me stories of their partying, skipping class, road trips etc. Throughout my four years at Wabash I experienced must frustration and many challenges; they ended up being the best four years of my life at the same time because I was “Taught how to fish.” More specifically I gained a work ethic and thought process that I have already benefited from post graduation and will continue to benefit from for the rest of my life due to those challenging years. Wabash taught me to work hard when no one else was looking, that standing out isn’t always a negative personality trait to have, and most importantly - to grow along your own path in life. And it’s funny because some of my best memories during my time there were the decisions that made my days a lot tougher. Whether it was going to the library with Wes to study knowing that we weren’t going to actually study then having to stay up even later to finish our work, or being at track practice running my tail off knowing that the harder I’m running now, the more tired I will be at night when I’m trying to finish a paper that’s due. The reason that those times stand out so much to me is because of the friendships I formed from them – which brings me to the advice I have to give. Wabash will be the hardest four years of your life (back to back that is), but as you grow past here you realize that those hard times were the best. They set you up for success as you all go through them together as brothers and comrades. The best advice I can give is to appreciate the bonds you form by going through adversity together - whether it’s a tough football practice, or a 20-page paper your entire class procrastinated and is writing in the
computer lab the night before itâ€™s due. Those are the challenges that you look back upon while in the real world and realize that they made you stronger. Those are the challenges that form everlasting friendships. Keep in contact with those friends because nothing can ever replace those bonds and those are the guys that will look out for you in the work place over anyone else. My experience may have been vastly different from some of you who are reading this article, but the one thing I know for sure is that you have a work ethic that I would want in the roster of my company. So challenge yourselves, get involved, make new friendships and do whatever you can to make your Wabash experience as unique and personalized as possible because you are setting yourself up for success just by being there. Wabash knows Wabash.
Perseverance by Ian Kelly â€™12 Perseveranceâ€Śthat would be the one word I would use to describe my experience at Wabash College. Perseverance has been demanded of me in order to reach my senior year at the College. I am not the best student that has ever passed through Wabash, but a fact no can deny is that I am here in my second to last semester almost ready to graduate and receive the vaunted diploma we all desire. I chose to attend Wabash College solely on the assumption I could receive a high-level education for an affordable price due to scholarships, and have the opportunity to play soccer. What I did not understand as a senior in high school and freshman here was exactly how important the high standard for educational excellence is. I left high school as a know-it-all who did not have to give full effort to be successful and was lazy academically my junior and senior year. I could not comprehend it at the time, but had I attended another university (maybe even a coed), the habit of not pushing myself, being complacent in school and life would have persisted. I was one of the students at Wabash College who wanted to transfer because the academics were too difficult and it was boring in Crawfordsville. This was my adolescent attitude coming into play again, as I tried to avoid the more difficult journey in life by running away from an institution that challenged me. This is when friendships and events began to take place that would form my new opinions of Wabash and why I was here. After my pledge brother died and the fraternity was shut down, I understood that if I had a chance to remain on campus I needed to become involved in other organizations and activities around the College. My involvement began by becoming an associate at the Malcolm X Institute. I immediately began to form new friendships and, consequently, broaden my perspective on the Wabash experience. By becoming friends with juniors and seniors through the MXI, I began to observe and comprehend the effect Wabash had on upper classmen and could have on me. These Wabash men managed to have a great time while being here and still performed exceptionally well academically. This is what inspired me to persist through my early failures in certain classes and push through the mental barriers inhibiting my best performance. I related and compared myself with the successful Wabash men I had begun to associate myself with from the MXI. I wanted to possess their confidence, intelligence, and ability to persevere. By remaining at Wabash, I consciously made a choice to devote myself to academics and understand that it was not going to be an easy journey. This choice defines who I am today because without the demand for excellence provided by Wabash, I would still be a childish student that runs away from problems, makes excuses, and expects the world to bend to my will. Now I am a driven young man who still possesses many faults but I do not run away from the problems I create or make excuses for them. I understand that a commitment to education and honesty will open the pathways to success I desire.
Why did it take me till my junior year to join the MXI? by Andre Adeyemi ’12
T H E H E R E A N D N O W
No one likes to be branded. No one likes to be the sort of person who gets automatically put into a social group just because of who they are. I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’. You know the type: the guy who gravitates to the only thing he knows as a source of social protection unless it’s a social group endorsed by the masses. I had serious reservations about joining the MXI for this very reason. If my memory serves me well, it was paranoia or a chance to develop relations with those of the ‘white variety’. Either way, I avoided the MXI at all costs for the first two years of my time here at Wabash. Through a serious of fortunate events, I began to question the decision I made in avoiding what I perceived as a stereotype. By the end of my sophomore year I began to realize that the only people who really understood my personal struggles with identity were the like-minded people I have been avoiding for so long. Not to discount the wonderful relationships I’ve procured with my pledge/fraternity brothers, but the brotherhood of the MXI was something I have grown to love. To grow in the fellowship of those who look like me was a discovery I never thought would ever make me feel more at home in this Midwestern town. Being from a state where most people are Catholic and/or white while working as a page in the Rhode Island House of Representative for three years in high school left me deprived of the likeminded social interactions I have discovered here at Wabash. In all honestly, although I do not believe students who attend HBCU’s are any better off than students who attend traditional ‘white colleges’ I can now sympathize as to why a minority student might wish to attend such an institution. Here is my conclusion: A word to the wise: if the established stereotype convinces you to believe beyond the point of guilt, then, fuck the established stereotype. At the precipice of my guilt I began to realize that the only one I was hurting was myself. Why deny pleasure? If the MXI brothers had the ability to give me what my fraternity house could not, then why deny myself? If that second Sphinx Club Krispy Kreme donut is going to make your day, then, why not? Eat the damn thing because at the end of the day only you have to answer to yourself. My main point is not to go through life wishing you should have or could have but did not because of some petty reason. There was no reason why I couldn’t have brothers outside of my fraternity house. Limiting myself was my first mistake, pretending like I did not need to change was my second mistake, admitting my wrong canceled out my second mistake, and finally joining was my deliverance. Be all YOU can be, just not what someone thinks you should be.
Friendships, Leadership Opportunities, and Networking by Wes Chamblee ’12
Looking back at my Wabash College career, I have been extremely blessed to meet great friends, play on awesome athletic teams, and earn a first class education. However, as wonderful as I just made my experience seem, I can assure you that I didn’t always feel that way about Wabash. In fact, my parents ultimately convinced me to attend Wabash and avoid making the biggest mistake in my life. My dream had always been to attend Notre Dame, but I was not accepted. My plan was to transfer to Notre Dame after spending a year at IU South Bend. Even though my parents persuaded me from making the mistake of staying home, I was not completely sold on Wabash. My first semester was awful, I hated this place, and when I say I was homesick, I literally felt sick to my stomach because I wanted to be back home. I chose all my first year classes specifically with the motive of transferring to Notre Dame. Not only was I homesick, but also my commitments to football, the MXI, and most importantly my studies were extremely overwhelming.
In the process of this awful experience, I did meet some great people. In particular, I developed great relationships with my roommates Emmanuel Aouad (Eman) and DJ Singfield. These guys became my brothers and no matter how bad I felt my freshman year, my brothers were always there to help me through the tough times in my life. Then during the start of second semester, Eman convinced me to immerse myself into the Wabash culture. That’s when I realized that my experience was awful because I wasn’t truly experiencing what Wabash had to offer. We attended many different social and athletic events, stayed up late studying (and making ridiculous dance videos), and ultimately just enjoyed our time here at Wabash. Freshman year was rough and trying, as well as enlightening. I am thankful for that period of time because it was a maturation process for me. Everything I went through freshman year prepared me for the great opportunities I took advantage of over the course of that following three years. I’ve been a captain of both the football and track teams and experienced great success in both sports. I worked a few awesome internships and gained valuable knowledge. I spoke during Chapel and contributed to a few of publications. I met many wonderful people including classmates, professors, coaches, and alumni, but most importantly, through all of these experiences, I have developed into a Wabash man. The overarching lessons learned from my Wabash experience are: (1) What’s best for you isn’t always what you want; (2) Your experience is only as good as the effort you put into it; and (3) Struggle is an opportunity for improvement. In addition to these three morals, I offer three general guidelines to enhancing your Wabash experience: Friendships — The only way you’ll leave Wabash with your sanity is if you develop great friendships. I have met many Wabash men, young and old, who stated that the main reason they stayed at Wabash was because of the relationships that they developed. It’s a lot easier to manage struggle when your friends are by side struggling with you. Not only do you overcome adversity, but you also know who your groom’s men will be when you get married. Leadership Opportunities — Wabash College develops leaders. This is a great place to learn how to lead effectively. Let’s be honest, that’s why so many Wabash graduates are CEO’s, business owners, leading specialists, innovators, and vanguards throughout the country. There are so many different opportunities to be a leader on campus and enhance your leadership skills. Networking Opportunities — Take advantage of any opportunity to network, specifically with alumni. They love to hear about your Wabash experience, offer great advice for conquering the rigorous academics, and may even help you get a job in the future. Remember, many alumni were once in your shoes and received their big break from other generous alumni. Therefore, they are willing to continue the tradition of giving back and helping out fellow Wallies. Also, make sure you visit Career Services often to improve your resume, discover internship/grad school opportunities, and ultimately find a career after Wabash.
God Give Us Men by Dr. Michael Brown
T H E H E R E The song begins with the rumblings of the timpani. It is then followed by a flourish of horns, symbolizing the dramatic advent N of a new age. “God Give Us Men,” O commissioned for the inauguraW tion of the ninth president of Morehouse College, Dr. Walter E. Massey, was composed by Dr. Uzee Brown, Professor of Music and Department Chair at the College. It is a tune that captures the hope of the new, as well as the uncertainties of the future, in one gripping musical moment. The text comes partially from an address delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age;” but more on the significance of King’s words later. Such passion or writhing, whether musical or otherwise, is typical for a commonly used
A N D
historical metaphor, birthpangs. (Another metaphor that is common in “historical” pieces is tribulation [e.g., Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14]). Maybe one of the best-known uses of the birthpangs metaphor comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:18-25: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we
ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (NRSV). This image of suffering infused with hope is one that still characterizes the human condition in the early part of the twenty-first century. In fact, given the political polarization that characterizes American discourse these days, it appears that hope is the only existential stance worthy of adopting; that is, if one does not want to relinquish one’s self completely to nihilism and despair. Paul’s hope in the face of his current situation derives from the dramatic move of God in the Christ event that demonstrates
without question God’s desire to reunite with an alienated humanity. As he says quite pointedly, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31). In the more secular and contemporary realm, we could postulate that Americans can still ground themselves in the hope that what appears to be an ideological death match is, in truth, a profound moment of “creative tension” that will allow for the possibility of greater human flourishing. Any meaningful cultural shift — any dawning of a new age — is always accompanied by birthpangs. This is as true today as it was a generation ago during the crescendo of the movement for civil rights that resulted in, among other things, the founding of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies. After four decades of its existence and the election of the nation’s first president of African descent, our society finds itself in a situation of need reminiscent of the words found in King’s speech: Another thing that we must do in speeding up the coming of the new age is to develop intelligent, courageous and dedicated leadership. This is one of the pressing needs of the hour. In this period of transition and growing social change, there is a dire need for leaders who are calm and yet positive, leaders who avoid the extremes of “hotheadedness” and “Uncle Tomism.” The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgment and sound integrity — leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice; leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity; leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause. Such leadership, as described by King, is one grounded in the ability to think critically and act courageously, which, by necessity, entails the need for men and women with
a liberal education. This call for a critically and liberally educated leadership appears to have elicited a response, at least a generation ago. During the period of the Civil Rights movement and its immediate aftermath (i.e., between 1960 and 1980), the percentage of African American men with college degrees tripled. To put it in more practical terms, prior to the sustained movement for Civil Rights (i.e., in 1940) only 1.42 percent of African American males had college degrees. In 2007, looking at the very tail end of the cohort that came through the movement and its need for educated leaders (i.e., men around 40 years of age or so), 89 percent of Black males had graduated from college, making them one of the most educated cohorts of Black men of any age group. This response to the call for leadership came with great sacrifice by those willing to endanger their personal security, suspending their immediate happiness, for a cause far greater than themselves. Malcolm X was prophetic in his call for critical thinking skills in the African American community. He said, “One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. . . . This generation, especially of our people, has a burden, more so than any other time in history. The most important thing that we can learn to do today is think for ourselves.” Yet, despite such exhortations to embrace education, anyone who has been paying attention to the current trends in education for African American males realizes that the gains of the past forty or so years are eroding at an astonishing rate. For instance, whereas the gap between Black males and White males in college completion is only 5 percent when we examine those
men around the age of forty, the gap between these two groups widens to 14 percent when one looks at men in their early twenties. Overall, in fact, in 2007 only 15 percent of African American males had college degrees compared to 31 percent of their White counterparts. Researchers conclude: “it appears that a downward trend may have started in the mid-1980s and reached noticeable levels in the population around the mid- to late1990s.” What began at the behest of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements has dissipated, to say the least; with the trend in 2006 indicating an ominous backward slide. As Carter G. Woodson, the famous author of The Mis-education of the Negro noted in 1933, “No people can go forward when the majority of those who should know better have chosen to go backward.” Birthpangs are liminal moments of hope, insecurity, and potential peril. The advent of a new age is like the experience of childbirth in that even though a positive outcome is expected it is not a certainty. In other words, the metaphor of birthpangs challenges the modernist notion of the positive advance of history. Although this belief has been challenged for some time, it has been one difficult to overcome. In his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” written in 1963, Dr. King confronted the Christian manifestation of this philosophy of history, which believed that the advancement of humanity, especially through the influence of the church, must be given the appropriate amount of time to fulfill its mission. King’s response demonstrates that time as such is neutral. “It can be used either destructively or constructively.” And although he would label such positivism as “strangely irrational” or “an illu-
T H E H E R E A N D N O W
sion wrapped in superficiality,” because of his theological commitments, King would qualify his own disinterested notion of time by arguing, “God is working in history to bring about this new age.” In this sense, both King and his detractors rely on a theistically-infused paradigm to justify their (in)actions in history. By analogy, many in the African American community in the aftermath of the movements for social justice of the last century appear to have abandoned Martin and Malcolm’s existential stance toward historical action—“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation” —and replaced it with one that largely resembles the historical model of those who would allow, even if benignly, the dismantling of the educational and social gains made by African Americans, especially when viewed in the popular theological realm. In this sense, the growing educational achievement gap that influences the potential of African American men to flourish as human beings goes hand-inhand with a leadership gap. In other words, if African American leaders care about the widening gap in educational attainment, why is it not at the center of their actions? Is this not the civil rights (or better: the human rights) issue of the 21st century? Even here, at a college dedicated to the liberal education of men, efforts to address this appalling disparity have been met by some with an air of disinterest.
The Necessary Change of a Philosophical Stance King, like Paul, believed that God has made an existential choice for the full inclusion of human beings who were once excluded from the inner circle. Both also recognized that advocating such a perspective meant confronting social (and other) challenges that might persuade their audiences of the reality or “truthfulness” of the contrary. This is why both theological/philosophical positions are grounded in the promise of hope. In both cases, as well as that of Malcolm X, hope resides in the pivotal nature of human agency in history. In other words, progress is not inevitable, but is the product or result of the activity of human beings, as well as other sentient creatures, toward God’s will or initial aim. (By initial aim, I mean the possibilities appropriate to each moment of experience without which there would only be random chaos.) In King’s theology, God’s initial aim was to move human beings from the condition of disparate nation-states to one of global neighborhood, and from global neighborhood to one of universal brotherhood. Put another way, the central premise in King’s philosophical system was the interdependence of all created things. This anti-Enlightenment philosophical stance, which privileged the individual and his or her rights above those of the rest of the created order, challenges the culturally ingrained idea that I am only responsible for or accountable to the events that I brought about or influenced directly. As he says, “We are all involved in a single process. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly for we are tied together in a single progress.” Although his followers heard these words, many only had an anemic understanding
of this most robust philosophical insight. Looking outside of our Enlightenment mindset, it is important to comprehend fully the significance of King’s memorable statement: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” The notion of dynamic mutual interdependence was novel in King’s day, even though it still has not gained a wide following in ours either. Whatever metaphor we might conjure for it, the simplest and most straightforward one may be: we are all in the same boat. Of course, this does not and cannot capture the overwhelming influence of the past on the present, but the boat metaphor does highlight the inescapability of withdrawing one’s self or the individual, more generally, from the “group” in its most expansive sense. Bruce Epperly highlights this in more technical language when he says, “Our lives emerge from a dynamic of [a] web of relationships in which each moment of experience arises from a creative synthesis or conscrecence of its prehensions, or experiences of the world, and then contributes to the future of its immediate and ambient world.” The movement from Enlightenment individualism to a neoclassical philosophical perspective requires a fundamental metaphysical shift. Many, like Epperly, have explicated this move in technical terminology, while others have kept it closer to experience. In fact, if part of God’s will involves the premise of the interrelatedness of all creation and its consequent flourishing, then a logical outcome of this conceptual reorientation is the conditional metaphysical necessity of resistance to oppression. In other words, human beings seeking to preserve and advance their humanity will inevitably rebel against practices and social
systems whose ends undermine the promotion of that humanity. King grounds this metaphysical need in the experiential language of “somebodiness.” As he says, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.” Moreover, the need for action does not reside entirely with the human beings who directly experience the oppression. Since dynamic interrelatedness means we are all influenced to some degree by the oppression, then total human flourishing cannot come about until this oppression is addressed. Thus, the question that must be engaged in the current situation of educational disparity is: Has the dissatisfaction for the contemporary state of affairs grown to the point that social leaders, particularly African American ones, feel the necessity of taking revolutionary action? Investing in the Advent of a New Age As a society, we are still groaning for the advent of a new age. Surely, progress has been made. Nevertheless, as we have seen, it can also be impeded and reversed. Further, there is no one single action — no “magic bullet” — that will cure all the ills we face. If we are to bring about the coming of an age that recognizes and supports the flourishing of all human beings, then we must not only make a fundamental shift from the old discourse of Enlightenment individualism to one of dynamic interdependence, we must also invest in the transformation of social institutions that are no longer adequate to the task of promoting human progress. We have seen the gains that can be made when we push for change in the realm of legislation. The dismantling of Jim Crow in the last
century should encourage us in our efforts to transform the latest impediment to “somebodiness,” the educational establishment. As King pointed out some 50 years ago, we are not going to realize the promise of human society until we invest in the production of dynamic leaders who can think critically and act responsibly to address the disparities that still hinder us all. Robert Michael Franklin, the tenth president of Morehouse College, argues, “The quality and kind of education of the leaders who will inherit the most powerful positions in society really matters. If they are selfish and myopic, we all will suffer.” He places his hope, as do I, in the necessity of a quality liberal arts education. He says, “The best liberal arts colleges prepare students with broad knowledge and help them discern the commonalities and differences among us... Tackling the big questions of our time will necessitate an excellent liberal arts foundation anchored by a strong moral and ethical identity.” Outside of churches, the schoolhous is the central locus for providing the kind of moral and social education that can form citizens to appreciate our interdependence and stimulate deep thinking about the notion of “the common good.” Thus, quality education is not an option, but a necessity, for African American males, if they are to take their rightful place in a society still yearning to reach its potential. The advocacy of quality education means nothing, however, if it lacks the appropriate investment on the part of all concerned. This is why the superficial, albeit timely, bumper sticker slogan – “Critical Thinking... The Other National Deficit”—was placed prominently at the beginning of this essay. Interestingly, this is an aspect of King’s argument for
social advancement that often gets neglected. In both his Buffalo and Montgomery speeches, however, the subject of financial investment figures quite prominently. In Buffalo he said pointedly. “[W]e have to go down in our pockets and give some money.” He went on to say, “If we are to gain it we have to work for it, we have got to sacrifice for it. We have got to pay for it. We cannot use the excuse any more that we don’t have the money.” A few months later, he echoed the same clarion call, “Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is a fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial. So we must donate large sums of money to the cause of freedom.” In other words, if our commitment to a new social arrangement is real then it must be accompanied by material investment. It cannot be something that we dismiss as the provenance of the government, educational institutions, or foundations. Investment in the kind of leadership we need must come from us! If we dare invoke the same plea as that found in Brown’s “God Give Us Men,” then we must accept the consequent responsibility to contribute not only our time and concern to the closing of the education gap, as well as developing a new generation of dynamic leadership, but our material resources as well. It would be a tragic indictment on both the self-respect and practical wisdom of the Negro if history reveals that at the height of the twentieth century the Negro spent more for frivolities than for the cause of freedom.
X-Position is published by the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies at Wabash College Copyright 2011