I am thoroughly dismayed by the prospect of red crabs in a barrel pulling each other down. I am even more dismayed by a blue crab of another barrel joining us in our barrel, a good crab who suddenly felt motivated to speak on the experience of red crabs and merrily proceed to pull us down.
On Sunday, May 19th The President of the United States gave the commencement speech for the 2013 graduating class of Morehouse College. Let us be clear. The President of the United States spoke at Morehouse. And just to add to the honor and prestige, the ethnicity of the President just so happens to mirror the ethnicity of the young men in the crowd. This is a point not to be dismissed or disparaged. It has value. This is a moment of pride, something these young men will remember for the rest of their lives.
I’m from Atlanta, ATL born and bred, and though I’m not a Morehouse man I like to think I live my life in a manner that mirrors their own. I will strive until the day I die, and in the doing I demand of myself that I be an example, that I uplift as I move forward in my life.
With that understanding I listened intently to the President’s speech. I heard every word and I considered them through the filter of my aspiring critical thinking mind. I did not find the speech wonting. In fact, the speech was uplifting, motivating, speaking to these young men about the experiences we share as men of African descent.
These young men are not being admonished when they are reminded to be the example, to lead, to guide, to highlight the path, to reach back and hold a hand as you show them the way. The President did not talk down to these young men, rather he upheld them, spoke vividly to our challenges as a people, and reminded them to hold themselves accountable in that challenge. Hope and change is not a trite thing, it is the example we set for ourselves to inspire and motivate others, and through that necessary work we change our world of our own volition, not relying on a President or a King to give us two acres and a mule…or a job.
Tim Wise, staunch ally to the black man and white privilege clarifier and decrier, saw fit to leap atop his pulpit and preach about the wrongs of the white perspective and why the President continues to cater to white people. He stated that the President would not go to a white school and tell white people that they need to stop blaming their failings on affirmative action or that they should stop saying Latinos are taking all the jobs.
Excuse me, but I don’t think I’m looking for my President to go out there and do that. My critical question would be why does Tim think he should do that? Can we consider the outcomes? Can we consider the impact such a speech would have on ethnic relations? And most importantly can we consider the impact that would have on those in the minority who are seeking uplift?
I would ask Tim, what purpose does such a perspective serve, and how is it beneficial? And I don’t mean the cursory temporary sense, the feel-good feeling of having a black man stand in front of a crowd of white people and tell them to stop the damn whining and lamenting. Sure, we would give dap and fist-bump all day if he did that. We would say, “Mannn, did you see how Daddy Presbo put that shit down? He stomped a mud hole and those cracka’s asses. That shit was tight!”
And that would last a week, a month at most. Then, when the feelings are gone…what? What Tim? What for relations in American? What for the people in need who now have an elected leader that has been rendered impotent by the usage of crass words and overt brashness? Can you answer?
Dr. Boyce Watkins shamefully wears his red crab cloak so bright as to be blinding. Falling right into the political game of right vs left, conservative vs liberal, doing so well what those he so readily follows demand; that we separate ourselves from ourselves. Fight against each other, adhere to the team mentality and waste mental opportunity consumed and mired in the wasteful arguments of claiming how one ideology is better than another, in this instance why Blacks are actually conservatives, and as such diametrically opposed to this President.
Dr. Boyce Watkins says the President lacks the moral authority to speak to the men of Morehouse. He says the President lacks the moral authority to ask them to not forget, to remember the struggles of our shared ethnicity and to hold themselves accountable for shouldering the burden of uplift, an honorable task to be sure.
In this, Dr. Watkins discounts what’s honorable and shows himself to lack it, surely a red crab with huge claws, seeking to pull his brother down. Dr. Boyce Watkins should be ashamed of himself. But of course…he’s not. He thinks he’s right. And he is most certainly entitled to his opinion, trifling though it may be.
He has the temerity to inform the President that he is half-white and should speak to his white brothers and sisters in the same fashion he speaks to his black brothers and sisters. Here’s a newsflash for Dr. Watkins, he does. The President has time and again spoke to Americans in general with the same message, that we must uplift each other, that we must do all that we can to overcome the odds, and help those who aren’t as successful as us be all that they were meant to be by the grace of God. How does Dr. Watkins miss this? Simple, the emotion-roiling, mind-bending, tongue-tossing banality of ideology, and the filters they put on our eyes, our ears, and our minds.
The power of ideology is evident. It has, and always will serve to separate us when we cannot apply the power of critical thinking and consider greatly the weight of perspective. I can say, once I get past my anger, that Tim Wise and Boyce Watkins mean well. I do not believe they are the same ideologically, but in this subject they share common ground. They are both criticizing the President for demeaning the men of Morehouse. I believe they mean to upbraid the President for the sake of the young men, and in their support of the young men there is good. I can say that, because I’m sincerely considering their perspective.
However, I can listen to the President’s speech again, and again, as I have already, and once I remove my own ideological filters and consider the President’s speech with a critical thinking mind I can only arrive at one summary conclusion.
I can understand clearly that on this occasion, much like other commencement speeches throughout history, the President wished to connect history with the present and point the way to the future. For African-Americans, such as these young men, he sought to do that within the framework of the Black experience.
I can understand why he felt the need to use the words he used and deliver such a message. By tying history to today and speaking subtly in our flavored vernacular he wanted to tighten a tie that binds, the blood of word and emotion from one ethnic brother to another. Such an action gives the message power and impact.
How did he deliver his message? He delivered it with both passion and a slight taste of Baptist oration, calling on young men in the crowd and telling the powerful stories of their successes, such successes that were fashioned in the finest sense of the grand Morehouse tradition. This added incredible value to not only African-Americans, but to all Americans in general, a positive message of hope.
And in such times as these when the social fabric of the nation is changing so readily, his speech served as a reminder of why it’s important to air our so-called dirty laundry out in the public forum. Our brothers and sisters in Appalachia, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, New York, of different ethnicities and gender orientations must know that we are together. That we struggle together, and that together we can keep each other stable, lift up those who lack the benefit of ready blessings, and share in the gift of uplift from one man, one woman, one child, to the next from our nation to far distant shores. We can do this, and his speech was filled with this very message. Clearly, Dr. Watkins, Tim Wise, and others heard something different.
I can reconsider the President’s speech, a speech of truly historic proportions that will most assuredly resonate with the majority of the young men there, if not all of them, motivating them to higher highs, and future successes, perhaps one day a United States President.
Yes, I can reconsider the speech and arrive at only one conclusion. The President was not talking down to the Men of the House. Rather he was talking up to the Men of the House, and asking them to remember to ever be reaching, walking, lifting as they climb, ever upward.
His speech was not a thirty minute long admonishment. Rather, it was a reminder of our shared history, a history for all the world to see, and understand, a reminder to these young men that they can and should lead, and inspire leadership in all those they encounter in the future, be they younger, or older. For age and wisdom are not synonymous. They can and often are mutually exclusive. Most assuredly the path to wisdom is brightly illuminated by the light of perspective. As we attain years we would do well to remember this axiom, and act with it always in mind.
The Aspiring Critical Thinker,