Caught up in All That Ivy
It’s acceptance letter season. If you or someone you know are applying to college and didn’t go the Early Admission route, you very well may have gotten or shall received a fat packet or several with all that college “stuff.” It’s a fun and exciting time in the life of teenagers on the brink of an adulthood bestowed upon them by their reaching a randomly selected age and moment in life. Congratulations to all of you. This is a big deal.
Many sites, this one included, have found it fit to publicize the college acceptance success of several young black people. Most–if not all–of them are black males, and they have all gained acceptance into more than one school that belongs to the Ivy league. Kwesi Enin, Patrick Peoples, the Jones triplets, Avery Coffey, Akintunde Ahmad. All have been featured on this and other sites, their pictures GPAs, SAT scores, and extracurricular activities listed in pithy bullet points of evidence that they worked hard and, against the “odds” of life or of getting into such prestigious institutions or whatever, they have succeeded. They have made it. The acceptance letter(s) are proof of so much more than the privilege of being able to register for classes.
I want to applaud these young men and all the other young black people who will be loading up cars and minivans and U-Hauls in the late summer and heading to various campuses and quadrangles throughout the country. Given the state of the US educational system, getting into college–and subsequently staying there–is no small feat. You had a goal and you met it. And for that you deserve a #yeet and a pat on the back. That said, I want to think a moment about the impulse to highlight the aforementioned young men in particular. I want to think about the desire to tell these stories not simply as a counter-narrative to disrupt negative depictions of black youth, but also perhaps to “prove” to others and ourselves that black people are intelligent, respectable, not like those other Negros, and about that come up.
Listen, I get it. Assuming the the accomplishment doesn’t hurt another, I think celebrating meeting a goal, like getting into college, is indeed important. But I cannot help but wonder if the heightened publicity surrounding these particular college acceptances comes from an impulse not to celebrate, but to also prove. In the process, these young men become examples and exceptions to the rule–an act which does nothing but re-inscribe stereotypes. The narrative of (black) ascendancy requires a hierarchy, a low place from which one is simultaneously representing while leaving for a higher stead, like the ivy that crawls up the buildings these men will soon dwell inside. The media adulation of their accomplishment implicitly reeks of a yearning to prop these young men up as reminders that we are not who they say we are. That act suggests that we both believe and care about what they say, and somehow believe that presenting evidence to the contrary will change what they say. Playing the game under such rules does nothing but prove that we are continually trying to prove our humanity, for lack of a better word, to an ethereal they that has no interest in viewing us as human beings.
I think it’s perfectly wonderful to celebrate young people, but I think we should refrain from valorizing particular feats over others. Doing so does nothing but inflame the talented tenth mentality that should be dismantled, and rechannel celebratory energy into a held breath desperate to be let out once acceptance and approval have been bestowed upon us all.