The first decision I made as an adult was to attend Howard University. The experience has remained one of the most life-changing and significant choices of my adult life. I make this point to contextualize my dissent from the actions of Generation Z executed at Howard University last year and employ said efforts to illustrate the distinction between revolutionary and evolutionary discourse.
The distinction between revolutionary and evolutionary discourse is how actions socially reproduce or deviate from the master narrative.
The Netflix walkout in response to Dave Chapelle’s latest special, The Closer, constitutes revolutionary discourse in that it socially reproduces the master narrative that white people are not to be the subject of riducule and wealthy black comedians are to be summoned to their knees if their jokes make people do anything other than laugh at black people and the systemic circumstances that shape black existence.
Chapelle also embodies revolutionary discourse with a platform that employs the love this country has for detesting and denigrating black men to author a comedic routine that places whiteness at its crux. His set is entertaining, but reactionary to the extent that he becomes peripheral in polemic rhetoric against the forces of white nationalism but not necessarily for the black collective. However, the magnitude of “It was easier for Caitlyn Jenner to change her gender than it was for Cassuis Clay to change his name” is not lost on me, but the stand-up does seem more to trigger than to vindicate blacks villianized for daring to be black in a white world.
Caitlyn Jenner and Muhammad Ali are perhaps the best ways to distinguish between revolutionary and evolutionary discourse. Jenner’s new social status aligned with conservative views elucidate white nationalism as re-evolved in her transition. Cassuis Clay’s transition to Muhammad Ali, on the other hand, elucidates one seeking to evolve from property into onto-epistemological sovereignty.
Moreover, revolutionary discourse references that ways in which white nationalism re-evolves, which is precisely what the world witnessed in 2020. No, the televised demonstrations were not global pushback to white supremacy. These demonstrations were more like the waves seen at sporting events on a national level—following made “pretty”(not pejorative) by the racist media. Revolutionary discourse employs the reactionary, or the same forces that turned human beings into cattle, as resistance.
Last year’s gesture offset a nuanced revolutionarianism that precludes what I call “evolutionary discourse.”
While students and faculty should have seats on the Trustee board, and guaranteed housing (housing has always been an issue for small universities with a high acceptance rate), the recent acts displayed at Howard University convey Howard as how I am sure the world has always imagined black institutions— as a formal reincarnation of the racial mythos that conceptualizes predominately black communties as the “ghetto” or the “hood.”
While HU is not without accountability, the student response elucidated “revolutionary” rather than “evolutionary” discourse. Notably, it ignores that HBCU’s remain underfunded and undervalued and again illustrates that so many remain comfortable confronting the individual or a sole institution regarding issues that plague us collectively. Preoccupation with the symptom and not the illness promises white supremacy a revolving door.
A considerable component to racial trauma is seeking to actualize what we would not dare to present to our actual oppressors or anyone who looks like us. For example, Phylicia Rashad got more backlash for supporting an old friend than Biden did for writing the crime bill. Black institutions and black people continue to receive the venomous verbiage and abandonment better served to those who foment and benefit from our collective oppression.
I also wish to reference the elephant in the room that few have failed to acknowledge and what has undoubtedly failed to generate protests or even staunch criticism. Though this is hardly a new matter, the HBCU, like many black areas, has become overtly gentrified on all levels. The student body is becoming more and more diluted, and many of the future black leaders remain faced with the African adjacent “teaching” them their history and branding their work with letters that determine their professional future. There are countless white and non-black people of color living comfortably from socially reproducing white nationalism to a predominately black student body at a “black” institution, living off salaries that would indeed resolve some of the inequities that plague the HBCU and the black community at large.
Moreover, until we collectively evolve past the comfort of intra-cultural criticism and the lure of attention, we will remain ill and subject to the pyrrhic victories of white nationalism-re-evolved.