By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Dear Howard University students:
Ever since I wrote in Sunday's paper about your protest during a recent visit by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, I've been getting all of these angry e-mails. You say I make you want to puke (and worse), and your university president says he wants me on campus so I can explain myself. Is he kidding?
Actually, it's a pretty clever move. If he can serve me up on a Bison horn, then maybe you'll forget how Bush came to be on your campus in the first place. Nevertheless, I accept his offer. But before I burn in effigy, permit me a few words.
You claim to be upset because I wrote that "Howard is not a hotbed of political activism," and you cite the school's legacy of social protest and political activism. But what have you done lately? A walk down to the Mall for the Millions More Movement, an AIDS Walk and participation in get-out-the-vote rallies does not make your heirs to Walter Rodney or Kwame Toure.
What about honoring the legacy of Roland Scott (chairman of pediatrics at Howard from 1949 to 1973 and the driving force behind the Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act of 1971)? Your school has the Center for Sickle Cell Disease, but the organizers of annual walks to find a cure for that dreadful disease can't get you to participate for the life of those hurting black babies.
The home of Carter G. Woodson, a Howard professor and father of Black History Month, almost fell to the ground before the federal government stepped in to save it. Where were you? And why weren't you at the Optimal Health for Black Men conference, held last month at Howard Hospital? A lot of outstanding black doctors, psychologists, scientists and educators gave presentations. You protest about not being invited to Laura Bush's "youth summit," but you are nowhere to be found when your elders hold a lifesaving summit just for you.
You wear Diddy's "Vote or Die" shirts, but fewer than 2,000 of about 7,000 undergraduates voted in student government elections in March. Makes you wonder why Wiley A. Branton, that giant of a law school dean, risked his life teaching black people how to mark a ballot. You say you oppose Bush's war in Iraq. So why didn't you protest the homecoming step show -- which was sponsored by the U.S. Army and included recruiting tables and invitations to step right up?
Some of you said you protested because you just don't like Bush. Period. Others said you protested because classes were canceled at the last minute and, in some cases, tests you had studied for were postponed.
Then I heard that the entrance to the school cafeteria had been closed off -- on Soul Food Thursday, no less. If you really want me to believe that missing a pop quiz in calculus was more upsetting than missing out on a fried chicken platter, then show me a bunch of skinny and smart black students when I visit your school.
Or show me when you show up at The Washington Post -- assuming your efforts to organize a protest by e-mail pan out.
You've sent hundreds of e-mails. Here's one of the better-written:
"BLACK MAN, YOU GOT SOME SOUL SEARCHIN TO DO! Because I know why they were really protesting. Being denied their dinner was just a spark that caused the flame. . . . U are really a coward and there is no use for you in our struggle because in your article, you chose to make chicken and collards the cause of the disturbance and not get deeper."
University President H. Patrick Swygert accused me of "appalling stereotyping" and called my column "inaccurate," "outrageous" and "quite shocking." He went on to say: "And this at a time when the nation is honoring the memory of Rosa Parks, who 50 years ago stood up for the dignity of the African American community."
Actually, I'm kind of glad he brought that up. Suppose Parks had attended one of your famous "Pimp Harder" homecoming fashion shows and seen those half-naked female students, some using their hands for a peek-a-boo bra, sashaying down the runway to the hoots and howls of their salivating male classmates.
Of course, this is about my shocking behavior, not yours. But since so many of you claim to be following in the footsteps of African American civil rights titans, imagine how they might feel if they had to follow in yours.