This was the first year since 2008 that I missed Hampton’s homecoming. As I sat in my apartment hundreds of miles away in Memphis, TN, I could not help the nostalgic feelings and reminisces of those famous tailgates, the reconnecting with brothers and sisters, the step-show, the bands… And oh yea the game. At that moment I remembered my fraternity’s saying, “college days swiftly pass.”
As a mirage of Hampton memories streamed through my mind, for some strange reason Spike Lee’s School Daze came to memory. For most of you who know me, you understand my unwavering commitment to pushing Lee’s movies, I personally believe Miracle At St. Anna is one of the most underrated movies EVER, but that’s a story for another day. Spike Lee’s, School Daze has arguably done the most for introducing Historically Black Colleges and Black modern culture to mainstream America than any other movie or producer ever. As I thought about several scenes in the movie, and given the fact that it is homecoming season, I felt the need to blog on the significance of discussing School Daze in 2011.
For those of you that have been living under a rock all your life, School Daze was released in 1988 and offered a rare perspective into Southern Black college life through fraternities and one school’s homecoming festivities. Taking place at Mission College, and constructed by Lee’s own experiences at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, School Daze forced us to engage in a discourse about race, class, perceptions and economic statuses. Roger Ebert even commented that, “In its own way, School Daze confronts a lot of issues that aren’t talked about in the movies these days: not only issues of skin color and hair, but also the emergence of a black middle class, the purpose of all black universities in an integrated society, and the sexist treatment of black women by black men.”
The film stars a young Dap (Laurence Fishburne) a socially and politically conscious student who is in constant opposition to the institutionalized bureaucratic and socially hierarchical practices exhibited at the school and in the larger American society. He voices his concerns at every moment while his cousin Half-Pint (Spike Lee) undergoes the “controversial” pledge process in order to become initiated into Gamma Phi Gamma. In the midst of walking the viewer through the pains and tribulations of the pledge process, Lee also finds a way to incorporate a much needed discussion on hair and complexion, a issue that unfortunately remains a conscious or unconscious issue at many colleges, even HBCUs. This debate plays out through the rival sororities, the long and straight haired sisters of Gamma Ray Sorority, the “Wannabees” and the darker skinned sisters called the “Jigaboos.”
Lee masterfully demonstrates how African Americans have internalized certain stereotypes. This stereotype manifested themselves deep within the African American lexicon and becomes regurgitated when we judge others based upon class and race. By examining the multifarious world of Black Greekdom, School Daze brought to light these issues in a unique and inspiring way. But do these things still occur on HBCU campuses today? Are certain girls selected for sororities based upon looks in order to fit a specific persona or to maintain a certain image? If so, who is defining that image and is it a Eurocentric image?
Was Dap correct in asking the question of what a Black Greek is? Are we degrading ourselves by submitting to the pledge process (I don’t think so, but I’m just posing the question)? These are all major concerns that engaged the student body in myriad ways even when I was in undergrad back in 2008.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the KFC scene where Dap and his socially conscious, college educated friends leave campus and encounter first covert then openly expressed hostility from the working class African American townspeople, led by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. The working class people view the Mission College students as privileged sell-outs, as an impassioned yet intellectual exchange ensues, my favorite line in the whole movie is said, and its not “WAKE UP,” Dap walks up to (Samuel L. Jackson) and simply says… “You’re not NIGGAS.”
That scene stuck out to me because with African American unemployment at an all time high, and the percentage of African Americans obtaining higher-level degrees, the class divide among African Americans is becoming more and more evident. I believe if Spike Lee was to make a updated rendition of School Daze, he would very well have to address tensions between African Americans at HBCUs and African American students who choose to attend PWI’s. I know you would pay for that rather than seeing another dude dressing up in a dress right??