[EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK ‘FOOLISH’ FLOYD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN CONTRARIAN]
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM
I had not heard from Floyd for approximately a week, although such a lengthy period without any sort of communication was unusual, I was not particularly concerned because he had shared with me his excitement at going out of state to see a distant relatives daughter graduate from college. Making the venture even more alluring to Floyd was the fact that the young lady was matriculating from a Historically Black College.
During our last communication, Floyd expressed equal amounts of excitement and reservation regarding the prospect of “being around so many of my own people.” As I am certain that you can imagine, I was more than eager to hear what Floyd’s experience was with being around so many of his own people, a population that I must remind you he seemed to offend with the slightest effort. I greatly anticipated our next meeting; however, I would never let Floyd know how eager I was to hear about his experiences.
Floyd and I played phone tag for the better part of the Monday that he returned as he was attempting to get settled back in from his trip and I was busy rushing around the city gathering opinions regarding Houston’s fast-approaching Mayoral election. When we finally spoke on the phone, we agreed to meet, per Floyd’s demand the following day on the campus of Rice University. As always, Floyd’s insistence that we meet at Rice, an elite private school with a dubious racial history, conveyed that the location held some significance to him. I could not for the world of me figure out why Floyd wanted to meet at such a location.
Unbeknownst to many, the institution currently known as Rice University was originally governed by charters that forbid the school from admitting anyone other than “the white inhabitants of Houston, and the state of Texas.” Although the institution originally known as Rice Institute was unusual in its practice of admitting white male and white female students, however, such peculiarities were not extended across racial lines as it was not until 1963 that Rice University’s Governing Board bowed to Civil Rights Leaders pressure to integrate the vaunted academic institution. In time the original charter governing Rice University was modified and racial integration occurred.
Despite its sordid racial past, I had been invited to participate on several panels at Rice University and was therefore familiar with the pretentiousness of the white folk and the appalling and wholly unnecessary elitism of the few Negroes that had been invited into its lily-white environs.
I thought it strange that Floyd would choose to meet on the equivalent of an Ivy League campus that is woefully devoid of a significant African-American presence. I knew that the few African-Americans who worked at Rice University were the kind of people that well-to-do white folk are comfortable being around; you know, the kind of Negroes who would consider it impolite to bring up issues of racial bias and racism in certain venues, if they raised them at all. One thing was for certain, Rice elites, regardless of their race/ethnicity, looked down their noses at figures such as myself, not to mention working-class African-Americans such as Floyd B. Foolish. Put simply, Floyd with his lack of education and boorish social graces and my tendency to issue polarizing commentary on racial matters regardless of the venue most definitely solidified us as Lawrence Otis Graham would state, not “their kind of people”.
For me there is just something about the city, I find it to be a living breathing entity whose moods and landscape change on a moment-by-moment basis. It is this affinity for urban America that leads me to take the ‘Metro Rail’ every opportunity that I can; anyone who has ever used public transportation, be it a bus or train, can attest to the fact that you never know who or what you will encounter during your travels. In my opinion there is no more efficient means of learning about grassroots people than by availing yourself of public transportation. Consequently, on the agreed upon date, I parked my car outside of the Ensemble Theater at approximately 9:00 AM, stopped by The Breakfast Klub and headed toward Rice University via the train with my breakfast in tow.
Knowing that I was not scheduled to meet Floyd until around 10:00, I figured that I had ample time to relax, enjoy the beautiful scenery that Rice University offered in spades, I planned to watch the sun rise out of the East side of campus while consuming my breakfast that I had procured from the world-renowned Breakfast Klub, Houston’s most trendy breakfast spot.
Unfortunately for me, I was not even half-way through my sumptuous breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage before I saw Floyd B. Foolish’s familiar silhouette as he strode towards my location dressed in a plaid button down shirt, khaki pants, and his signature shiny black dress shoes from the East side of the campus. The sun’s positioning made it appear as if Floyd was literally emerging from the Sun.
Before I could acknowledge the still approaching Floyd, he jokingly shouted from approximately 100 feet away, “And I know that you didn’t think to get many none. Just like Black people.” I just smiled in Floyd’s direction as he continued his slow approach over Rice University’s carefully manicured lawns. I hoped that he already knew that his early arrival wouldn’t cause me to ‘wolf’ down my sumptuous breakfast; I intended to enjoy every morsel of this uncommonly flavorful food. Floyd quickly settled next to me on the bench and joined me in staring silently out at Rice University’s uncommonly beautiful campus.
I appreciated Floyd’s silence, even if it were not born from a modicum of politeness and understanding that I had yet to finish my breakfast. I knew Floyd too well to think that he would ever display such levels of consideration; I was certain that his silence meant that he was plotting or scheming upon something that he had yet to articulate or put into action. As was his tradition, Floyd was not going to execute his plan until he was good and ready.
Once I finished my breakfast, I tapped Floyd’s leg and told him, “Let’s take a walk. I want to take in every piece of this beautiful campus.”
As we began our stroll through the campus of Rice University, I issued a bit of social commentary that was aimed at getting Floyd to share why he had chosen this location to meet. “There are so few of us on this campus.” As a Revolutionary Nationalist, I was not disturbed by the paucity of African-Americans on this campus as it was never intended to educate our people about what I considered the only worthy subject there is, how do we liberate ourselves, collectively, from the multiple politico, economic, and social ills that have historically afflicted us. Such a political perspective forced me to sigh and rhetorically state that “We should focus upon building our own educational entities and leave a place like Rice to white folk.” I most certainly sided with Malcolm X when he asserted to integrationist-minded Negroes that “Only a fool would allow his oppressor to educate his children.”
Floyd, staring ahead at some nondescript building, responded by reminding me that “we may need to send our children here because in the end this is the ‘white man’s world’. He runs it, decides who is going to be included in it, and just as importantly has the power to determine who will be excluded from it. When you really think about it, powerful whites are kind of gangster with theirs as you’re either going to get down with their program or get rolled over by it.”
Although I understood from whence Floyd’s pessimism emanated from, I remained a good measure away from sanctioning integration, let alone assimilation, as a strategy that would secure ‘the liberation and salvation of the Black nation.’ I personally could never understand why so many Blacks, including notable national-level Black leaders, thought that if they were able to get physically closer to whites there would be an instantaneous improvement in not only their personal lives, but also the larger African-American community.
Prior conversations with Floyd had informed my compatriot that I stood with the likes of Marcus Garvey, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Claud Anderson, and Louis Farrakhan, among others, in believing that the placing of African-Americans political, socioeconomic and educational futures in the hands of a hostile exploitive white population was the apex of lunacy. There was no balm for Black misery to be found by living next to your historic enemy and oppressor.
I honestly cannot think of a more reckless decision than the adoption of the flawed political programs and constructs that integrationist-minded Civil Rights Leaders attempted to execute during the late-fifties and early-sixties. With hindsight there is clarity, and with that clarity it seems impossible that Civil Rights leaders did not recognize their desperate attempts to integrate with whites would come at the steep cost of the Black community’s financial infrastructure. Put simply, Black leaders traded away every viable tangible chip for a theoretical equality that only existed on the nation’s law books, yet was never diligently applied by a largely indifferent government.
As I expected, not even the sheer beauty of the campus that we were strolling through would deaden Floyd’s natural impulse to interrupt me. However, even I was surprised by the theatrics Floyd used in a desperate attempt to emphasize his opposition to my recent points regarding Black self-sufficiency in the areas of economics, politics, and education. As he was known to do from time to time, Floyd expressed his disagreement with antics that reminds one of an 18th-Century minstrel show.
“Now you do know that white folk run the world? Considering that they run the world, isn’t it common sense that the best way to get some of that power is to learn what they know? I cannot for the life of me understand why y’all are so hung up on learning about Black stuff when it will never translate into either money or power. And don’t you dare deny that this whole thing is about money and the power.”
“Now please tell me why I should pay any attention to this Black stuff when whites are running the world?”
It was at this moment that I desperately attempted to elevate Floyd’s thinking by highlighting notable black thinkers/writers and institutions that were diligently working to uplift our people.
However, the moment that I began extolling the virtues of Black Colleges such as Howard University, Spelman College, Prairie View A & M University, and Hampton University, Floyd began vigorously shaking his glistening head from side-to-side.
Over a calming wind that was freely blowing across the Rice University campus, Floyd began to tell me, “Now don’t you dare try and tell me about those Black Colleges. That is something that I know a little something about.”
“Floyd, I had no idea that you graduated from a Historically Black College.”
Floyd responded with the following quip, “You don’t know about it because I never went to no college. However, as you well know, I was just at one of these so-called centers of ‘higher learning’ for Black folk and let me tell you something. If we are expecting for them to save our people, we may very well end up back in slavery.”
Realizing that I was just waiting for a pause so that I could jump in and rebuff what I considered Floyd’s outlandish assertions, Floyd refused to pause to take a breath, thereby blocking all opportunities to interrupt what was most certainly an opening statement in what would invariably transform into a larger debate. Floyd had argued and debated for so many years that he was undoubtedly a veteran. So I was forced to listen to what had quickly turned into my intellectual adversary biased depiction of Black college students, faculty, administrators, and alumni; apparently a single visit was sufficient to convince Floyd that he hated everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, about Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“And I’ll tell you another thing, the entire time that I was on that campus for my great-niece’s graduation, all I witnessed was a bunch of YOUR people dancing and stomping around in a circle like they had been sent back to some African village, skipping classes, and standing around the campus, like these fools in the hood do on street corners, shucking and jiving. And they managed to achieve all of this without carrying a single book. I often felt like I was at a filming of Soul Train, not an institution of higher learning.”
I doubt the truthfulness of Floyd’s assertions; he most certainly had a tendency to be a bit extreme in his characterizations of things he viewed in a negative light. I highly doubted that Floyd had not seen any students carrying books and to be honest with you, such mischaracterizations of African-American students were an inherent danger for subsequent generations as it not only misinformed them regarding the preparation and effort that were needed to succeed at the collegiate level, but also caused those who were already in possession of a prejudiced view that discounted both the inherent intelligence and work ethic of Black folk in all arenas to seal off many areas of opportunity that African-Americans had earned.
“Damn it man! I am telling you that the entire library was empty, I mean every floor and every chair. Those kids were dancing around to rap music, the girls were wearing booty shorts, and the boys’ pants were sagging. There was so much booty being shown that it looked like a crack fest.”
I involuntarily laughed at Floyd’s final quip of it being ‘a crack fest’. However, I was not unduly swayed by any of Floyd’s statement because I knew that it was not beyond him, in fact, prior behavior made it seem quite natural for him to exaggerate, especially when the action benefited him during the heat of a verbal joust. Put simply, I doubted the veracity of his assertions.
Desperate to intercede against Floyd’s mischaracterization of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, I explained to him that he was most certainly witnessing Greek fraternities and sororities ‘strutting’, a way of representing their organization and honoring those members that came before them. When I shared this information with Floyd, he simply shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something about, “That wasn’t no damn Greek cultural expression. It damn sure was an expression of Niggerdom.”
To my dismay, Floyd was nowhere near done in what appeared to be a quest to run down Historically Black Colleges and Universities as he turned his commentary toward the physical facilities that he found, or more specifically did not find, on the campus that he visited. “I mean to tell you that every building, and I do mean EVERY building, was rundown. None of the classrooms that I went to had technology in them, and don’t get me started on the fact that these Negroes are still using chalk boards. Hell, they used chalk boards when I was in elementary school. I bet you won’t find no damn chalk board on this campus right here.”
I found little that I could rebuff Floyd with as he was largely correct in his voluminous criticism of the physical facilities that one finds on most Historically Black college campuses. Oftentimes, it appears as if the facilities have not been updated since the institution opened.
Although I could have pointed out issues such as unequal funding that Black colleges have historically received from both State and Federal Government entities, I knew that there would be no convincing Floyd of such things. It was at this moment that Floyd went for the knockout blow with the following query. “If Black folk are able to run their own institutions, as you say, well then tell me why are they so run-down? After what I just saw, I would be willing to bet you any amount of money that there isn’t a single Black college that can compare to this beautiful campus right here.”
Instead of continuing this disagreement, I decided for the sake of my own sanity to drop the matter.
As is his usual way, Floyd took my silence to mean that he had actually won this debate. Ever the ungracious victor, Floyd remarked that “Black people had better stop wasting their time and money attending Black colleges and go to where the true learning occurs; a white campus.”
I thought it better to drop this matter before I ended up strangling ‘Foolish Floyd’. I realized that he would never comprehend how and why his position was horribly flawed, as well as the unadulterated fact that this nation desperately needs Black colleges to not only exist, but also expand and improve upon the services that they offer their multi-racial student-body. Despite what Floyd stated, I still believed that Black colleges held the potential to save the race, particularly when one considers that they have consistently provided access to higher education for those who would never have gained admittance to institutions of higher education such as Rice University.
Unfortunately, such points were not, and sadly never would be, considered by individuals such as ‘Foolish Floyd’.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016