It is customary for a university to confer honorary degrees upon distinguished citizens during their commencement exercises, particularly for the person chosen to deliver the main address. The degree confers no real academic standing but is recognition of the individual’s achievements. Despite this time- honored tradition, Arizona State University chose not to bestow an honorary degree upon this year’s commencement speaker – President Barack Obama. Their reason? According to university official’s, Mr. Obama has not accomplished enough yet in his life.
Huh? Barack Obama was the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review, he committed the early years of his career to public service as a community organizer in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods, he was elected to the Illinois State Senate and was an early opponent of the debacle in Iraq, he won election to the United States Senate, and broke a 232 year barrier by being elected the nation’s first Black President. If this man is not deserving of an honorary degree, who is?
We have witnessed universities conferring honorary degrees upon comedians, entertainers, governors and athletes, yet the leadership of Arizona State did not feel that the Black man who surpassed all expectations is fit to receive such an honor. Perhaps the desert sun in Tempe got the best of the school’s Trustees. For his part, Mr. Obama was his usual graceful self in playing down the obvious insult. The President joked, “First of all, Michelle concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home.” It was just another indication that this President brings a unique quality to the office and that explains his tremendous accomplishments.
We, on the other hand, see no need to be gracious or politically correct. Arizona State needs to get a clue. It is 2009 and President Obama, like many other Blacks, has done much to be distinguished with an honorary degree. Yet, the university opted to offer a flimsy excuse to mask its blatant racism. Perhaps the next time Arizona State University seeks federal funding the White House should respond likewise. By the way, what is the Black student and faculty population at the university? Spare us the lecture on life’s accomplishments. ASU does not have an alumnus who could match this President’s historic climb. Yet, it has the audacity to cast judgment. It is time to call out all the racists, those who make their views widely known and those that hide in the closet and stand on “ceremony” to conceal their racial animus.
By the way, where was Arizona Senator John McCain when his state’s university snubbed the President of the United States? The man who has proudly worn the badge of “Patriot” should have spoken up. We would hope his loss last November played little in his silence but we doubt it. Senator McCain, who by virtue of his service in the military and Congress has earned “statesman” status, should have reminded Arizona State officials of President Obama’s historic achievement, much in the way he did during his gracious concession speech last November.
This is where the rubber meets the road in the hype over a supposed post-racial America. If the so-called “enlightened” communities of our country, such as institutions of higher learning, are blinded by race, what hope does the rest of our country have in overcoming racism? Where universities should be leading our nation toward a more inclusive society, too many are taking us in just the opposite direction. They are contributing to the maintenance of white supremacy if they choose to ignore the obvious, and embrace and celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions of non-whites to our nation. Their one-dimensional view of America is out of sync with reality and in direct conflict with a new global paradigm that will impact the students Arizona State conferred degrees upon this week.
Rest assured, Arizona State will have Black players running the field this fall when college football season kicks off, and brothers will be on the court when hoops season begins. The university will make millions from the labor of these Black athletes, who may or may not walk away with their undergraduate degree. Few Black students, however, will be in the university’s classrooms and even fewer Black professors in front of the classroom. So, in many ways, Arizona State continued another tried and true tradition by having President Obama speak at its commencement. Once again, Blacks are good enough to entertain but unworthy of respect.