I attended my school's graduation a little in advance. Because I do not have my dissertation defense date scheduled, I could not walk. I attended the ceremony to cheer on friends and join in the fun.
As I watched the undergraduates, masters students and doctoral students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, I noticed an interesting pattern.
White students' friends and family clapped quietly and politely while the African-American friends and family hollered and cheered.
I thought to myself, "Next year, when I walk, I want my African-American friends there. They will make this far more fun."
Maybe this is unsurprising to anyone who has attended both a predominantly white Episcopalian service and a predominately African-American baptist service. There is far more celebration, "interruption" and exuberant participation at these services filled with Gospel choirs and booming voices.
I was telling my friend about my appreciation for this eager participation only to have him inform me that a group of African Americans in Senatobia, Mississippi almost found themselves in jail for cheering for their friends.
If the events were as described in the news clip below, cheering friends found themselves not only escorted out of graduation, they found themselves served a $500 fine and a possible jail sentence. Of course an orderly graduation is nice, but punishing joy with jail time seems not only insane, generally, but specifically an attack on African-American culture more generally. Frankly, I love the passion and expression of that often seems a fundamental part of their culture. This is not just reserved to church and graduation. When rollerblading around Hains Point in D.C., I noticed the white people had very serious expressions and tense bodies. By contrast, the African-American women walking together, laughed with their full bodies and seemed to be fully enjoying themselves and each other.
Ok, this is obviously a bit of an oversimplification. Not all African-American people are cheerful and not all white people are tight and repressed. I'm just highlighting this little moment to make a point.
My point, my dear Senatobia, is that the goal isn't to flatten out this joy, but rather to learn from it.