2010 Essence Music Festival - Day 1

Source: Taylor Hill / Getty

On Wednesday, while watching the Useless Kardashian’s online meltdown, I happened upon what looked like a flyer for the illest post-commencement BYOB pajama jammy jam turn up that post-Freaknik America has ever seen.

Alas, ‘twas a flyer for “Graduation & Elevation” a “7-in-1 celebration” for Dr. Juanita Bynum, who apparently just did everything but cure ashiness. Here’s where I pause to inform you that now that 7-in-1 celebrations are a thing, you’ll have to do better than RC Cola, Twister, and a bowl of puffy Cheetos at your next shindig.

While tickets last, you can watch Juanita be crowned for receiving both a Bachelors and Masters of Ministry & Business Administration, a Doctorate of Theology (which “makes you a distinguished professor to teach at Universities”) and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology which, as mentioned, for some reason, on the flyer, covers “the study of man’s thinking about the meaning of life, the relationship of mind to matter, and the problems of right and wrong.”

Oh, okay.

Celebrating the culmination of what must have been an arduous journey of tiresome nights in the pursuit of four degrees, ye shall also behold her elevation to the order of Minister Stateswoman and receive both an International Chaplaincy Certification and the title of Ambassador to the United Nations.

And all you’ve done this summer is go to brunch.

This came after cackling at the hilarious reactions to Dr. Umar Johnson’s revelation during a recent trip to The Breakfast Club that, like my driver’s license at the end of next year, his Ph.D. needs to be renewed. I’m not here to cast aspersions on the non-imaginary status of this man’s credentials, but the wrath and evasiveness that follows questions about his degrees does not go unnoticed.

Now, I haven’t been in anybody’s house of worship beyond a funeral or wedding since Ghostwriter was canceled, and am far from an expert on churchy culture in the 2000 and the 17. I have managed to avoid prison, sugar grits, and wide-legged jeans thus far in life without a degree, so I’m far from a scholar, most-requested or otherwise. After unscrewing my face, I wondering aloud “…the fuck?” And then: “But why?”

I know Black grandeur and extraness. I have several Nigerian friends. A Blackety Black sisterfriend once consulted me on whether she should do a press release after becoming a homeowner. But spelling out one’s curriculum and job prospects on a flyer to promote your one-woman graduation? That is bonus level extra.

I’m not here to cast aspersions on the non-imaginary status of this man’s credentials, but the wrath and evasiveness that follows questions about his degrees does not go unnoticed.

I was unsure if charging for a graduation party was some new holy tradition I wasn’t privy to. I consulted the churchy Blacks.

Seeing the way they and people currently rolling in the struggle in the fight to fund and finish actual advanced degree programs reacted with disbelief, horror, and laughter, I know I’m not alone in my bewilderment.

On one hand, I get the desire to impress and the urge to seek additional credibility to fortify thine pedestal or whatever the fuck via a Doctorate of Advanced Geometric Left-Handed Divinity from Sepatown University, earned after years of pondering the relationship of peanut butter to jelly and the problems of Tom and Jerry. And tithing $199 plus shipping and handling.

Anyone who’s attempted to get a grown-up job in The Age of Needing Thirty Years of Experience For Entry Level Phone Answering is familiar with the often undue weight our society puts on The Degree. Though it guarantees neither riches nor competence, it is often the gold standard of achievement. It holds weight. It matters.

In terms of the influence and perceived authority garnered by folks who tirelessly present themselves as Ordained Intergalactic Holy Warrior and wise, selfless philanthropic men-of-the-people with the keys to the ancestral realm—undeservedly or not—it works. All week, I’ve seen my people fervently defending The Maker of Fake Phone Calls, who occasionally presents himself as a relative of Sir Frederick Douglass, the same way Benita Butrell defended Miss Jenkins. Sidestepping facts and accusing folks of sacrilege left and right.

I recognize the allure, professional benefit, and social clout that come in some circles from being degreed-up from the feet up. I understand how, particularly for Black folks, titles and letters behind our names make grandmas proud and bring intra-communal admiration and respect. Just ask That Man’s favorite African-American, The “Honorable” Omarosa Manigault.

On the other hand, I want us to to be less easily impressed, fearlessly check one another on our ridiculousness, and demand substance and accountability over hollow gestures, nonsensical self-aggrandizement, and impressive but unsubstantiated proclamations.

You can avoid ridiculousness and do just as must good and help just as many people without the dubious titles, wonky science, and $300 absurdity.

On the other hand, I want us to to be less easily impressed, fearlessly check one another on our ridiculousness, and demand substance and accountability over hollow gestures, nonsensical self-aggrandizement, and impressive but unsubstantiated proclamations.

Hell, maybe the lesson in this and Nancy DeVille’s selection as Secretary of Education in this era of insta-influencers and invented identities is that you are whatever people will believe (and pay) you to be. Silly me.

New York City-based food-lover Alexander Hardy is an essayist, mental health advocate, cultural critic, dancer, lupus survivor, and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. He has written for Ebony Magazine, CNN.com, Esquire, Gawker, Courvoisier, The Huffington Post, Saint Heron, and Very Smart Brothas, among other outlets.  Alexander now teaches creative, essay, and academic writing and spreads awareness as a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Alexander does not believe in snow or Delaware.

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