INTRODUCTION
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"Don't Be Like Your Father"
This book explores my coming-of-age as a black American male
in the wake of social, political, and cultural changes inaugurated
during the turbulent 1960s. At the core of the narrative are the
academic commencements in which I participated. Because com-
mencements mark the culmination of specific stages of the edu-
cational process and initiate other searches for knowledge and in-
sight, they offer emotionally charged occasions that allow me to
examine my intellectual development. Further, they provide rich
opportunities for me to measure my own actions and develop-
ing sensibilities against socially prescribed norms of, among other
things, racial, gendered, and heterosexual behavior. From the gen-
eral uniformity of caps and gowns and celebrants' ordered marches
into and out of auditoriums decorated with glistening American
flags to cautionary addresses by prominent figures, the traditional
elements of academic commencements allow institutions to drama-
tize graduates' submission to the dictates of local, state, and fed-
erallaw.
One result of my participation in such scenes of instruction is
that I have become a scholar of twentieth-century Afro-American
literary and cultural traditions. As such, I am well acquainted with
depictions of commencements in black narratives that investigate
the ironies of education in racist environments. The racial dramas
surrounding commencement in, for example, Richard Wright's
Black Boy, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Maya Angelou's
I
Know
Why the Caged Bird Sings demonstrate that such celebrations are
often sites of struggle between operatives of white society and forces
of black resistance, both of whom seek control over the form and
content of Afro-American expression.
Following the examples offered by such authors, I emphasize
how events surrounding my own commencements, and aspects
of the ceremonies themselves, placed me at odds with social con-
structions of black maleness. My struggles were not as communally
resonant as those described in Angelou's narrative, where members
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