How R. Kelly Helped Me Earn My Masters Degree

My last assignment in grad school was for my Race & Education class. The professor wanted us all to present on the history of American schools for our own ethnicity. While there were plenty of White, Asian, and Latino students, for the first time in all the years my African American professor taught the class, there were no black students, so he asked for volunteers to be in the black group. My hand shot up (because what did I care which group I presented on?), and then the professor actually thanked the people who didn't try to switch groups and took pride in their own culture. Here I was trying to help the professor out, and then he kind of implies I'm a race traitor. Awesome, whatever.

Things got worse when he said that each group would be expected to creatively incorporate their ethnicity's heritage into the presentation. While my group was diverse racially, none of us were black, and each idea we brainstormed to make our presentation seem "more African American" had potential to be taken offensively. I felt like we were being set up to fail or get picketed by the NAACP.

Finally, I quit trying. I was already checked out and ready to graduate, so if the professor wanted me to do something I found objectionable, I would make an even bigger mockery of the assignment on my own terms. No, that didn't mean blackface, but it did mean incorporating a famous black figure who I doubt most African Americans would choose as representative of their culture: R. Kelly.

My thought was that I could rap my presentation in honor of the hip hop roots of African Americans, except that I can't really rap, so that's why I switched over to R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" as it gave me license to ramble, use half rhymes, and cram as many words as I wanted to into one line without worrying much about the beat. I downloaded an instrumental version of the song and sang my way through one hell of a presentation:

The first crusade for black education in the south took place during and after the Civil War
While the second crusade occurred from 1910 to the 1930s

The second crusade was really quite chillin'
It finally created schools just for the black children

Before it could get off the ground and really make a splash
To make segregated schools, they were gonna need some cash

So they got do-na-tions
From private foun-da-tions
And many black citizens
Provided the benjamins

Now here's a question that i know you're gonna ax
These black people still had to pay their normal tax

Meaning they paid for the white schools
As well as the black schools
That's right, it's quite whack fools
But those were the quack rules

In fact the government kept raising the tax amount
But it went mostly to the white kids, they wouldn't help a brother out

Ultimately black citizens owned 44% of their own schools
Since the U.S. wasn't helping, they had to provide their own tools

And so this creation
After much dedication
Spawned a sensation
A cause for celebration
And even elation
For the black population
Of that generation
Fine-ly a formation
Of a good education
But there was some frustration
Because there's still segregation
And the U.S's discrimination
Offering little affiliation
'Til the blacks found motivation
The 50s led to a termination
Of the unfair situation
And allowed integration
And equal edu-ca-tion-ca-tion-ca-tion-ca-tion...

While I don't think I was any more "black" while giving the presentation, I definitely wasn't white: I blushed my whole way through the song. I wanted to stop to pinch myself and ask, "Are you really singing 'Trapped in the Closet' for your final major assignment before earning a Masters Degree? Is this what educated people [of any race] actually do?" Instead, I kept my eyes on my paper so I wouldn't be deterred by any disapproving glares. But by the time I faded out with "ca-tion ca-tion ca-tion...", my professor gave me a standing ovation, saying he loved the song choice.

I don't know how many professors out there are R. Kelly fans, but I sure lucked out in that regard. My intention was to show my disdain for the assignment (as well as my senioritis), but then he declared it one of his favorite presentations ever and awarded me an A. So hooray! Thanks for being you, R. Kelly, and thanks for helping me to become a better, blacker, more educated me.

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