One of my good friends and I had a conversation a few days ago. We often have really long convos where we discuss current issues from our varying standpoints. While we have different opinions and we come at issues with our different experiences and privileges, we often can see each other’s points pretty well in our “arguments”. One issue we commonly disagree on is our community’s support of predominately white spaces, so you can imagine how we both approached the racism being brought to the forefront at various colleges across the country.
In case you are oblivious to what’s going on (in which case I BEG you to start paying attention) several groups of students on predominately white college campuses (called PWIs) have gotten fed up with the racist environment that thrives there. Black students have held various demonstrations and have flexed their muscle (literally) to show that they deserve to be treated as full students without fear of violence or oppression. Of course, all of these students using their first amendment rights was met with more racism, which has led many to question why these students continue to go to PWIs and don’t return (or at least give a chance) to HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities). This jumping off point was what started my friend and I’s discussion.
She believes that it is pointless to basically limit Black students to PWIs. While she is not so naïve as to say that these schools are better or question the worth of HBCUs, she does think that these white spaces need to be infiltrated and dismantled. She applauds the efforts at Mizzou, Yale, and other institutions, and believes that to we have to face the issue head on to really solve it. This of course, leads people to wonder how much change can really be done to spaces that are so inextricable from their whiteness. I mean, when you have institutions whose school song is “Dixie”, can you really make it a safe space for people of color?
Of course you know I fall on the opposite side of the debate. I am all about promoting and supporting our black institutions, and while I know everyone can’t go to one I do also know that a great amount of us who could have bought the negative publicity and decided against it. I also know that HBCUs (and all Black spaces) have their own issues, but I refuse to discount them, like even if Howard did kick out that kid for opening a side door (they didn’t) that doesn’t make all HBCUs that strict. However, even while I definitely see where people come from saying that you should go to HBCUs to avoid PWI racism, the argument often turns into a victim blaming that I’m not comfortable with. You should be able to go anywhere without running into deadly racism, because let’s be honest, almost nowhere in this country is a safe space for people of color.
So then it becomes a which way is better argument, and that’s one that NEVER ends well. That is a huge problem. In order to figure out what we as a community should do we’re both going to have to do as my friend and I did, and talk it out. The infiltration side is going to have to realize that forcing yourself into spaces can literally be hazardous to your health, and the extraction side is going to have to find a way to uplift spaces without victim blaming. The saddest part of this is that even if you want to ignore the HBCU/PWI argument (which you shouldn’t, regardless of what people say), the same principle can be applied to ANY predominately white space versus creating/supporting a black one. Think about Hollywood, businesses, the music industry…the list goes on and so do the reasons for either infiltration or extraction (sound familiar?). And don’t start to be intersectional and add in women of color, LGBT people of color, disabled people of color or any combination of the three; then infiltration can become even more deadly and extraction becomes harder to do. It is becoming more and more evident that we must have a talk, a serious one at that, about what some of this means for our futures.
My friend and I didn’t solve anything really with our argument. We didn’t come up with the billion dollar solution to 400 years of oppression, but someone could. If more people were willing to step out of their biases and really talk about the fact that the generation coming up can’t even get quality education because of racism and implicit biases (don’t get me started on what happens in K-12). We have to find a way to better our schools, businesses, etc. so that when people get put out (or heaven forbid RUN out) of the places that never wanted them they don’t have to go without necessities. It will take all of our knowledge and both points of view to get through this thing, and it will take everyone talking for us to figure out where we really belong.
Where do you fall in the debate? How do you feel about the protests constantly happening at colleges around the country? Leave your questions, comments, or concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!