A week or so ago I heard rumors of Morehouse College sending out a survey to help define their new trans student policy. Now why they decided to give the students, most of whom are under 21 and barely know how to wash their own asses, the power to decide whether or not they will accept a group of people is baffling but whatever. They couldn't let Spelman and their policies be the only "progressive" school I guess. This could be its own issue, to be sure, but when you look at the fact that less than a month ago Morehouse also proved its "progressiveness" by authorizing a documentary about the “white student at an HBCU” it becomes even more fishy. This HBCU decided, clearly against the wishes of its students, to highlight this white student and make them a face of the school while trying to figure out if they "agree" with a whole sector of Black men (yes, trans men are men. Let's get that clear) attending THE ONLY school just for Black men. But Morehouse isn't alone; with the protests at Howard, the decorum policy at Jackson State, and a number of other bullshit practices that deter the students these schools are made for, it's clear that a number of HBCUs have lost their way. They seem to have forgotten their original missions to be education safe havens for ALL Black students; pretty much deciding to remain Historically Black but become Systemically white.
Now, before anyone accuses me of anti-Blackness or assimilation, allow me to remind you that I am still very much a staunch supporter of HBCUs. The proof is all over this site. I have never, however, been a stan of ANYTHING. I refuse to blindly follow anyone without questioning and interrogating their practices, and as much as I love them HBCUs are no different. I love HBCUs so much I attended two, plan to work at one after graduation, constantly encourage people to go to them, and ONLY give money back to them. It’s because I love them so much that I want them to do better. I know first hand what HBCUs can do for a young Black mind, and I want that for every Black kid who enrolls in one. As times change so do people's needs, hell my needs changed between my time at Alcorn and my time at CAU. HBCUs have to change to fit their Black students' needs; that's who they were made for. I know how powerful a Black institution is because it met my needs, but unfortunately a lot of these HBCUs aren't meeting their new students needs, instead choosing to trade their power for what they think is privilege. Administrators may think that all these policies and tap-dancing for whiteness may bring them closer to getting a piece of the pie, but come on yall. We know we ain't getting no pie. And all this pandering just ends up making it difficult for future Black students to get that life altering experience that I got.
I should also make it clear that even though a lot is happening now, a lot of HBCUs have always had respectable ass policies and practices (look at some documentaries on HBCUs and you'll see what I mean), but in a time when it is CLEAR that being the respectable negroes won’t get us ahead, still holding onto these practices is straight up foolish. When Trump played the HBCU presidents (twice!), when Talladega College had to pay their own way to perform at Trump’s inauguration, and when Betsy Devos got shut down at Bethune Cookman, it should have been confirmation that this government (and honestly government in general; Obama aint do much to help either) won’t help HBCUs. All we end up doing is destroying our dignity, whitewashing our culture, and turning their backs on needy Black students to get scraps from white governments who couldn’t give a shit if we all closed tomorrow. The administrator in the Morehouse video pretty much said it: appealing to white people is all about money, but we're barely getting that. So why are we shucking and jiving again? Are our institutions, history, and culture really only worth the pennies that we sell them for? I mean, if you’re going to sell out at least get enough money to not struggle. We don't even get that but we fall over ourselves to sell more of who we are.
I propose a different approach. Instead of trying and failing to prove our importance to prospective white students and racist governments we should be offering Black students what they can’t get anywhere else and FOLLOWING THROUGH. That second part is vital. As a teacher and advocate, I can talk about the holistic education offered at Black schools, but if the school still treats them like second class citizens they’re gonna leave. I can talk about how Black schools teach more about Black history and culture, but if students can’t tell you who Lorraine Hansberry, John Henrik Clarke, James Baldwin, bell hooks, or Henrietta Lacks are when they graduate they’re gonna feel like they wasted their money. I can talk about how HBCUs are families but if you have to have a survey to decide if you “agree” with someone attending the school they’re gonna resent the place. HBCU alums, teachers, administrators, and students have to demand that these schools stop catering to whiteness and do what they are designed for. Maybe through this, we could convince Black students that we have something special that PWIs can’t give them so we wouldn’t have to worry about filling the empty seats with white faces in the first place.
HBCUs can be such transformative places if we allow them to be. After I watched that travesty of a documentary on the white boy at Morehouse and read that insulting survey, I cleansed my palate with a roundtable discussion about whiteness at HBCUs. I agree with pretty much everything said there, but especially the fact that HBCUs don’t center Blackness enough. Ironically, we have in some ways fallen into the same trap that PWIs and anti-HBCU people have: we think that having a bunch of Black students, stepshows, and homecomings makes us super pro-Black, but its more than that. We have the faculty and often the administration, but what decisions are these people making? What are they teaching in the classroom and bringing to their students? Are they encouraging Black students to be self-sufficient or are they shoving them into the Wall Streets and Silicon Valleys of the world? (That would be fine if we also told our students to bring those resources into Black communities, but we often don’t) Are we making these places productive for all Black students? Are we exposing them to knowledge that the PWIs, with all their wealth and endowments, can’t afford? If not, then the culture truly is lost and no amount of begging for money will ever get it back.
How do you think HBCUs can refocus on the needs of Black students? Do you think there is too much performing for whiteness on the campuses? Feel free to leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!