I am part of "The Problem"

Sometimes I think (and less frequently actually say) things that sound outrageous, even to me. I mull over the words that have passed through my mind, and wonder if there is any validity in the thought or if I'm just crazy. Why am I telling you this? Because what I'm about to say might sound a little crazy at first, but bear with me until the end—hopefully it won't sound crazy in the end.

Last year this time, at the university I received my B.S. from, there was outrage in the Black community over racist comments posted on social media sites. At some point a #BlackLivesMatter chalking on campus was defaced. At the end of the Fall Semester one of the predominately (possibly all) White fraternities held a #Cripmas party that many students felt was essentially a blackface party. Amid the rising racial tension, the Black Student Union, launched a petition against the school for naming its "signature" building after renowned racist Benjamin Tillman. There was a lot of discussion on the topics all of which revolve around racism and white privilege.

I have to admit, I wasn't bothered by the comments on social media, the party, or the building name. It's a predominately White institution that was just letting Black people in its doors when my dad graduated from high-school. I knew who Benjamin Tillman was when I sent in the application, and I'm willing to bet that Thomas Green Clemson, friend of Benjamin Tillman and founder of Clemson University, was not opposed to anything Tillman said about Black people. I came from a predominately White high school where I had experienced racism in various forms and I didn't expect college to be much different. Ironically, during my tenure in undergrad, I felt like I experienced much less racism than in high school.

My freshman year, my roommate, who was White, and I went to see Stomp the Yard. She was mesmerized and had tons of questions about Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), which of course culminated in "So, why didn't you attend an HBCU?" At some point, most Blacks ask themselves if they will attend an HBCU or why they didn't go to an HBCU. There are even raging debates on (and off) line about the topic. As I see the recent posts on the issues at Howard University (like this one), a lot of thoughts resurface...

When I was in high school, I never really considered going to an HBCU, even though 90% of my family had obtained their degrees from an HBCU. Most of my aunts and uncles went to school during segregation when they didn't have any other choice, but none of them suggested I go to the schools they graduated from. I attended South Carolina State University's (SCSU) homecoming every year, even got my desire to participate in band from their marching 101, but my dad didn't want me to go there. When we went to homecoming and my dad went to show me the dorm he stayed in, it was condemned by the city. Most likely due to the financial problems the school has been having—the state tried to shut the entire school down just last year. Interestingly, as I received recruitment letters and phone calls from schools like Clemson, Duke, West Point, and Cornell, I didn't receive anything from any of the HBCUs. In March of my senior year, after I'd already been accepted to the schools I applied to, accepted admission into Clemson, picked my dorm, and received the contact information for my roommate, I met SCSU's band director at a band function. He came to talk to me about coming to SCSU to be in their band after hearing my solo, even though my band had attended that festival all 4 years I had been in high school, I'd had a solo 3 of those years, and I'd gotten "Best Solo" the previous year, their band director had never approached me before. I might have actually considered it, if he had come to me the year before—I loved SCSU's band! Another HBCU in South Carolina sent me an acceptance letter that June some time after I'd gone to orientation and picked my class schedule.  At the close of my Senior year, I knew about 20 Black classmates who were headed off to college; 3 were going to HBCUs. One of these HBCUs completely dropped the ball and screwed up one of those student's financial aid leading them to sit out a semester and eventually have to enroll at the University of South Carolina. So 10% of my Black friends left to attend an HBCU...

Our HBCUs are struggling. There was a bridge program from one HBCU and Clemson (automatically this implies that it's better to graduate from Clemson than that HBCU, which is part of the problem I'm going to get to), and almost everyone I met who came from the bridge program was struggling. They'd had 3.5s and 4.0s at the HBCU but were struggling to get a 3.0  at Clemson. People often use this as an excuse for why they attend predominately white institutions over HBCUs and HBCU alum often complain about this mentality and refute the idea that HBCUs are sub-par. I agree with the HBCU alum; I have a feeling that Clemson students who transfer to MIT would experience the same struggle. But when I read about states trying to shut down HBCUs and the problems surrounding Howard, I think about all of the aspects I've mentioned above.

What's my point and why do I sound like I'm bashing our HBCUs?  White people have #WhitePrivilege because there's nothing that requires them to interact with minorities. I've had 3 Black teachers my whole life and I've always gone to a predominately White school. Yet, I didn't have to go to Clemson where they have buildings named after klansmen and blackface parties. I could have gone to SCSU, Claflin, Benedict, or Allen—all in-state HBCUs, all currently struggling. Why is it that most of the NFL and NBA players are Black, but HBCUs are never in the bowl games or the NCAA Final Four? Why is it that old schools like Harvard are wealthy Ivy Leagues, but schools like Howard are struggling? Most successful Blacks of today, from business entrepreneurs to entertainers, civil rights leaders to your local Black doctor, received their degrees from HBCUs. We wouldn't have problems with #WhitePrivilege if we were creating #BlackPrivilege. Think about it, all the time students spend in forums and meetings discussing racist behavior on campus, they could be studying, making art, researching, solving world hunger... But a lot of us aren't going to HBCUs. I've had at least 10 Black friends graduate with a PhD in the last two years and not one of these PhDs that went on to academia took positions at HBCUs.

Photocredit: / michaeljung
Why are we not building our schools up? What if Howard had a football program as massive and recognized as say Alabama? What if all the top Black researchers were making names for themselves at HBCUs? What if these schools were top rated universities that everyone was trying to get into? Can you imagine, top 20 schools where Black people are the majority? Would we not be more accepting towards other minority groups, from our own experiences? Would we not eliminate many of the problems we face at predominately White institutions? Could we not wield such popularity to have an even greater impact in mentoring Black youth? So I ask again, why are we not building up our HBCUs?

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