Education

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I received a minority scholarship from my alma mater — a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) — to partially fund my education and while grateful, I will never write the university a check. Each month I send money to my closest HBCU and you should, too.

PWI’s are in extreme debt to black people in America. While some understand the large role of slavery in building and sustaining them, few think about the tax dollars black families have and continue to pay to power them. Before we were allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi, we were taxed to support it. James Meredith — one person — integrated the school in 1963 but blacks attended only in small numbers for some time after. All the while we paid taxes. Before 1963 many schools up north admitted blacks but only a token few, especially if they could play a sport. Still, we paid taxes. These schools denied opportunities to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents and yes, even to many of our parents while gladly accepting their tax dollars. A generation or two of minority scholarships, targeted at a select number of black individuals, doesn’t begin to even the score for the exclusion of black masses.

Many of us benefited in some way from PWIs and that’s perfectly fine but we owe our PWIs nothing — they in fact still owe us. The assistance they provide to black students is not charity for which we are indebted; it represents a meager return on the labor and tax dollars our parents to great-great-great-great-great grandparents contributed to build those schools while being denied access to them.

Some black grads say they would like to give back to their PWI, specifically so other black students will have the same opportunity. I reject every bit of that logic. It is not incumbent upon those who descend from generations of the excluded to create opportunities for their seed at PWIs. Indeed, we have been and still are taxed for them. If the universities actually value the presence of black students on their campuses it is incumbent upon them to create opportunities for them. It is our job, as taxpayers (specific to public institutions), to push our states and state schools to prioritize the interests and recruitment of black students. That push must take our state institutions beyond the safe pursuit of “diversity” to a clear mandate addressing the opportunities denied my parents and their parents.

A great number of schools integrated only at gunpoint — literally. It is clear that PWI’s have made great strides since that time but the atmosphere on many campuses still leaves much to be desired. Just ask students at the University of Missouri or scour through all these recent events on campuses. Still, we are paying taxes. In some cases those taxes support public universities that have very healthy endowments. Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are the top two public universities, in this respect. The billions those universities have are far too often managed by investment teams or outside firms with little to no black presence. The universities crave our dollars and invest them in various places, including Africa, yet we have little say in the process.

Imagine if I were unemployed, broke and had few prospects. Imagine that I have an amazing woman who sticks with me, supports me while I try to get things on track and helps me realize my potential. Now imagine me on my feet, making money and desired by many women who wanted nothing to do with me just a few years ago. If I left my woman for another that only now desires me, what would you say? If my woman began to fall on hard times herself but I chose to ignore her and chase another who never wanted me before, what would you think of me? This is precisely our relationship to HBCUs today. When no one wanted us, they embraced us. When we had no other options, they sheltered us and made us great. Even now they outperform PWIs in vaulting the lowest income students into the top quintile as adults. They are still our best investment as a people and yet too many of us are eager to date the girl who wouldn’t even let us walk across her lawn a few years ago.

For some time I have wanted to write checks to HBCUs but just didn’t have the cash — or so I thought. I recently made the choice to start where I am and do something. I now live on the South Side of Chicago and to my surprise the closest HBCU is Harris Stowe State University, in St. Louis. I sent them a check and will continue to do so each month, so long as they are my closest HBCU. My first check was only $10 — it was all I felt comfortable giving. But if 500,000 black people in Chicago gave the same $10 each month it would change everything for that school.

I’m grateful for my degree and the strides my university has made to incorporate black students but that doesn’t mean I owe them anything. My ancestors paid my bill in full. Our HBCUs loved my grandparents when no one else would and for their sake I am writing these checks. I sincerely hope you will do the same.

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If Michael Jordan scored ten points in a game during his prime, we’d be disappointed. If his teammate Dennis Rodman scored ten, we’d be impressed. The difference is expectations. We expected so little of Rodman, as we do white people on issues of race. Georgetown University is now an anomaly and trailblazer in academia, after the school recently apologized for its role in slavery. The University renamed two buildings after slaves and will now give preference in admissions to descendants of the 272 slaves the school sold in 1838 to settle its debts. It pains me to criticize the university in any way –sincerely– because their actions are lightyears ahead of other institutions. But that just shows how little white folks have to do in order to impress us.

Georgetown University owes its existence to plantations the Jesuits operated –in the name of Jesus, I’m sure– to finance operations and the 272 slaves sold in 1838 to settle the school’s debts at that time. There is no way to erase these offenses. The hope is for some meaningful form of repair toward the untold damage done and that is not what Georgetown has offered. Renaming buildings does not repair the damage done. Giving preference in admissions is cute but the children and grandchildren of Georgetown alumni already receive that perk. Indeed, to receive in 2017 what those who (largely) benefitted from the system of slavery have received for generations is not a radical effort at repair. Still, the most important lesson in this ordeal has largely been overlooked.

Georgetown fails to understand that slavery was a system, not an individual circumstance. That system impacted all black people and their descendants, not just the 272 sold in 1838. Georgetown could only benefit from the sale of those 272 slaves because it participated in a system that made all black people subject to a similar fate. To solely acknowledge the harm done to the descendants of those 272 slaves is tantamount to planting an atomic bomb in one home and refusing to acknowledge the damage done to the entire city which that bomb decimated. It is to deny benefiting from the other slaves that worked the Jesuit plantations that financed the school and the system of slavery as a whole. The life outcomes of the 273rd slave cannot be divorced from the 272 acknowledged by the University.

Even the best known attempts at reparations in the American context are laughable, at best. This is merely the latest chapter in a larger story. But Georgetown is at least pursuing some substantive efforts toward atonement and that makes the institution rare. I want to praise them and perhaps should, but I am conflicted. If I criticize the University, well-meaning whites will undoubtedly be frustrated. They will think, understandably, that any attempt at repair –rare as it may be– is not rewarded but scorned. So why bother? If I praise the University, however, I signal that such paltry efforts at repair satisfy the requirements of true justice. That is one hell of a quandary to live in and yet one more burden black people are asked to carry.

Ultimately we must come to accept, as a nation, that the legacy of slavery is far more dramatic than we have acknowledged. Many have just now begun to understand that academia is yet another staple of American greatness that owes its existence also to slavery. We fail to grasp how deeply our banking, manufacturing and various other sectors are rooted in slavery. More troubling, we fail to discern how damaging its impact was for people of color, even to the present day. Our view is further distorted when we consider the tremendous progress black people have made in this country. It is because we fail to discern the true depth of it all that we struggle to approach repair in a meaningful way. For the sake of survival, black people cannot wait for others to understand. Black power requires committed action, even when others refuse to render justice.

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At times it is difficult to discern just how much racism influences behavior but this is not one of them. It is completely obvious in this moment that some white folks just hate black people. Author Jeff Thomas released documents this past week from the University of Virginia showing the university’s fundraising office tracked applicants connected to large donors and advocated on their behalf to the admissions office. The practice is not new; it is a well known that from the Ivy League down money talks, with respect to admissions. But it is only when black students are granted admission to universities that white people file lawsuits and produce Supreme Court cases, even as less qualified white students routinely receive unmerited access. The people who file such lawsuits are not angry that someone may have taken their seat in class, it’s simply a hatred for black people that moves them.

Dr. King once said, “I am sorry to have to say that the vast majority of white Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously.” When Abigail Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas Law School, she fought her case all the way to the Supreme Court. Fisher genuinely believed she was wronged because five black or Latino students with lower grades and scores were admitted to the school, although forty-two such white students were also admitted. For some reason, Abigail managed to only see those five. I wonder why. Whether conscious or unconscious, racism was the motivation. Abigail and her supporters only noticed the five students of color when, mathematically, the forty-two other students represented a greater hindrance to her admission and thus should have been the logical target of her anger. But racism does not allow for that. Conscious or unconscious, she was bothered by the darkness of the other students, not their grades.

If you are an applicant connected to a Harvard alum or donor, you are about five time more likely to gain admission to the University. The same is true at Princeton. Given the prestige and opportunities those elite schools confer, it is a wonder that there isn’t the same type of outrage from students who are denied admission due to the obvious unfairness of the process. The difference is simply color. If all of the “legacy” students who gained admission happened to be black, it is certain that the public outcry would be deafening. The same is true with these most recent revelations from UVA. While a few cries of unfairness are being raised, this will not become a “big deal” or end up in court, most likely. Although this is the norm around the country and generally known, the nation has accepted it. As long as the beneficiaries aren’t negroes, it’s all good.

When people scream and holler “unfair” because race is a consideration in admissions, they are in fact revealing their racist souls. They are not motivated by fairness. If they were, what is happening at UVA and essentially every other competitive university in this country would push them into the streets and the courts. But none of it ignites them, only color does. This is but one more example of how much we truly hate black people in this country.

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Georgetown University is a microcosm of America: built on slavery, unwilling to repay that debt and still maintaining our admiration and support. Georgetown University has an endowment of $1.5 billion. In its early days the school relied on Jesuit slave plantations to finance its operations. In 1838, however, the school was close to financial ruin. Georgetown survived thanks to the

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No shade to the University of Texas but you’re not the Ivy League. Sorry, not sorry. The Ivy League opens doors. The Ivy League confers privilege and prestige. America has hundreds of colleges and yet the eight Ivy League schools have produced nearly 35% of our forty four presidents. Wow. With that much opportunity to be had, the competition is fierce: Harvard and Columbia accept less than 7% of all applicants.