Many great black intellectuals have squared off in the public eye before with vast differences in black idealism such as W.E.B Du Bois and his striving for equality “immediately” as a critique to Booker T. Washington and his “have patience and industrial training” philosophy; or Malcolm X in his ever radical state of mind suggesting blacks to build up black only businesses and the “by any means necessary” slogan versus Martin Luther King and his cooperativeness amongst all races. So it was no surprise, when I seen on twitter, an attack on HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) black student education versus a PWI (Predominately White Institution) student education by a fellow African American woman. But this debate is a little different than our previous intellectual leaders, for the simple fact it proves that the thinking by some is of black inferiority, instead of the past differences in which they debated about ways to build up the black community. But in case you missed the tweet that sparked the controversy on twitter (that I missed by the way) here it is:
Before I begin, I think a few things should be clarified as to why this is offensive and disrespectful. If this had been about the differences in money and the institution’s ability to attract the best professionals in the academia field, then HBCUs wouldn’t have been singled out against the “rigorous” PWIs, however it would’ve included all schools from all backgrounds against those rigorous PWIs. If this had been about lecturer’s ability and competence to teach the students at institutions then it would not have singled out HBCUs because they represent just 3% of the countries institutions (105 schools), but HBCUs were singled out. What I am saying here is if it had been solely about an institutional trait it would not have singled out HBCUs, but it did and that is why it became bigger than an institution debate and became a black inferiority debate. I have no problem with others opinions about what they feel is better, its an arbitrary topic, and if you were to ask me, I would say my alma mater, Virginia State University, was not just the best HBCU but the best university in the country but that’s my opinion. But to say that all HBCUs don’t stack up to the standards of a PWI is not the same.
HBCUs have been a vital force in the black community since 1837 with Cheyney University leading the way. Even before our ancestors could attend a PWI, HBCUs were right there ready to open their doors to allow us to receive the education we needed and desired. So why have we turned our backs with such bogus statements? HBCUs have opened doors for many great leaders such as Martin Luther King at Morehouse College or Thurgood Marshall at Lincoln University and Howard School of Law. Even athletes such as Michael Strahan at Texas Southern University and others have thanks to give to HBCUs. So it begs the question why was this tweet tweeted and given the attention?
This type of idealism is not new. I have had the pleasure to attend an HBCU for undergraduate school and a PWI (Va Tech) for graduate school. I have seen and heard some of the idealisms about never wanting to attend an HBCU by fellow students at my PWI and others. This kind of thinking propels the thought that anything black related is only comparable to other black related objects and cannot step above that realm, and if they are it is met with a striking force of disagreement. Sadly, individuals who never attended an HBCU share these kinds of idealisms. It also is a subconscious viewing of HBCUs that they are inadequate of the educational status to be seen as relevant on the national scale of universities, no matter the name of the institution. I had the opportunity to sit amongst fellow students at the PWI to discuss the black community at the PWI. I sat in on this meeting for the sole purpose of hearing the degree of difference in their thinking versus my own coming from an HBCU. I’ve heard the utter complaints about the lack of camaraderie amongst the black community socially, as well as engagement of other nationality professors to understand communication amongst their black students and the lack of participation of PWI departments. Not to say these problems don’t exist at some scale at HBCUs, but the understanding is better within an HBCU and the conversation is two sided and not just students speaking and nobody is listening. Even after these notions that their complaints can be answered at an HBCU; other still would not accept the state of mind of attending an HBCU.
Unfortunately, this thinking is a trend amongst the new age African-Americans. According to USA TODAY, before the famous brown vs the board, over 90% of African Americans attended HBCUs, but today its a heartbreaking 12%. This is, as I speculate, due to a number of factors such as media attention, financial differences, and psychological aspects. I’ve seen HBCUs receive unfair media attention that aren’t greeted to PWIs in the same position. Example, at both institutions that I attended, there was a shooting (at different times and years) on campus, but yet the PWI was met with sympathy and upliftment, whereas at the HBCU was met with disgust, ignorance, and pity by the media.
But to stay on topic, the comparison of a GPA versus another GPA was irrelevant. Because on transcripts and resumes (basically on paper), they only have a class, a grade and a school name. I wouldn’t say a Harvard Law student is more capable or competent than a Howard Law student or vice versa based off whats on paper. To make that judgment, you are comparing not the student, not the education intellect, but one school being black and one school being white.
This PWI is greater idealism regurgitates that it is some African-Americans belief that anything black owned, can only reach a certain plateau of success and everything else is left for the rest of the world. It is also shared that we are to act, think and dress as whites, we are to talk like them and if we have a southern accent we are ignorant. And it is these kinds of thinking that will keep others thinking and reacting in a certain that we see ourselves, our culture, and our history as the problem.
To conclude, many of us, owe a great deal to HBCUs across the country and the leaders they created. We owe it to them to not allow media to biasly sway stories to fit the perpetuated agenda of the inferiority of black schools because they decide to cater to the black community when others wouldn’t. We must also remember that we as students make the school and its ever-developing history while in attendance and after. More importantly we must always carry the notion despite what school others may have attended, WE are just as good if not better because we went to an HBCU and not that we are inferior because of it.
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