Why Google Thinks HBCUs Are Not Relevant

At least 147 people think that Google is wrong for allowing a search of “HBCUs are” to automatically yield results for “a joke,” “failing,” “racist” and “not relevant.” There’s even a petition against the search engine conglomerate to have the terms removed from the autocorrect function.

If Google was responsible for anti-HBCU rhetoric in the search universe, it would be the most convenient way for HBCU alums to garner attention and cry foul on how HBCUs have as hard a time finding respect in the virtual sphere as we have in the real world. But Google auto-fill results are only a reflection of the questions and statements that users have often typed into its search parameters.

And so before we petition a company to remove the anti-HBCUs search recommendations that are dictated by billions of global search queries made every second of every day, there are a couple of harsh realities we must face. First, Google can erase the terms, but not the queries of people who wonder why HBCUs are failing, racist, irrelevant and a joke. Second, similar search recommendations come up for Bing and Yahoo!, which makes this particular petition, at best, incomplete, and at worst, distraction from the real issue.

Which brings us to point number three — why spend time trying to convince Google to do what HBCUs have been collectively unable to do for the past 30 years — to limit and eliminate a narrative of futility and irrelevance for Black America, and America at large?

HBCUs are not relevant because the people they serve find them to be irrelevant. More Black students would rather attend online and predominantly white schools than HBCUs. For every Black student at a predominantly white school who tweets about racial isolation and inequity at their school, seemingly, there are at least 10 Black students at HBCUs tweeting and posting about the food they don’t like, the housing they don’t like, the ratchetness of fellow students, the rules they don’t like, and the communities they don’t like at and surrounding their schools.

Don’t think for a second that racist white people are sitting around driving the search results of HBCUs — because the only time they are thinking about HBCUs is when they feel like Black colleges, or Black students specifically, are infringing upon their resources. Or, when HBCUs offer an opportunity for their own dismantling with headlines of inept leadership, crime, or woeful academic underperformance.

No one outside of a small group of advocates thinks about HBCUs enough to impact the global SEO of the term “HBCUs are.” So to assume a grand plan to make HBCUs look bad in front of a global audience is an easy target in a forest of problems facing these schools — the same problems which drive HBCU students, alumni, and prospective students to the web to find out why HBCUs are collectively regarded as a waste of time and money in the first place.

Thousands of Black folks go to the Internet believing they will find some answer, some semblance of reason behind why people who want to support HBCUs nationwide are driven to public lambasting of these schools due to poor customer service, poor community, and a lack of dynamic leadership. And because these themes run across so many campuses throughout the country, Google anticipates that anyone searching for what HBCUs are, must be trying to find out why they are anything but a sound investment for higher education.

But instead of addressing the sentiments, we would rather address the search.

Google thinks HBCUs are irrelevant, because we thought it first and searched in vain for how to reverse it. But instead of taking the tell-tale sign of irrelevance and working to forge a new narrative, we’d rather reverse things over which we have very little control. And that’s not surprising, because our warped sense of democracy and diversity tells us that if we complain enough, or draw enough attention, someone else will have mercy on our plight and help us to reverse a course for destruction on our behalf.

Want to improve search results for HBCUs? Try finding the answers to “how to counter racist legislature with grassroots mobilization,” or “how to raise a million dollars from people who aren’t millionaires.” Or better yet, “are HBCU graduates and students doing all they can to preserve their own schools?”

If we search for the right answers, we’ll find the terms of our own dignity and survival. But for as long as we continue to focus upon what everybody else thinks, or what everyone else is doing to harm our schools, we’ll continue to be at the mercy of their desired results instead of our own resilience.

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