“Let’s be real. If we pulled out of all PWIs and went to HBCUs, would it change anything relating to systemic biases in hiring? I understand the fascination with Black Wall Street, but if we’re talking about changing the way the system treats us, the answer is never going to be where the Black people are. The answer is to make those abusing us face the music without flinching.”
I typed those words in response to a question posed by radio host and comedian J. Anthony Brown to Jonathan Butler, the University of Missouri graduate student credited with starting the hunger strike that led to the football team’s boycott and the resignation of the university’s president. The question was:
Why didn’t Butler leave and head to an HBCU when he became aware of Mizzou’s race issues?
The sentiment behind the question is one that I have faced more times than I’d like to over the last week, mostly from older HBCU grads who wistfully look back at their time at an HBCU and wonder why more Black students don’t choose to attend HBCUs given the environments of a PWIs.
By making this point, I hope to illuminate that the easy choice is to run to an HBCU when PWIs don’t live up to their promises.
Doing that, however, lets not only the PWIs off the hook, but it lets American participation in systematic racism off the hook as well. If the system has no buffer, then the system will continue crunching bodies, bones and souls. In order to change a system, there has to be resistance to the system; there has to be sabotage of business as usual.
Now, can you imagine if Mr. Butler had indeed enrolled in an HBCU and run from the issues deeply entrenched at the University of Missouri? Would we be talking with such fervor about the culture of inhospitality present at many PWIs in America?
Because throughout the history of America, and indeed throughout the history of change and revolution, nothing has happened when the oppressed resigned to run from problems.
On the contrary, if we are going to change the way that PWIs function for and treat their Black students, we must commit to being visible. We must make noise that even Presidents and Regent boards can’t ignore.
Because we cannot fix PWIs from HBCUs.
There is no room in a movement for social change for cowardice. In order for us to change PWIs, we have to make them know that we will not be silenced by harsh macro and microaggressions. We have to make them face the reality that we are here, too, and we deserve to see ourselves reflected in the everyday decisions of these universities. We cannot run from PWIs when it gets uncomfortable and we’re called upon to fight the power structure itself.