Obama’s Neglect Forces New Double Consciousness Within HBCU Community

I struggle with a sort of DuBoisian double consciousness when it comes to President Obama, particularly his commitment to HBCUs and the greater Black community.

On one hand, there is the “this-is-family-business-and-you-won’t-criticize-the-first-Black-president-in-front-of-White-folks” tradition in which I was raised. But on the other, there’s this growing “what-has-he-done-to-deserve-my-loyalty” frustration that has come to almost a full boiling point and is on the verge of manifesting itself as nothing short of outrage.

When folks called the president elitist a few years ago, I rationalized it by saying there was nothing wrong with it. I tend to believe most members of my family are elitist. The president, to me, looked like me and my friends and my loved ones. We weren’t from the hood; we were from upper middle class families. We understood our responsibility to reach back and help others, but we didn’t live the “Boyz in Da Hood” lifestyles that somehow serve as a measure of Blackness.

We all went to “elite” private HBCUs, and truth be told, all may sometimes project a sense of entitlement. But I have come to learn there is a difference between President Obama’s elitism and the elitism of my friends and family. My loved ones care. We feel a sense of communal responsibility to help others. While we attended good schools and had good (though not perfect) families who supported us, and while we can’t be touched with the plight of inner city struggles, we don’t distance ourselves from those who can. We don’t stand up in front of mixed crowds on multiple occasions and tell our brothers and sisters that their condition is a result of their own slothfulness.

We don’t paint a broad picture of irresponsibility and ineptitude of our peers who weren’t born into such fortunate circumstances. And we don’t wholly fail to acknowledge the struggle of Black Americans — a struggle that belongs to all of us — while offering public support for members of other marginalized groups.

Through all of the president’s negative public comments about the Black community, I stood silently, brow furrowed, but still refusing to publicly criticize the nation’s first Black president. I bought all of his children’s books and read them to my own children every night, because it is his shoulders upon which they will stand. They will never know a world where a Black president is not even a consideration. And for that, and for the positive example of a Black family man, and for the tremendous image of Black love between he and his wife, I am eternally grateful to President Obama.

But the White House Initiative on HBCUs-sponsored HBCU Week summit this week was something of a last straw for me. I repeatedly asked Department of Ed officials if the president would make an appearance at the conference this week, and was repeatedly told he was busy. I grumbled, agreeing with one HBCU president who had told me earlier this year that the best way for the president to show the support for the community he has been proclaiming would be to show his face, but I understood he may have had a schedule conflict.

On my way to the conference yesterday morning, I read that the president was expected to appear at Prince George’s Community College the same day. Wait a minute — not an important foreign policy visit to Iran or a week-long meeting with key members of Congress on the budget stalemate. But an appearance at a community college up the road? THAT took precedence?

I flashed back to the same conversation with the HBCU president, who cited as an example the president’s public support of community colleges — his robust community college agenda, his frequent visits to two-year institutions — juxtaposed with his very rare appearances on HBCU campuses, and very occasional mention of HBCUs –except when he needs to make sure he can count on them to rally around him in an election. And I grew irate.

Then, I arrived at the conference and was greeted by a member of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, who conveyed the fact that the president had not met with them as promised, sending instead a junior representative who had no clue about HBCU issues and was not even prepared to have a conversation with those who traveled so far to advise the president (at his own request) on the issues that matter most to the HBCU community.

And, at the closing plenary, to hear the Initiative’s new executive director tout “the strengths of a White House that has really made an effort to say that [HBCUs] are important in the educational arena,” I couldn’t help but wonder if George Cooper was that out of touch, or if he was put in the position to be at worst, a puppet, or at best, a figurehead.

The truth is, the president has done little on behalf of the HBCU community. He allowed the highest advocacy position for Black colleges to go without permanent leadership for nearly a year. He allowed reports mandated by his own executive order to go unpublished, ignored the voices of those who can penetrate his line staff to demand advocacy on their behalf, and sat idly by as resentment among the HBCU community grew.

His administration has communicated poorly, has not sought input and has made no effort to show the HBCU community that he really is committed to being the partner they expected in the first Black president, the partner they campaigned for and donated to, the partner he promised they’d have in him. If you take out all of the emotion and the charisma and the warm fuzzy feelings, if you snap out of the trance induced by his oration and look at the data, HBCUs were truly in a better position under President George W. Bush than they have been under President Obama.

Forty-four has left the HBCU community, and arguably the entire African-American community out to dry, like a motherless child, and we are indeed a long, long way from the comfort and stability and security of home.

And Kanye West had all of y’all saying George Bush didn’t care about Black people.

  • http://stateofhbcus.wordpress.com Vivian Jones

    My mother has always said “what goes on in your house is a helluva lot more important than what goes on in the Statehouse or the White House.” If we review data regarding academic achievement, high school drop out rates, crime rates, college graduation rates,, etc., among our children, we would not depend on any politician, black or white, to better their lives. He scored better than 93 percent of other students nationally on the ACT. He is on a full academic scholarship at Tuskegee University (TU). He never considered the pwu. He respects authority. Failure is not in his vocabulary. He believes in giving back. He loves his family. President Obama did not play any role in these achievements or his moral compass. And, he acheved these remarkable acvomplidhments in spite of Alabama’s elected officials. Black children consistently lag behind other groups in the classroom. But, my son excelled becsuse of my mother’s teachings, the collective familial love and support, maintaining expectations, unwavering encouragement, etc. Like most young Black voters his age, the President can do no wrong. But, I, like many of you, have many legitimate concerns regarding the Obama presidency. So, I no longer donate to OFA, the DNC, MoveOn.org and other left-leaning political groups ecause of my concerns. I donate solely to Tuskegee University because university president Dr. Gilbert Rochon genuinely cares about our sons and daughters. And, when I hear my son say “Dr. Rochon is awesome,” elected officials are relegated to their proper place. Folks, in other words, HBCU’s are our children’s new homes/houses. We need to pay more attention to the heads of these houses.

    • http://twitter.com/WebAntOnYT Anthony B. (@WebAntOnYT)

      I think Pres. Obama has sought to help all Americans and in the process I know some Blacks have been helped by his presidency. Since a disproportionate number of Black Americans are poor i imagine many will benefit from affordable health insurance via ObamaCare. If so, he may not have done all he could have done for us, but he will have done enough. Maybe.

  • Harold Pitts

    President Obama can’t win for losing,it appears to me that much of his effort is toward the 99% which HBCUs is a part of

  • robbie smith

    Given the constant berating the president gets from the Tea Party and their friends, I think it’s unfortunate that we join in the chorus. We have a form of government that doesn’t allow the president to just “do stuff” for black folks. But it makes Fox News happy to know that some of us are disappointed in Obama’s leadership. I think, given the hate coming from the right, he has done a superb job. Maybe the leadership at the HBCUs should get their acts together and take care of themselves–and start by cutting bloated administrations and high executive salaries.

    • Joey

      If Bush treated black people like Obama has , I am guessing more black people would be complaining . It is down right racist to give him a pass just because he is black.

  • http://gravatar.com/joanhood185 Joan

    The thing that’s working against HBCUs is not so much alleged apathy on the part of the President. The problem lies in the fact that states are allowing colleges from other states to set up “satellite” campuses that often take away from the usual HBCU population. This will only become worst with time. The President tends to place more focus on junior colleges because there is a segment of the population that wants to learn a trade/vocation in less time than four years. This puts people to work and makes them productive members of society much quicker.

  • Pingback: imiXwhatilike! | Obama’s Neglect of HBCUs with Autumn Arnett of HBCU Digest()

  • http://gravatar.com/joanhood185 Joan

    Autumn, Autumn, Autumn, your comments about the president sound like so many other black folk who feel that a black president should give special attention to black people and their causes. Was he elected only for black people? Why didn’t you (and those who think like you) expect the same special attention from previous presidents? “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired” of black people who expect President Obama to jump whenever they want him to appear somewhere. Do they not realize the security this president requires whenever he attends a function? Are you aware of the price tag that comes with this security? Do they not realize the death threats he receives on a daily basis? No, all they do is sit back and look for something to criticize him about. Sure, everyone has a right to his/her opinion, but, make sure your opinions have a modicum of logic and intellect to them! In many cases, much of what the president says about the negative behaviors of some blacks is true! Bill Cosby has made similar comments. And, what do some of us do when we hear them? We become perturbed, especially when black people criticize those blacks who behave in uncouth manners. As a former college student of the 70s, I have a problem with black people who continue to make excuses for the irresponsibility and irrational behavior of far too many black youth. I’m referring to those who disrupt classes with behavior problems and those who cause test scores to drop in schools because school to them means little. They receive free breakfast and lunch, so they aren’t hungry at school! What do you want President Obama to do about the dysfunction that exists in too many black households? The President is not God!! Instead of criticizing the president, help him by visiting some of the public schools today. There you will find the genesis of many of our problems. Too many black children are coming from homes where they receive little to no educational support and encouragement from their oftentimes single-parent households. Many of you black critics of the president would experience culture shock among your own people if you were to volunteer at these ipso facto segregated 21st century schools. Why do so many black children drop out of school today? If we black students of the 60s and 70s could achieve success while facing adverse barriers, why are we making excuses for the black students of the 21st century? The road was paved for them by us, so why aren’t they taking it!

    • Joey

      Wow Obama has got some of us so fooled, once more it is not special attention.. it is the SAME attention he is giving others who are stepped on . He said point blank , his number one priority was immigration reform. He is giving special attention to people who are NOT EVEN AMERICANS, while doing nothing for black people. .

  • MAP

    I will have to say I agree with Ostin and Dwayne C. I think that we are missing the bigger picture here. i.e. “Government shutdown 2013: First effects will be felt Tuesday morning.” Lets pay attention to the bigger issues and understand that our personal desires of the President are just that. IF OBAMA DID COME TO THE CONFERENCE IT WOULD BE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO HIS PRESIDENTIAL PRIORITIES. Accept that there was a presence…why does it have to be OBAMA….if Bush sent someone it would have been sufficient because we would have felt that he was including us in his policy framework. Yes, I am a Black Man and PROUD Graduate of an HBCU and have used my experience to gain a fantastic job on Wall Street for the last 9 years and I didn’t come from a middle class family however I am now. If we want our HBCU’s to be deemed as an equal competitor to other Colleges and Universities we have to stop expecting SPECIAL CARE AND ATTENTION from the government, it implies a lot about us when we do that. We have State Schools and Private Schools in America. We all know that state schools get State support. WE need to stop complaining about what is not being done for us and start the doing…..right now its just sound and fury signifying nothing. If we are that proud of our schools we should do more and push the administrations to do more not the President of the ENTIRE United States,that’s a bit unrealistic. Lets get realistic. We need to direct better standards to the right place. Instead of looking for Obama at the conference we should have been looking for the administration of these colleges. Lets call on who we selected to lead…not Obama because he’s black. I’m sure he personally gives back to his Alma Mater, it just happens to not be an HBCU. I understand there are expectations and promises however, lets put things into context. The man can’t get anything through Congress to facilitate much needed change in the nation, so we have to acknowledge that if we were expecting moves for the HBCU community when he was elected how do you feel about Health Care Reform, Financial Reform, War. There are bigger issues….we can take care of our own…if we stop waiting. With the government shutdown that he tried to avoid for the past month will impact MAINLY MINORITIES. As subsidies for affordable housing will halt, military personnel who serve our country will suffer, and the lack of affordable health care that mainly impacts the black community has been repelled. Lets get real, HBCU’s were created to ease the reliance on federal government in the black community, decrease poverty in our communities with our FANTASTIC HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS CALLED HBCU’s —however here we are suggesting even in educating ourselves to be self-sufficient we need help from the government. Lets put our universities on the map, increase enrollment, set higher standards, prepare our graduates so that tiny toddlers will grow up and say “I’m going to an HBCU” and the toddler gets the same reaction as someone who says that about going to a PWI— and when that toddler graduates he will have NO issues competing in the job market. Last point, I have my issues with Obama in this second term and they are pretty significant however,I don’t see this as one–sorry.

  • Dwayne C.

    I completely agree with Ostin here – The President owes NOTHING to HBCU’s. It’s not his responsibility to cater to the needs and issues of these institutions…that rests upon our shoulders. As a respectable African American man that has attended an HBCU, I know (and many of you also know) that the issues that plague our institutions is rooted in leaderships and OUR inability to get involved and appropriately attack things like miseducation, job readiness and being able to compete with the rest of the world. We didnt always have full government support and we’ve got to function as if we will NEVER have full government support. We’ve got to give back in money and in minutes…we has a responsibility to mentor and development future generations. We have to ensure that our younger brothers and sisters are prepared to compete in corporate america (the truth of the matter is that THEY ARE NOT PREPARED). We’ve got to start making MORE noise with the leaders of these institutions that we have grown to love. The President can’t and will NEVER be able to solve every issue that arises, but does a great job at focusing on the bigger ones that span across many races and cultures. We (including myself) dont do enough. We graduate and get jobs…get married…have children…then decide each year if we want to attend homecoming (that’s NOT an effective way to pushing our institutions). WE need to do a better job…instead of sitting around waiting for a handout…or a special call to us. Let’s be more thoughtful and strategic, people. We are smart and very capable to move the needle. The President will continue to have my support. I thank God for his leadership and pray for his ability to shape change.

    • Joey

      The president will have your support , when he does not give that support back to black people in general. I love all the excuses that people give to let Obama have a pass. People are not saying to treat HBCUs better then he does anyone else . People are saying at least treat them the same, as he does community colleges. Obama told graduating Morehouse Men to stop making excuses if they can not get any place in life, while people like you and Map are the first people to make excuses for him.

  • Autumn Arnett

    Thank you all for the positive feedback. Just to address a couple of things: we have run a number of articles in the past that spell out all of the numbers and policies that have been detrimental in great detail. This piece was a personal reflection, but if you search the president’s name on the site, you will see all of the facts and figures.

    Also, one commenter suggested HBCUs are waiting for a handout, while the government is on the brink of a shutdown. This is a valid point, however I didn’t ask the president necessarily to write a check. I asked him to acknowledge and care about what HBCUs (and the greater Black community) are going through. TO identify with us, not wag his finger and tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Just an APPEARANCE at the conference last week, similar to the APPEARANCE he made at Prince George’s Community College instead, would have shown a tremendous amount of support.

    And, if we are being real, if he had made that gesture only to come and say “Congress and the Big Bad Republicans won’t let me help y’all,” most would have taken that. We just want some show of solidarity from the White House, which has said the community is important. But he is not even making the show. He is very verbal in his support of the LGBT community and the Community College sector, but has been much less vocal in his outright support of the Black community and the HBCU sector.

  • http://yahoo.com AngryBlackMan2000

    Thank you sister, for dealing with this issue head-on. From his first budget in 2009 when he refused to renew the $85 million per year President Bush gave us to his absolute act of disrespect last week (2013) to invite 105 HBCUs to Washington while we went to give a speech to a community college, Barry (that’s what his white friends call him) has shown us he only visits when he wants something. We are his dirty little mistress . . .

  • http://hbcudigest.com/obamas-neglect-forces-new-double-consciousness-within-hbcu-community/ Mwalimu Sandra Brown

    Kindly remember, Community, that President Obama’s main foundational influences came from his European American mother and grandparents of Mid-West American. His physical appearance, a gift from his Kenyan father. Our HBCU world has always been and continues to be foreign to him.

    Mwalimu Sandra Brown

  • http://www.1067thebridge.com John Hairston

    I recently read this article:
    Obama’s Neglect Forces New Double Consciousness Within HBCU Community: http://hbcudigest.com/obamas-neglect-forces-new-double-consciousness-within-hbcu-community/ that is highly critical of President Obama and the way in which HBCU’s are struggling these days, and a few things came immediately to mind. The first is why have we grown to expect President Obama to solve every problem when we didn’t do that with prior presidents? One of the ugly realties plaguing our HBCU’s these days is that many of their respective alumni do not support their Alma Maters!! Most of these schools would not be facing the financial plights and hardships they are dealing with if the alumni would simply step up and regularly donate, but this is not something that is done often enough. While getting financial help from the government would be nice, money has to be lobbied for and it has to be made available by Congress. If you haven’t noticed lately people like the Tea Party and others have not been as generous with the government’s purse strings. As of the this writing the entire Federal Government looms on the brink of having to shut down because these anarchists won’t approve the budget because they are doing their best to defund Obamacare. Why should HBCU’s expect to be moved to the front of the line? Should that fact that we have a Black president (Who didn’t attend an HBCU) make a difference? Why don’t we call to vote these morons out of office and give the President a Congress that would be more willing to work with him? Didn’t President Obama speak at Hampton’s commencement a few years ago? Don’t he challenge us to remember our school as the graduates venture out into the world? Why didn’t we get on the Bush administration? People are starting to lose sight of the fact that we, the people, have to save our HBCU’s, we can’t expect the government, no matter who is in office, to do it. I’m seeing such a double standard that Obama is being held to. It reminds me of a segment about Frederick Douglas and what he wrote many years ago: Here’s some food for thought: Was Frederick Douglass speaking like a profit concerning the future?

    Many people wonder why some are so hard on President Obama. Did Frederick Douglass predict the answer many years ago?

    “Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements.

    In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress.

    If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence.

    In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.”

    Frederick Douglass

  • Jeff Savage

    This is a great article and a great read. The article does not mention, however, how President Obama reduced the huge amount of money budgeted by President W. Bush. Further, the article does not highlight portions of the president’s education policy that will prove devastating, if not destructive, to black colleges. Ironically, Mr. Obama’s current education policy was presented as his proposed education policy in 2008. Why we failed to read it then and see that it was not one in our HBCU’s best interest completely baffles me.

  • Gladys

    I must say that my sentiments regarding limited criticism against President Obama has been identical to yours. Ive been so proud of him and what I have perceived that he stands for. That being said, it is “late in the day” and so extrmely important that he stands up and stand with the African American Institutions such as HBCUs which are one of the most important institution for us now and in the future. I was so sadden to hear that he opted to visit a white university without a promise to give our cause equal time if not on that day, in the very near future. I have and continue to support his causes financially and morally. As a matter of fact I just responded to a request for financial support from our First Lady, Michelle Obama. So I am asking what can we do to insist on his support since previous appeals to not seem to have gotten his attention. I know Michelle has a great deal of influence on him and I hope she will very soon impart to him that it would be a tragedy for him to have been given the most powerful job in the world and not address the inequities in this country where African Americans are concern. We as a people have been very supportive of him. While most of us realize that he is the President of all people, he needs to step up big time and publicly champion a cause for African Americans, that will help to advance our lives economically. Education is an extremely important key to our survival as a people. When will another African American get the opportunity he has. My question is how can we be more vocal? How can we be “thorn in his side “without putting him down public? Is that an oxymoron? We need to continue to apply pressure. I feel he is a good man with much on his platebut this is as important or more important than some of the issues he face daily.

  • Ostin

    The President does not owe HBCUs anything. “We” – the graduates of HBCUs owe our schools more than he does.

    • Sayeed Mulagata


      Obviously you are an “OBAMA over ALL” supporter. Your ilk would have Black folk make no demands while gays, Hispanics and of course the Banking Class all require Obama make changes in their behalf. Meanwhile the ” Obama Over All Crowd” collects pretty pictures of the first family

    • Robbie Smith

      I agree with you. Students and faculty at many HBCUs will tell you that the administrators and boards can do more to improve their institutions than the president of the United States. He can’t fix everything and he shouldn’t be expected to. Why doesn’t he fix HBCUs? Why doesn’t he fix Detroit? Chicago murders? The public schools? Black unemployment? and on and on. He’s the president. He doesn’t run the Congress or the state legislatures. Let’s get real.

  • Kathy

    Very well said. Finally, a real gutsy but truthful article, bravo! President Obama is leading the financial charge against HBCUs and the students who attend.

    • Robbie Smith

      Kathy–that’s outrageous. What specifically would you suggest that he do? Keep in mind we have a Congress and a Tea Party to deal with.