‘Dear White People’ Movement Must Spur Historically Black ‘Welcome Back’ Movement

It’s hard not to notice the growing discontent of our young, Black scholars at predominantly white, Ivy League institutions.  We aren’t comfortable at Harvard. We aren’t comfortable at Michigan. We aren’t comfortable at UCLA. We aren’t comfortable at Alabama.

And these are just the examples of the schools making national headlines for racial animus, with all serving as the backdrop for the film ‘Dear White People;’ a satire that goes to the heart of when neglected and maligned campus identity and culture brings an alleged melting pot to a full boil.

Regrettably, our gross misinterpretation of desegregation and diversity has spawned what feels like a generation of Black students asking white folks for acceptance, even when history, demographics and resources don’t bear out any urgent need for white folks, campuses or organizations to do anything without a socially-induced guilt trip. It would seem like the perfect time for alumni and leaders of historically Black colleges and universities to collective stand, extend our arms and shout ‘come home, brother; come home sister.’

But to what are we asking them to come home? What are we really asking of students whose professional hopes and dreams have been dyed in the mirage of diversity, and whose self-identity has been smudged by images and stereotypes of Black folks behaving badly and wasting opportunity? What do we say to students between the ages of 18 and 25, whose parents worked hard for them to realize a life of options in college, vocation and lifestyle?

What do you say to those parents and guardians who fought and defeated poverty to give but a glimpse of what opportunity looks like in a country with a persistent, severe allergy to racial tolerance?

Should we tell those students, ‘yes, we do have outdated facilities, poor technology, and a mission to serve 10 students who aren’t ready for college for every one of you who are primed for excellence?’ Or maybe we don’t bring up these realities at all, recruit them, and when confronting their cultural and academic dissonance and disappointment in our campuses, appeal to their sense of ‘blackness’ to see past our flaws and the yet-to-ripen strange fruit of institutional segregation and policy.

We all speak the language of struggle, but with varying levels of fluency. We should never judge Black students or their parents for their successes, or their choices in how to expand success through education. But we also must clearly express that of the many battles we face as a people, focusing on the battle for acceptance in assimilation is the worst strategy possible, and that the fight for equity and resources in our own communities needs more young and upcoming generals.

We must meet the common foe of racial ignorance and policy with the idea that if “they” are coming to reduce and eliminate us, they must find us in our communities, at our schools, standing together for our own causes. We can no longer afford for our best and brightest to have just affinity for HBCUs; they must have loyalty. In truth, most of the Black students who say they love their PWI alma maters don’t say so because the campus welcomed them, or their expectations of diversity were realized; it is because these students were able to effectively surround themselves with enough Black students, Black professors, Black staff and Black experiences that lowered their cultural dissonance on these campuses to undetectable levels.

If many of our students are going to PWIs to eventually create an HBCU experience, we must be intentional in explaining the difference between experience and culture years before they even begin considering college. And we must go about improving our own campus culture and inviting them to use their intellect, creativity and passion for Black people to be partners in that transformation.

One diligent HBCU student can positively alter the motivation and outcomes of several of his peers, regardless of their level of preparation or individual grit. That is the essence of HBCU culture – when others who look like you, sound like you, feel like you and hurt like you are in front of you showing you how to achieve.

Students must be active partners in the reinvigoration of HBCUs – for too long, we’ve allowed schools with larger scholarship awards, larger buildings, larger stadiums and larger pools of discrimination to take our students away under the wrong pretenses. And in their youth, Black students are growing in their animosity about the HBCU they always wanted to attend, underperforming and underserving the interests of their friends who did attend Black colleges. They, even like many of us seasoned HBCU advocates, lack understanding of why Black schools, like Black people, just can’t seem to ‘do better.’

Our students must know that they can lead us to greater heights with the intellect and passion they show today, and the money and influence they will earn tomorrow. But its up to institutions to appropriately frame our realities, and how they are continually changing for the better.

We can no longer allow our children to ask white people over yonder for what we should have been giving them from day one – support and education in their own communities, on our own terms.


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23 comments
  1. There seems to be a mixed message here. On one hand students are asked to refuse a larger college experience, exposure, and preparedness because its white, and then choose a comparatively minimal one because its black. HBCUs should be held accountable and expected to be competitive if not equal. Times have changed and historical institutions do not get a pass for being a legacy. Great read that addresses the complexities of choice African Americans face in today’s global society.

    1. Get in where you fit in PWIs do not want black students and HBCUs have had over 160 years of educating African American men and women that’s a fact

      1. When did Caucasoids wanting us ever make a difference? This is not about” massa” accepting us! HBCUs have got to step up their game in order to be relevant in today’s global society and accountable. Relegating themselves to community college status as a result of poor financial management, questionable Board practices, fraud, and ineffective exchanges with state entities is an outcome of less than best practices anyway you look at it. Sorry, there is no pass for simply being “Black”. The legacy of the HBCU deserves better!

        1. …And as with all things a blanket statement is very unfair. Allow me to acknowledge that there are HBCUs that are doing and have been doing an excellent job of educating and preparing students to compete against privilege on an uneven playing field! Howard U. continues to be the “mecca” of Black education producing exemplary graduates in all fields of endeavor.

    2. I’m not entirely sure if I can agree with your statement, quite frankly, the data suggests that students of color aren’t knocking the doors of oppression down at the better off HPIs and when you look at schools with big AA populations, for example GA State, you’ll see that they’re not giving students the tools to most successfully navigate through these social settings, hell, GA State has a lower grad rate than Morehouse/Howard and these schools still manage to be the number 1 producers as a function of black excellence.

    3. but I do agree with you that HBCUs should be held accountable…God knows that we have to do a better job!

  2. African American college students should get a clue PWIs not all of them historically do not want African American students and not much has changed since the creating of our own institutios. PWIs have not bridged the wealth gap with there black alum and they only want the athletes and the 1%. So to other 99% of the rest of African American college bound students go where you are wanted, welcomed and the culture for developing young African American men and women our schools HBCUs. There is enough HBCUs across the country to fit every student needs culturally and socially

    1. I really can’t get with all of this whining black students are doing at PWIs. If you’re that uncomfortable at these schools, there are other options explore them.

      1. Are there? If i want to work for Goldman Sachs, is a Howard MBA going to get me in? Maybe, but it will be way more difficult than if I go toHarvard. If you really to get into the big firms you have to go to the schools they recruit from. We pick these schools because we know they provide greater opportunity.

        1. Then suck it up and keep your eye on the real prize. If going to these schools will land you riches I think a few “microagressions” is a small price to pay.

          1. Ed,I do not disagree with you. The reward is greater than the pain. But just to put things in perspective. In my masters program there were 300 people 8 of us were black. Out of that 8, 6 attended an HBCU prior to being admitted. After our first semester 7 of us were on probation. Keep in mind we were high honor students prior to us being there. Granted we all graduated, with exception of one, but we clearly came in at a disadvantage. The microagressions came into play when dealing with some professors, who would help other students but publically humiliate you for asking a question. Or grade you a little harder than everyone else and have no reason for it. To be honest, while a lot of my white counterparts spent their time in the bar, we were in the library studying and working 3 times as hard because we had to catch up and nobody would help us. And I won’t even go into how the students won’t even entertain you because they assume you want to copy. Long story short microagressions do make it difficult for us but you are right perseverance is key

        2. Blahblah917 You are misinformed I worked at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs and I am a Howard graduate. They do recruit at the elite HBCU’s, and I know this to be true because I was one of the pioneers to ensure this back in the late 80’s and 90’s along with others from HBCU’s. This is what we learn from attending HBCU’s that we must be the change we want to see in the world.

          1. Cheryl,
            As I said it is not impossible. I too went to an elite HBCU and they did not recruit from my school. The only reason I got into Johnson and Johnson is because of where I recieced my masters. The name alone was enough for the door to be opened. Mind you, I graduated from undergrad 2 years ago and completed a dual degree this past May so we do have a bit of a generation gap. I am in no way saying that an HBCU inhibits you from succeeding, but I will say that going to a top tier PWI definitely has its advantages. Many of my colleagues, whom have graduated from Howard, all share the same sentiment.

            On another note, I’m very impressed with the fact that you worked at both morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. I want to be like you when I grow up.

            Sincere Regards,
            Henoc

          2. Dear HenocPersonally I feel the best way to do college is HBCU and away from home for undergrad and PWI for grad school and up – that way you get the best of both worlds. The networking that you get from the HBCU ALUMNI (especially from Howard) can’t be beat! Thanks for the compliment – go for your dreams!

          3. DITTO. This is a reality that all high school students must face as they prepare for college. Racializing the differences between state institutions, HBCUs, and elite institutions limits the real issues. You have to be prepared to enter , stay, and graduate from whichever tier you are accepted.

        3. Does this not apply to other groups as well? Going to a state college/university vs an elite college/university makes it difficulty to reach a Goldman Sachs for any applicant. HBCUs seem to fall within the same tier below elite.

        4. You do realize there are African American investment banks that need your talent. Why not help them become tomorrow’s Goldman? There in lies the issue. We would rather build up others and keep them as the symbol of top tier than step back and build our own institutions.

          1. William,
            Surprisingly I tend to agree with you. But why Goldman, because brand means a lot. If I work at Goldman I’m given a knowledge base and a connection base that would make me even more valuable at an African American invesent firm. However, I will not work at an investment firm simply because its African American, if they have a vision and are heading in the right direction and their values match mine I’m all for it. But I plan to help my black community in other ways. I don’t have to support by working for a black firm.

  3. If you are going to a PWI for a leg up then just accept the fact that you will encounter racism so why complain about it? I think that if you do your homework and really research the PW I that you would like to attend it would really change your perspective. Ask students that attend the school about the racial climate. Don’t just jump into a climate that may inhibit your educational experience. Nothing is worse than fighting your professor for both a grade and acceptance. I will admit that HBCU’s are tougher to receive the notoriety and acceptance from large firms that exclusively recruit from top tier PWI’s but my issue is when has being black and achieving anything in this world ever been easy? To believe that you can only achieve acceptance into the ivory towers of Wall Street via a PWI devalues so many great achievements made by HBCU grads that have gone on to work in these very same ivory towers. If you can go to a Harvard then go to a Harvard but if you cannot that doesn’t mean that you cannot go on to achieve greatness by attending an HBCU and work side by side with a Harvard, Yale, or Princeton grad.

    1. I think the big thing missing from this discussion is for HBCU alumni not to be at the mercy of what white schools will accept us, or what white businesses will hire us. Rather, we should be focused on how to build our own schools, own businesses, so that acceptance need not be in our cultural vocabulary.

      1. Ok, acceptance is not our primary goal ___agreed. However, I continue to take exception to the lens of lack. Historically we have built businesses and hired within our own community: Marva Collins’ Chicago school, Alice Freeman Palmer’s, Palmers Memorial Institute are two shining examples of how we have taken the initiative to educate our children in the face of crippling educational disparities. AA are the fastest growing home schooling groups at this time because we are taking steps to enable our children to compete against privilege.

  4. As one of the young women in the pictures (yep that’s me, the dark skinned one) my reasoning for attending Michigan was because I could not afford the prices of HBCU’s. Howard University was my first choice but I refused to attend Howard or Spelman and go deeply into debt at a HBCU when Michigan offered me a full ride. I also have a mother that suffers from an illness and I needed to be close to home in case something happened to her. Should my black brothers and sisters condemn me because I chose what was best for me? What makes HBCU’s the only choice of education for me? That is not for you to decide for me, I DO WHAT IS BEST FOR ME AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!
    Often we forget that all black people are not the same, all black do not want to attend HBCU’s and they should not be criticized for it. We as organizers of #BBUM were not complaining about the racism we are facing, HBCU’s too face racism. It may not be from the students or institution but there is def racism in play there. Our goal was to forcing the institution that heavily recruited us to make OUR campus a more inclusive place for not just black students but minority communities as a whole.

    Attending a HBCU will not change the fact that outside of the HBCU there are still adversities that we must overcome. Nor will attending a HBCU teach me how to overcome them. I have plenty of great black professors that have studied at Harvard, Yale, Howard, Hampton, ECT that has done great research and enlightened me and my peers on what we must collectively
    be done. The resources I have at Michigan are amazing, my low income status was overlooked and I was given the opportunity to reap the benefits of generous alumni who care about the education of students. I am part of one of the FIRST black
    student unions on PWI campuses. I am at a school where legacy of my black ancestors runs deep.

    As people we are so quick to judge thinking that all blacks are supposed to fit one mold. I am happy with my decision of attending a PWI and you should be too. Remember that MLK fought for diversity and inclusion and the fact that in 2013 we are still fighting shows that there is more work to be done. Regardless of where the work is, we should be standing in solidarity with one another to get the work done. The bigger
    picture, black students choosing higher education over crime and the prison pipeline system. We must learn to stand in solidarity because if you step back and look at it, WE ARE ALL THE SAME. This further perpetuates the divide of blacks, I do not care where you think I should be! The reality is I don’t want
    to come to your “home”, you do not get to determine where I call “home”, I do.

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