His comments were the stuff of FOX News and ultra right-wing commenters on community news sites, but from them, black students and black graduates from HBCUs and PWIs can see a glimpse of the future of higher education in America – as told by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during oral hearings in a landmark affirmative action case.
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.
Despite being a sweeping, unbelievably racist assessment of black students and non-ivy league schools (presumably inclusive of HBCUs), Justice Scalia’s remarks are among the most helpful for HBCUs coming from a federal agency in years. He is historically wrong about black students’ aptitude for learning, and grossly unaware of academic rigor at most American schools, but his stupidity accomplishes the two primary goals HBCU advocates having been screaming about for decades.
First, Scalia proves to a certain degree the sentiments of college executives across the country; save for athletes and exceptional negroes who buy into racial and cultural assimilation, black students are not wanted, and really, not needed on most predominantly white campuses. Student-based racial animus and a lack of administrative engagement with black students and faculty at PWI campuses have become a major talking point nationwide. And these schools have responded, in specific and covert terms alike, to say that racial discomfort and harm is for the victim to fix, and not the responsibility of the institution or its culture.
Scalia gives voice to many presidents, provosts, faculty, students and boosters who are tired of the demand from a small minority of black students with the support of the “liberal media” in search of more mental, physical and cultural real estate in white spaces of higher education. That voice is growing louder, and more crass in its hate speech. But instead of being offended, we should be grateful that more opponents of black prosperity are showing their hands and forcing us to choose racial solidarity over integration and assimilation.
But we’re still tax-paying Americans, and within the push for racial solidarity on both sides, we still demand the equitable resources and autonomy we are guaranteed under the constitution. So it’s perfectly fine for Scalia to suggest that black students should go to HBCUs, or any other school he thinks best meets our academic needs – but he also must make sure that state and federal government funds these students and these institutions at the same levels received by non-black students and institutions as required by law.
We shouldn’t mind the country playing fast and loose with race, but equitable resources makes for a totally different issue. For as long as we continue to confuse progress with access, and diversity with demographics, black folks will always be on the losing end of all opportunities to develop colleges and communities on our terms.
Scalia’s remarks provide one of the few rare opportunities where an arrogant racist shows his true colors on the record and, inadvertently or otherwise, in favor of advancing the cause of black space and prosperity. There is no difference between Scalia promoting that most black students find success at ‘lesser schools’ and all of us who have yelled about the everlasting value of the nurturing environment and culturally accommodating learning space of HBCUs.
The only difference between us and Scalia is that he’s comfortable with inflaming America’s race war with his unwitting promotion of HBCUs; in our promotion, we’re all about ending it.